Graham Sibley

Graham Sibley

Cameron Thrower
Graham Sibley

Graham Sibley in The History Channel's Abraham Lincoln.

Joe Alblas/The History Channel
Graham Sibley

Graham Sibley in The History Channel's Abraham Lincoln.

Joe Alblas/The History Channel
Fill 1
Fill 1
February 18, 2022
Online Originals

Graham Sibley's Portrait of a President

The star of the upcoming History Channel docudrama Abraham Lincoln was fated to play the sixteenth president.

Kathleen O'Steen

Call it fate. Call it destiny. However one chooses to look at it, Graham Sibley — the star of the upcoming History Channel docudrama, Abraham Lincoln — was bound to portray the country's sixteenth president.

And it was a role that terrified him.

"A friend contacted me during the pandemic and asked if I'd be willing to play Abraham Lincoln in a small independent film about the Lincoln-Douglas debates," says Sibley. "I said yes, and then I just dug in, reading as much as I could about him." He even found himself reciting Lincoln's House Divided speech as he pushed his toddler twin boys in their stroller.

And then, with the pandemic raging, plans for the film fell through.

"What can I say? I was shattered."

That was until a much bigger offer came along, to portray Lincoln in a major History Channel production based on Leadership: In Turbulent Times, the New York Times bestseller by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin — who also serves as an executive producer.

Part documentary (with commentary from people like Barack Obama and Goodwin) and part dramatic re-creation, the three-night event — premiering Sunday, February 20 — offers viewers a visceral portrait of Lincoln and the almost overwhelming difficulties he faced as president.

"We worked from a 350-page script; this was not just a documentary or a re-enactment," Sibley says. "It is a narrative that takes you on an emotional journey, so that you have a better understanding of his life."

It was a role that took Sibley on his own emotional rollercoaster, as he had to leave his wife and two sons for the three-month shoot in South Africa, in the midst of the pandemic. "Trying to discover someone's humanity when you take on a role like this is really challenging. I knew that in doing this, I could fail fantastically. I took an oath with myself to be as brave as I could and just chase my curiosity for this man."

It was this same doggedness that had pushed Sibley as a teenager growing up in Michigan — where all the cool kids eschewed the arts in favor of sports — to finally admit to his parents that he really wanted to go to film school and study acting. "Luckily my parents were very supportive, even though my mom worried about me," he admits.

He hasn't regretted his career choice. But he has experienced all actors' worries regarding work and having to always be on the hunt for the next role. "When I took the role of Lincoln, I was talking with Doris Kearns Goodwin. She said, 'Spending time with Lincoln will change things for you,' and it absolutely has. Portraying Lincoln has changed the molecules in my being, it just asked so much of me. It was a lot of pressure, and it was a very lonely journey."

Even so, he adds, "I came out of this with a deeper understanding of my own value."

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