March 27, 2014

It's hard to imagine Steven Spielberg's Lincoln without Daniel Day-Lewis' Oscar-winning central performance — but Day-Lewis wouldn't have been there if Liam Neeson hadn't voluntarily dropped out of the project. Why would any actor voluntarily vacate such a slam-dunk role? In a new cover story at GQ, Liam Neeson describes the moment he realized he was the wrong actor to play Abraham Lincoln.

According to Neeson, Steven Spielberg first approached him to star in an early version of Lincoln 10 years ago. He spent four years researching to play Lincoln in what he describes as "a wonderful kind of old-fashioned biography of Lincoln," which began with his inauguration and ended with his death. But Tony Kushner's script rewrite narrowed Lincoln's focus to the final four months of the president's life, as he worked to push the 13th amendment through the House of Representatives.

The trouble began when Neeson sat down with Lincoln's cast and creative team for a table read. "We started reading this, and there was an intro, and then I see 'Lincoln' where I have to start speaking, and I just — a thunderbolt moment. I thought, 'I'm not supposed to be here. This is gone. I've passed my sell-by date. I don't want to play this Lincoln. I can't be him," says Neeson.

"I read very, very poorly by any standards, but then some people come up afterward and say, 'Oh, you're made to play Lincoln.' I just was cringing with embarrassment. Afterward, Steven came over, and I said, 'Steven, you have to recast this now.' And he said, 'What are you talking about?' And I said, 'I'm serious. You have to recast it.' So I went back home, and that night I called [Doris Kearns Goodwin], and I had a wee chat with her. And then I called Steven, and I said, 'Steven, this is not for me. I can't explain it. It's gone. It's not...' And he got it. He said, 'Okay.' And that was it."

Still dreaming of an Abraham Lincoln biopic starring Liam Neeson? You may get your wish someday. "I'd still like to do Lincoln's story," Neeson conceded. "I think [Lincoln] shows him, yes, but I think I'd still like to do an old-fashioned biography of Lincoln." Scott Meslow

This just in
4:22 a.m. ET
Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina resigned early Thursday, according to his spokesman, amid a fraud scandal that had already led to the imprisonment of his vice president and forced the resignation of some cabinet members. Hours earlier, Attorney General Thelma Aldana had told a local TV station that a judge had approved her request to detain Perez Molina to testify in court. The judge, Miguel Angel Galvea, would have been able to force the president to step down or even be sent to prison.

The corruption scandal, which has dogged Perez Molina's administration for months and led to daily street protests, revolves around businesspeople paying bribes to customs officials to avoid paying import duties. It was uncovered by Guatemalan prosecutors and a United Nations commission. Perez Molina is accused of illegal association, fraud, and receiving bribes. The former president says he is innocent, and long maintained he would not step down. Guatemala is holding elections to pick his successor on Sunday, but Perez Molina wasn't scheduled to leave office until January. Peter Weber

last night on late night
3:52 a.m. ET

According to a new poll, Jimmy Kimmel said on Wednesday's Kimmel Live, 54 percent of Republicans still believe that President Obama is a Muslim. "I'm sure Donald Trump had something to do with this," Kimmel said. He was surprised enough by the findings to make that questions — "Is President Barack Obama a Muslim?" — his "pedestrian question." The way the game works is the interviewer asks the question to a random pedestrian on the street, and then the audience guesses his or her answer, based only on name and place of residence. Did he find any "yes" votes, on camera? You can play along below. Peter Weber

Watch this
3:21 a.m. ET

Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who is thwarting the Supreme Court by continuing to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, sought another last-minute injunction on Wednesday, despite the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting her appeal on Monday. This earned an unusual rebuke from the top federal prosecutor in the area. "We have grave concerns about the reported failure to comply with the court's order," said U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey, who isn't involved in the case. "Government officials are free to disagree with the law, but not disobey it."

Davis' confounding bid to delay the inevitable also earned her a Funny or Die video interspersing her on-camera refusal to obey the Supreme Court with scenes from the NBC hit Parks and Recreation, featuring stars Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. Clerks and Recreation won't illuminate any of the issues in the case, but it might well make you laugh. Watch below. Peter Weber

Clinton Emails
2:43 a.m. ET
AP Photo/Richard Drew

In August, a House committee issued a subpoena to Brian Pagliano, a former information-technology staffer on Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid who later worked at the State Department and set up and oversaw Clinton's private email server at her home in New York. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of that committee — set up to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya — ordered Pagliano to testify on Sept. 10 and provide documents related to Clinton's homebrew server, The Washington Post reports. Through his lawyer, Pagliano said he will invoke his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent if he is compelled to attend the hearing.

