Perhaps it’s my fascination for dark and troubled personalities that, added to my love of extraordinary acting talent, recently has got me hooked on Daniel Day-Lewis, a man who possesses plenty of both. Spurring it on was this old but insightful article from New York Times, 1992 which gives a really interesting insight into this phenomenal actor’s mind and method: both quite peculiar, yet both unquestionably potent.
I wish I could say that this new-found obsession has nothing to do with this weekend’s Academy Awards ceremony, where he won the Oscar for Best Leading Actor for ‘Lincoln’; that I’ve been meaning to watch more of his movies for a while now anyway (well, that is partly true) and that this just happened to be the time for it, but that’s sadly not the case. The truth is, despite Daniel Day-Lewis’ unbelievable achievements in the world of film and the almost-reverence with which he is treated among colleagues and critics alike, generally being regarded as the most respected, versatile and arguably the best actor of his generation, I shamefully admit that this man up until now has mysteriously somehow been more or less off my radar, and that it’s actually taken me this long to realize just how big of a deal he is.
Then again, perhaps it’s not all that odd that I haven’t noticed him. Being exceedingly shy of the media and protective of his privacy, Day-Lewis appears to enjoy that incredibly rare and prized condition that very few celebrities of his caliber do, of generally being left alone by the press (I can think of only Johnny Depp as the other who shares this unusual privilege, as it seems to have become). There is very little being written by him that isn’t related to a movie project, and as he takes on noteworthy few of those, he remains something of an enigma despite his continuous achievements.
What usually is written about Day-Lewis concerns his tenacious use of method acting. He takes this acting technique perhaps further than any other modern-day actor, remaining in character for the entirety of a production and aquiring skills that aren’t strictly speaking neccessary for the movie, such as learning Czech for a character’s backstory and how to build canoes, remaining in a wheelchair off-set for weeks on end, and always insisting that others address him by his character name. Judging only by these kinds of reports and his choice of roles, usually portraying tormented or tyrannical men, one can easily be left with an image of a somewhat disagreeable eccentric.
The first movie in which I remember taking notice of him (and not just because he’s in every single scene save one in the movie’s 2 hours and 40 minutes) was in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘There Will Be Blood’ (2007). His intense performance earned him a place in the exclusive club of actors who have won all the five greatest film awards (Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe, SAG and Critics’ Choice) for a single performance. A few years earlier he had appeared in ‘Gangs of New York’ in a solid performance as the tyrannic Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, though I’m among the select few who found the movie as a whole largely overrated. In retrospect I remember noticing at the reception of both of these movies the way this man always seemed to be mentioned in a noticably revered kind of way, but for some reason it escaped my mind to inquire about why.
The first news of his newest all-consuming project, Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’, presented by way of a teaser poster of his face in profile, initially sparked my interest. Here was “this guy” again, whom everyone seemed to think so much of, and in biopic about a very interesting historical figure. But with the arrival of the farce ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ around the same time and the painful memories of Spielberg’s last and hugely disappointing movie ‘War Horse’, the interest soon dwindled and turned to increasing skepticism. By the time the movie finally reached the cinemas here much later, despite raving reviews in the US and numerous award nominations both for Day-Lewis and the movie in general, my skepticism had festered and the movie was opted out in favour of other cinema released around the same time.
So watching the Oscars ceremony this Sunday, I still didn’t know all too much about this mysterious and intense man when he was announced the winner of the Academy award for Leading Actor – in the process writing film history on two accounts: as the only person to ever receive three Leading Actor Oscars, and the only person to ever win the Big 5 twice. And here, at last, is when my eyes opened to this extraordinary person. Not only was it fascinating to witness how the entire crowd present at the ceremony saluted him as he approached the stage to accept his reward, but the charisma, incredible humility and down-to-earth air that radiated from while he delivered his well-spoken and witty acceptance speech left me completely astounded as to how I’ve managed to avoid being taken in by him sooner.
As you can imagine, I’ve spent some time rectifying my errors and updating myself on his cinematic history since then. I’ve added six new titles to my watchlist (at this rate steadily becoming more like a -booklet), and, thankfully, discovered that another three were already on it (‘A Room With A View’ (1985), ‘The Last Of The Mohicans’ (1992) and ‘The Crucible’ (1996)). For once I’m grateful about the generally untimely late distributions of American blockbusters to Norwegian cinemas, because it gives me a chance to still catch ‘Lincoln’ on the big screen.
The other five are ‘My Left Foot’ (1989, which earned him his first Oscar), ‘In The Name Of The Father’ (1992, which earned him his second Oscar nomination) and ‘The Ballad of Jack and Rose’ (2005), written and directed by his wife, ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ (1985) and ‘The Unbearable Lightness Of Being’ (1988).