Actors basically pretend to be other people for a living. Usually they research their character to best understand them so that they can produce the most realistic and intimate imitation of them. At worst, this research involves turning up and reading loud and stumbling over the tough words. At best these performances transition from impersonation to personification and embodiment. This can involve substantial physical changes be it prostetics, drastic weight and physique changes or CGI. Some actors produce this sort of performance once in a career like Natalie Portman in Black Swan or J.K. Simmons in Whiplash or even Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas (although some attribute this to supernatural phenomena). Some can do this repeatedly like Meryl Street, Jack Nicholson or Robert De Niro.
BUT… there are few who can produce these performances as consistently and brilliantly as Daniel Day-Lewis.
Here he is in ”There Will Be Blood” in the brilliant and intense ”milkshake” scene:
Suffice to say his milkshake brings all the boys to the yard!
Daniel is the only man to win 3 Oscars for Best Actor, for his work in ”My Left Foot”, ”There Will Be Blood” and ”Lincoln”. He received 2 further Best Actor nods for ”In The Name Of The Father” and ”Gangs Of New York”. NB/ Walter Brennan and Jack Nicholson have also won 3 Oscars but over the Best Actor and Supporting Actor categories.
Now while Oscar success is not an accurate singular measure of an actor’s ability, due to the Academy’s somewhat questionable record with race and snubbing movies, amongst other things. It is a testament to his skill.
Now some could argue that the reason for his ability to commit and perfect each role is his selectivity. And you’d be right. Since he won the Oscar for ”My Left Foot”, in 1989, he has only been in 10 films, often with years between each. To you I say, does that matter? These days film stars appear in multiple films a year and make millions for each one. But it you look at these extensive filmography’s, how many of the films are truly great? And more importantly how many of the performances are memorable or worthy of recognition? If we looked at the same time period I would bet the number would be less than Mr Lewis’s. This is especially important when you look at the constant barrage of terrible films which violate the eyes of the general public on a daily basis.
Furthermore, when money is not an issue, who wouldn’t want to bide their time and find the right project and vehicle to produce your best work, using your spare-time to fulfil other passions and hobbies. Daniel’s dissociation from the Hollywoodland bubble only serves to benefit his acting work by allowing him to relax and truly consider each role. In fact between films he has dedicated time to his passion for woodwork and spent time being a cobbler. These periods remain very illusive and mysterious as he has said, ”…a period of my life that I had a right to, without any intervention of that kind”. He has taken a hiatus since filming 2012’s Lincoln as he believes he will not be able to surpass this work for some time. Remember, QUANTITY IS NOT THE SAME AS QUALITY…for example Michael Bay sticking 200 explosions in a film does not make it good! Or even tolerable.
However, what I believe sets Daniel Day-Lewis apart is his absolute, unshakeable dedication to each role. He takes method acting to a new, almost comically insane, stratosphere. He caught pneumonia and refused to wear a warmer coat during the filming of ”Gangs Of New York”. He spent the entirety of filming ”My Left Foot” in character as paraplegic writer, Christy Brown, being carried around or pushed in a wheelchair and being spoonfed; he even broke two ribs from being constantly slumped over. He only ate food he killed for ”The Last Of The Mohicans”. Lost 30lbs and underwent intense interrogations for ”In The Name Of The Father”. And he didnt bathe for the entire filming of ”The Crucible” to experience the life of a 17th Century man.
While he is not the only method actor: Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Christian Bale, even Leto and McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club, and Danny Dyer (just kidding). These actors go through rigorous and chameleon-like physical changes, alter and distort their personalities and deliver incredible performances, rivalling those of Day-Lewis. But… Daniel’s level of diligence, intensity and commitment to his research and performance puts him a step above in terms of (method) acting and, consequently, consistency of performance. If you don’t believe me, take look at, and cringe through, some of the crappy films the above actors have made: The Family, Chapter 27, all McConaughey rom-coms, Little Fockers, Meet The Fockers, Terminator Salvation, Exodus and Grudge Match.
An example of Day-Lewis’ preparation is here in Lincoln, a role he prepared for by over a year by reading 100s of books on Lincoln and perfecting the make-up!
His groundwork allows him to produce some of the most memorable and most accomplished performances in recent cinema. They are diverse, restrained, anarchic, troubled and inspiring. His characters are complex, interesting and unique. Everything a person is. Except he achieved this for characters completely foreign and distant from himself, a middle-class English son of a Poet Laurete. In the hands of lesser actors, the intensity or vigour of these performances could be cartoonish and silly. But instead they are engrossing and more importantly, real!
For example, Lewis as Christy Brown in ”My Left Foot”.
Anyway, this is my take on Daniel Day-Lewis, I hope you enjoyed it. Here are some of his films you should definitely see: My Left Foot, Last Of The Mohicans, In The Name Of The Father, The Crucible, The Boxer,Gangs Of New York, There Will Be Blood and Lincoln! Do yourself a favour and take a look!