The document at the center of Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" was, of course, the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery. But the famed director hadn't set eyes on the historic piece of paper until he visited Washington this week.
"One thing that was really amazing for me to be able to see was the 13th amendment, to see the actual document," Spielberg told reporters Tuesday at the National Archives. "When you make a movie, you make this stuff up."
In one pivotal moment of "Lincoln," Tommy Lee Jones' character, Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, tucks away a copy of the amendment to take home to show his African-American housemaid and partner, Lydia Hamilton Smith. On Tuesday, Spielberg couldn't believe he was taking in the real thing.
"You make up what the document looks like based on the research that we did here, at the National Archives," Spielberg said. "But then when you actually see it, it's an entirely different experience."
The Academy Award-winning director was being honored with the Records of Achievement Award by the National Archives and its private partner, the Foundation for the National Archives. Spielberg was selected because of his work on so many historical films, and he was grateful because he was able to use the institution as a resource.
"In a sense I'm so honored that they're honoring me, but I feel like honoring them right back," Spielberg said.