Thursday, December 7News That Matters

Daniel Day-Lewis: The end of acting?

Daniel Day-Lewis has retired from Hollywood, and we’re mourning the last great actor who refused to be a movie star.

There will be no more milkshakes, no more glass eyes, no more handlebar moustaches, primal screams, tearful gazes or heartbreaking performances.

We say goodbye to one of the greatest actors who ever lived.

Day-Lewis is not dead of course, just retired.

But that the man is alive matters very little because, unlike most of his contemporaries, Day-Lewis has refused to exist outside his characters.

Half-English, half-Irish, the stage and screen legend won three Academy Awards, four BAFTAs and is widely considered the greatest actor alive – and he did it all while keeping his personal life away from the tabloids and his political views out of his speeches.

My Left Foot
Image:Playing Irish painter Christy Brown in My Left Foot

“Actors should never give interviews,” he once told the Guardian, in one of his few, reluctant, sit-downs with journalists.

“Once you know what colour socks they wear, you’ll remember it next time you see them performing, and it will get in the way. It is not in anyone’s interest.”

At a time when the division in Northern Ireland was still being felt, Day-Lewis twice starred in IRA-themed films – In The Name Of The Father in 1994 and The Boxer in 1997.

He moved from London to Ireland, gaining dual citizenship.

When asked the reason behind it, he stated that Ireland reminded him of his father, poet laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, and the memories of a happy childhood in the country.

The Boxer
Image:Day Lewis in Jim Sheridan’s The Boxer

“Initially it was invigorating,” he said about the interest his fans showed in his politics.

“People suddenly wanted to hear my views on all manner of social problems. I was up for it but it palled very soon afterwards.”

By living a secluded life, enjoying long hiatus between films and choosing his projects carefully, Day-Lewis managed to avoid falling into the category of movie star. He chose to be an actor instead.

He dodged several bullets when he played a murdered US president in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, always refusing to delve too much into politics during his pressers, stating that the only difference between politics now and in the early 19th century was that, back then, people didn’t have television to “reduce everything to platitudes and simple pictures”.

Far from prolific, he starred in 20 films in a career spanning 46 years, and decided to quit the theatre suddenly after famously saying he had seen his father’s ghost on stage.

In The Name Of The Father
Image:Day-Lewis received an Oscar nomination for his role in In The Name Of The Father

He later denied the claims, explaining it was meant as a metaphor, that he felt haunted by “that correspondence between father and son, or the son and the father who is no longer alive”.

That relationship with his father is present throughout his most notable films. In The Name Of The Father, the wrongly convicted Gerry Conlon is most poignant when looking into the eyes of his father Giuseppe, played by the late Pete Postlethwaite.

Years later, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, the only likeable trait of the oil fanatic Daniel Plainview lays in his relationship with his false son HW.

Now, for his last film, Daniel Day-Lewis will return to the man who gave him his most memorable role, and will star in PT Anderson’s Phantom Thread, set to be released later this year.

Gangs of New York
Image:Day Lewis’s glorious moustache first appeared in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York

But the man wasn’t without his mistakes. In 2009 he played an Italian film director in Rob Marshall’s horrible show of misogyny and bad music Nine which, I’m sure, would have made Fellini turn over in his grave.

And even before that, there was the film adaptation of Milan Kundera’s classic novel, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being.

If it was a mistake to turn the novel into film in the first place, the weak dialogue didn’t help, and it haunted Day-Lewis, who attributed his performance to “something to do with language”.

“I knew that that kernel of truth that I need to have somewhere in a role would be missing,” he said.

“And apart from anything else, the exploration of sexuality in the film was just – well, I was in no way prepared for how that would feel. It was a mistake.”

The Unbearable Lightness Of Being
Image:The Unbearable Lightness Of Being remains one of Day Lewis’s greatest regrets to date

But even with his mishaps, his lack of public persona and his less than prolific career, Day-Lewis still stands out as perhaps the greatest of his generation. Maybe even the next.

While most Hollywood stars seem preoccupied with the current state of affairs in the White House, global warming or Instagram, there is a lack of artists who take their profession with the solemness of an old trade.

Daniel Day-Lewis may have been the last one.

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