The Best Daniel Day-Lewis Films: 5 of His Finest Performances
Daniel Day-Lewis is undoubtedly one of the world's finest living actors and possibly one of the greatest there has ever been, winning more Oscars in the Best Actor in a Leading Role category than any other male actor in history. But yesterday it emerged that his next film - the Paul Thomas Anderson-directed Phantom Thread, due to arrive in cinemas in the U.S. on Christmas Day (February 2018 in the UK) – could be his last.
The film industry was left in a state of shock yesterday when the enigmatic actor released a statement through his spokesperson to the effect that Day-Lewis is retiring from acting, bringing down the curtain on one of the most glittering on-screen careers in living memory.
While the statement was characteristically light on information, referring to his retirement only as “a private decision”, and even though the news certainly comes as a surprise - especially given the actor's relatively young age of 60 – it is perhaps not a difficult decision to understand. As one of the world's most renowned method actors, Day-Lewis is invariably described by those he has worked with as the hardest-working actor in the business thanks to the often extreme lengths he goes to in order to transform himself for each role he takes on.
Stories of Day-Lewis' unusual behaviour on-set, such as his refusal to break character between takes during filming, have become the stuff of legend and while the actor is notoriously private, rarely giving interviews, he has admitted difficulty in letting go of the characters he works so hard to become. So while his retirement is undoubtedly a huge loss to the world of cinema, there are few who could begrudge him an early retirment.
Phantom Thread will see Day-Lewis rekindle his partnership with director Paul Thomas Anderson, the man behind the lens for the second of the actor's hat-trick of Oscar-winning performances in There Will Be Blood, but while we look forward to a performance that is sure to be something special, we decided to pay tribute to one of the world's finest actors with five of his best films to remember him by...
1. My Left Foot
By the time of Jim Sheridan's 1989 film My Left Foot, Daniel Day-Lewis was already building a reputation as one of the most singularly talented actors of his generation with critically-acclaimed performances in films such as My Beautiful Laundrette and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but it was his portrayal of Irish artist Christy Brown, who had suffered throughout his life from severe cerebral palsy, which earned the actor his first Oscar. Day-Lewis reportedly spent eight weeks at a cerebral palsy clinic in Dublin in order to understand the challenges Brown would have had to overcome, and once filming began he stayed in character for the duration of the shoot. This meant being lifted out of the car each day when he arrived on set and even being spoon-fed by members of the crew, while his movement around the set was facilitated by a series of wires and cables which allowed him to move around with minimal use of his limbs. The result was a career-defining performance that would see him recognised as one of the best in the business.
2. In the Name of the Father
In another of Jim Sheridan's films, Day-Lewis took on the role of Gerry Conlon, a Northern Irishman and one of the so-called Guildford Four, who was coerced into a false confession about his role in the IRA's Guildford pub bombing in 1974, spending 15 years in jail as a result, and also implicating his father in the bombing, who would later die in jail before his sentence was completed. In order to understand why a man would destroy his own life in such a way, Day-Lewis spent a week living in a jail cell prior to filming, where hired thugs would bang on the railings with tin cups every ten minutes to ensure that he couldn't sleep. During this time he was also interrogated for three nine-hour stretches by former Special Branch officers and insisted on a diet of prison slops. His stunning performance earned him another Oscar nomination, only to lose out to Tom Hanks for his performance in Philadelphia.
3. Gangs of New York
In one of the most famously extreme examples of his strict method, Day-Lewis contracted pneumonia while on set during the making of Martin Scorsese's historical epic Gangs of New York, in which he starred alongside Leonardo Di Caprio and Liam Neeson. The illness was reportedly due to the actor's refusal to exchange his threadbare coat for a warmer one while on the set of the bitterly cold shoot, even between scenes, because it wasn't in keeping with the period and therefore wasn't something his character Bill 'The Butcher' Cutting would wear. He also trained as a butcher for months beforehand, and, despite mixed review of the film, Day-Lewis won praise for his performance and earned himself yet another Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards, this time losing out to Adrien Brody's performance in The Pianist.
4. There Will Be Blood
The film that brought his second Best Actor award at the Oscars saw Day-Lewis take on the role of fictional oil tycoon Daniel Plainview, a self-made millionaire and one of the pioneers who took advantage of the Southern California oil boom in the early 20th century. Day-Lewis' nuanced performance is the centrepiece of a film about a man who, in lesser hands, could just be seen as a heartless, ruthless business magnate, but while Plainview is all of those things, he is also a man who has struggled hard to earn everything he owns and a combination of brilliant acting and excellent storytelling make this one of his most compelling films.
Steven Spielberg famously spent more than a decade unsuccessfully trying to persuade Day-Lewis to portray Abraham Lincoln is his biopic of the 16th President of the United States, feeling that he was the only actor who could do the role justice and deciding that, if his first choice of leading man wouldn't make himself available, then he simply wouldn't make the film. Day-Lewis politely rejected several revisions of the script before Leonardo Di Caprio finally managed to persuade the actor to tackle the role. The result was yet another stellar performance and a record-breaking third Oscar for the actor.