"It is not clear why Mr. Pagliano is refusing to answer questions about the server," notes Michael S. Schmidt at The New York Times. "The FBI is investigating how classified information was handled in connection with the account, but no evidence has surfaced that Mr. Pagliano had anything to do with those materials."

Pagliano's lawyer, Mark MacDougall, acknowledged in a letter to Gowdy that the decision "may be controversial in the current political environment," but cited the FBI investigation and quoted a Supreme Court ruling about the Fifth Amendment protecting "innocent men... 'who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances.'"

Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, blamed Gowdy and backed Pagliano's decision. "Although multiple legal experts agree there is no evidence of criminal activity, it is certainly understandable that this witness's attorneys advised him to assert his Fifth Amendment rights, especially given the onslaught of wild and unsubstantiated accusations" from Republicans, he said. "Their insatiable desire to derail Secretary Clinton's presidential campaign at all costs has real consequences for any serious congressional effort." Peter Weber

last night on late night
1:06 a.m. ET

On Tuesday's Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon asked Justin Bieber why he cried at the end of his performance at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards. "It was just so overwhelming for me, everything," Bieber said: "The performance; I missed some cues, so I was disappointed at that; and just everyone.... I wasn't expecting them to support me in the way that they did." The last time he was at an awards show, the crowed booed him, he added. "I worked so hard at this album, I worked so hard at just becoming the man I want to become," that the moment overwhelmed him.

Fallon lightened the mood with a joke about harnesses, but then the chat got back to why everybody was booing Bieber before: He was acting like an immature jerk. Bieber blamed that on the "knuckleheads" he was hanging around with, and the fact that his period to "test the waters" was in the spotlight. Fallon said that part of becoming a man was picking yourself up after being knocked down — and Bieber has, apparently, with his new hit single. If this were a less sympathetic interview, Fallon could have added that adults also take responsibility for the times they acted like idiots (and remember when their albums are coming out). You can watch the friendly discussion of Bieber's maturity below. Peter Weber

China Rising
12:20 a.m. ET
Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping used a speech during a parade showcasing China's military strength to announce that he is cutting 300,000 personnel from China's massive army. He described the reduction of the 2.3-million-strong People's Liberation Army as a gesture of peace, saying that China will always "walk down the path of peaceful development." Analysts suggest the move is unlikely to reduce regional tensions over China's expanding military presence, and probably has more to do with Xi's efforts to modernize the armed forces.

Xi made his announcement during a parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender at the end of World War II. The parade featured more than 12,000 soldiers, including some from Russia and elsewhere, tanks, advanced fighter jets and bombers, and a range of powerful missiles, some being shown off in public for the first time. Along with the show of force, China was also spotted for the first time deploying warships off the coast of Alaska, in international waters. Peter Weber

late-night wars
September 2, 2015

The free publicity apparently wasn't enough for Jeb Bush, so he turned his spot on Stephen Colbert's inaugural Late Show into a fundraiser for his already well-funded presidential campaign: If you send in $3, you'll be entered into a raffle for a ticket to the show and dinner with Woody Johnson, the billionaire owner of the New York Jets. "I think the contest is a great idea," Colbert said, in what he suggests will probably be his last pre-show online video, "but here's the thing: No one from Jeb's campaign asked me if this was okay with me, to raise money off my first show."

So Colbert responded with some jokes about the Bush political dynasty, Bush's political base — "if you can't afford $3, you're probably not voting for Jeb Bush" — and the wisdom of tying your campaign to the "winning tradition of the New York Jets." And then he announced his own contest, the winner of which gets to submit one (non-vulgar) question that Colbert will ask Bush. Shot, fired:

...and returned. Probably glad to be sparring with somebody other than Donald Trump, Bush tweeted this video to Colbert, managing to both rib Colbert and dampen his own fundraising efforts by lowering the contest fee to $1:

Well, Amy Schumer is funny. Maybe Colbert has found his stand-in host. Peter Weber

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