It is unfathomable for mere mortals like us that someone can be crowned as the greatest actor in the world by TIME and he never made the slightest attempt to bask in the glory showered on him by media and the audience. No outlandish repartee to garner tabloid reverence, no frequent appearances on TV shows/talk shows, no ‘forced controversies’ to sell tickets and eventually, no attempt at a glorious farewell speech as he bid adieu to the biggest industry in the world for good! Daniel Day-Lewis has been an enigma, both for his outrageous method acting and his reclusive social life. His idiosyncratic style can be attributed to two main aspects—Curiosity of character and a variety of nuances to be imbibed for the final delivery.
Daniel comes from a class of actors, very few and far between, who have embraced the art through embodiment of characters who are as varied as they come. Be it Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man, who used to run a few minutes before shooting began to portray a petrified PhD scholar caught in the muddled world of smuggling to Joaquin Phoenix, whose method acting antics have landed him in trouble and bad books of a few, the list of such dedicated craftsmen is a short but illustrious one. Daniel Day-Lewis is at the forefront of that list. And I say this despite the knowledge that such a list will include Marlon Brando (the original Method Actor. Watch At the Waterfront to decipher his range), Al Pacino and Christian Bale, who famously dropped 40 Kgs for a role in The Machinist, so much so that his doctors had warned him of impending death if he went any lower. Daniel Day-Lewis thrived on character journeys. It is often a complaint we movie lovers have that Day-Lewis has made very few movies. Of late, his movie appearances have spanned once in almost 4 years. Which is justified if we try to grasp the ‘method’ this legend applies to each of his roles. As his famous character in Gangs Of New York said “ You are neither cold nor hot. So because you are lukewarm, I will spew you out of my mouth.” Cold wasn’t an option he would take, lukewarm, he didn’t know, so hot it was for him every time. Let us look at a few examples of such methods employed by the thespian in a few of his movies—
There Will Be Blood :
This 2007 release is arguably one of the shining glories in Daniel’s filmography. The role of a ruthless, often eccentric Oil Baron required Day-Lewis to understand the functioning of the early 1900s Oil drilling industry and the people who ran the show. Day-Lewis worked on the voice and particular gait of the Edward Doheny, on whom the character was loosely based. He used to stay in character and was often so remarkably intense on set that the actor who played Eli Sunday, one Kel O’neill, was intimidated by his presence and was replaced midway through the filming process as he could not handle the level of seriousness of the dramatic scenes. ( a claim refuted by Day-Lewis in later interviews)
Check out Day-Lewis talk about his method acting in this interview:
For all Americans and historians and followers around the world, the Lincoln Memorial statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting outside the museum is the definitive image they carry of the great leader. After 2012, a new image grasped the public imagination and it was of Daniel Day-Lewis becoming the late president himself. It was as if some other worldly power had connected the spirit of the late president with Day-Lewis because he stayed in character through the entirety of the filming process, which made director Steven Spielberg call him Mr President even when he was not filming. Daniel Day-Lewis had rejected the offer of playing the Late President 8 years ago, but this time Steven had a script he could not say no to. Also, Steven Speilberg allowed Day-Lewis to take as much time as he wanted to prepare for this iconic character. And true to his craft, Day-Lewis worked on each aspect for months. He changed the texture of his voice after reading manuscripts about how Abe Lincoln used to address the people. He became a mini historian himself to understand what prompted the leader to defy others and abolish slavery. And he stayed in character all throughout the filming.
Sally Fields who portrayed the First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln used to receive SMSes from her co-star in character, as Abe Lincoln! What was unsurprising was the fact that none of this was seen as surprising by any of the co-actors. Everyone knew the school of acting Day-Lewis came from and the scale of the movie itself.
Check out Sally Fields’ interview here:
“I do my own drilling. And the men that work for me, work for me and they’re men I know. I make it my business to be there and to see their work. I don’t lose my tools in the hole and spend months fishing for them. I don’t botch the cementing off and let water in the hole and ruin the whole lease. I’m a family man. I run a family business. So ladies and gentlemen if I say I’m an oil man, you will agree.”—Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis in There will be Blood). The above rhetoric, quoted verbatim from the movie, also holds true for how he goes about working on his movie projects. Daniel Day-Lewis is the perfect actor any director can dream of, but often menacing/ overwhelming for his co-actors. But all that hard work and research came with a price. It has taken a toll on this sexagenarian and we can only empathize with him when he decides to select family above acting now.
During his third accepting speech for Best Actor during the Oscars of 2013 he mentioned how his wife of 16 years, Rebecca Miller had to endure living with some strange men during the course of his movie career, him being in characters he played most of the time. I guess his time to repay the unflinching support of his family has come.
Check out his acceptance speech here:
But hey, he still has one last movie for us fans/followers, ‘Phantom Thread’ directed by Paul Thomas Anderson with whom he is working 10 years after There will be blood. This is a parting gift I am waiting for. To watch the legend one final time on the big screen will both be a nostalgic event as well as something which I will cherish for a long long time. Who cares how the movie turns out to be. If Daniel Day-Lewis is playing a 1950s couture designer, I trust the acting Gods he will become one and take us through a tour of that decade! 2017 has given us amazing movies like Get Out, Logan, Split and a whole lot of money spinning Superhero movies (and one impending Christopher Nolan movie too), but for lovers of the Daniel Day-Lewis brand of acting and having followed his filmography loyally for the past decade, i am supremely excited about Phantom Thread. Let it be the celebration of this great movie magician!