|Waterston, 66, who has portrayed President Abraham Lincoln on stage, television and in public appearances, is being singled out by the state for his work promoting U.S. history. He is the 2006 recipient of the second-annual Empire State Archives and History Award.|
"The award was created in 2005 by the Archives Partnership Trust to recognize prominent national figures for their contributions to society's understanding and use of history," said Christine Ward, state archivist and executive officer of the Archives Partnership Trust.
The press conference preceded a program scheduled later that evening at the Egg featuring a conversation between Waterston and Harold Holzer, a nationally acclaimed Lincoln scholar, on the actor's life, work and passion for history.
During Waterston's introduction, Ward lauded the veteran actor for his "advocacy for and promotion of history of the U.S."
"A student of Yale University and the Sorbonne in Paris, Waterston nurtured a fascination with the past which has been reflected in the portrayal of numerous historical figures throughout his career," Ward said.
His extensive work with Holzer on Lincoln's legacy has made it possible for people to better understand the 16th president, she said.
Holzer likewise credited Waterston with bringing the words of Lincoln to life.
"I have never heard Lincoln's words vivified as brilliantly as they are when Sam speaks them," Holzer said.
The pair met for the first time 22 years ago on the set of Gore Vidal's "Lincoln."
Since that time Waterston has read Lincoln's words in a number of venues, including the 2004 reprise of Lincoln's seminal 1860 speech at the Cooper Union in New York City; the White House in 2005; the George H. W. Bush Library in Houston; the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Ind.; the Abraham Lincoln Association in Springfield, Ill; and the Lincoln Forum in Gettysburg.
"It's nice to be honored for something you'd do on your own without being asked," Waterston said.
His interest in Lincoln was initially sparked by comments about their shared physical resemblance, joked the actor.
But it was after a visit to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., that Waterston became intrigued with Lincoln. Among other things he admired his thoughtful prose.
"I knew he was a titanic figure and that's why I wanted to play him," he said.
Lincoln's integrity was something Shakespeare's fictional characters shared.
"From the beginning to the end he appears to be the same man. He was enormously influenced by what he could and what he couldn't say," Waterston said.
Lincoln's words allow you to get to know him from the inside out.
"I admire his clarity of word, his rigor and elegance. The words are a reflection of his thinking," he said.
Lincoln displayed a straightforwardness that is an extraordinary skill for a politician, Waterston said.
When asked if Lincoln reminded him of any contemporary politicians, Waterston simply said, "I wish."