Daniel Day-Lewis: The master with method is 65 years old

Daniel Day-Lewis
The master with method is 65 years old

A scene from “There Will Be Blood”. Daniel Day-Lewis received his second Oscar for his role.

© imago/Ronald Grant

For Daniel Day-Lewis, 100 percent was just about good enough. On April 29 he will be 65, five years of which he is already spending in acting retirement.

If Daniel Day-Lewis (65) is to embody a butcher, he first learns how to cut up a pig professionally. As the last of the Mohicans, he first mastered the construction of canoes. And for “My left foot” he spent almost the entire shoot and private hours in a wheelchair. In short, Daniel Day-Lewis, who celebrates his 65th birthday on April 29, is a madman in the best sense of the word. Someone who patented self-abandonment for a role. Who was the only man to win three Oscars for a leading role. And one who tore a huge hole in the canvas when he left five years ago.

A pre-made path

That Daniel Day-Lewis would have more than just outsider chances for a career in the film industry should have been clear from his youth when looking at his Irish family. His mother, Jill Balcon, was an actress and her husband, Cecil Day-Lewis, was a writer. Meanwhile, his grandfather Michael Balcon was allowed to call himself boss of Ealing Studios, a renowned British film studio. However, before he switched to film, it took him years to earn an excellent reputation in the theatre.

A (too) delicate soul?

When you see and hear Day-Lewis in interviews or especially in his acceptance speeches, you sometimes don’t trust your senses. The mime, who is 1.87 meters tall, speaks shyly and in a soft voice, looking more at the floor than proudly forward. Can this really be the same man who saw himself foaming at the mouth as the third revelation of God in “There Will Be Blood”? Who, as William “The Butcher” Cutting, also played the madman so convincingly away from the camera that the people on the set of “Gangs of New York” preferred to avoid him?

There have been many “method actors” in the history of cinema. But regardless of whether it was Marlon Brando (1924-2004) or Robert De Niro (78), even they lacked the consistency compared to Day-Lewis to really go to the limit for each individual role. Or the consequence of not taking over some parts. The story persists that Day-Lewis turned down the role of Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings” because such a fantasy character was not compatible with his “method acting”.

But perhaps this ability to give up every fiber of one’s existence for a film and to transform into another person is also his curse. “I remember Paul and I laughed a lot together before we made the film. And then we stopped laughing because we were both overcome with a sense of sadness. It surprised us both: we hadn’t realized what we brought into the world. It was hard to live with and it still is.” That’s what he said about his last film, “The Silken Thread”, which was released in cinemas in 2018. At the age of 60 at the time, Day-Lewis apparently no longer had the strength for this 100 percent self-abandonment. And below that he doesn’t do it.

No man for the supporting role

If he sticks to his decision, Daniel Day-Lewis will have taken on another person a total of 20 times on the big screen. That his decision is final can still be doubted, at least five years later, if you know his career. Because already in the 90s he took a break for this period – to learn the art of shoemaking in Florence.

His career in Hollywood started in 1982 with a small role in the film “Gandhi”, shortly afterwards he was on the “Bounty” with Mel Gibson (66) and Anthony Hopkins (84). Then in 1990 began what would become a unique career. At that time he received the Oscar for his incredible performance of the spastic paralyzed writer and painter Christy Brown (1932-1981) in “My Left Foot”. Two more leading actor Oscars followed for There Will Be Blood and Lincoln, and he was nominated three more times in that category – Daniel Day-Lewis was never a supporting actor.

Incidentally, during his acceptance speech in 2008 for “There Will Be Blood”, he joked that he would probably never get closer to being knighted – because Helen Mirren (76, “The Queen”) presented him with the Oscar at the time. She got a golden boy for her performance as Queen Elizabeth II in 2007. Years later, Prince William (39) punished the father of three sons. In 2014, the Queen’s grandson knighted Daniel Day-Lewis.


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