Follow TV Tropes


Creator / Daniel Day-Lewis

Go To

"I suppose I have a highly developed capacity for self-delusion, so it's no problem for me to believe that I'm somebody else."

Sir Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis (born 29 April 1957 in London, England) is a legendarily intense English-Irish Method actor and a three-time Academy Award winner.

He has starred in such acclaimed films as My Left Foot, The Age of Innocence, The Last of the Mohicans, In the Name of the Father, Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood and Lincoln.

His father was British Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, while his maternal grandfather was the film producer Michael Balcon. He's married to Arthur Miller's daughter Rebecca Miller, an accomplished writer in her own right, whom he met while filming The Crucible. Prior to that, Lewis had a relationship with French actress Isabelle Adjani, with whom he has a son. He famously ended that relationship by breaking up with her over fax.

Lewis is considered an actor who never compromises on any role, fully giving in to each role he plays, working very hard on every part he plays. This made it hard for him to function as a stage actor, where the great immersion into a role, makes it harder to repeat night after night. One famous incident, had him breakdown during a production of Hamlet where the Prince confronts the ghost of his father. Lewis later admitted that he had seen his own father's ghost on stage and this scared him off from appearing on stage ever again. He was far better suited to film, and even then as he grew older, his dedication and commitment to each part made it harder for him to continue with the next film and role. He retired after finishing The Boxer in 1997, dropping off the grid and apparently spending time working as an apprentice shoe-maker in Florence. This was until Martin Scorsese convinced him to return in Gangs of New York. This was the biggest and most high-profile role Lewis ever played in his career until then. It was also very different from his earlier parts. Before Lewis had played sensitive, albeit intense, highly vulnerable men, and generally he played heroes. Bill the Butcher however was a flamboyant Large Ham villain who was supremely macho and charismatic. The result was a performance that some consider one of recent cinema's most iconic villains.


This started a new phase for Lewis where he has been highly selective (some six films between 2002-2017), but has achieved a degree of fame and respect that overshadowed his already commendable career before his first retirement. He won an Oscar for My Left Foot in his first phase, and he won two more in the second one : for There Will Be Blood and Lincoln. His Oscar win for the latter made him the first man to win the Best Actor Oscar three times, the first actor to win an Oscar for any Spielberg film, and the only person so far to win an Oscar for playing an actual American President. Lewis announced a second retirement after Phantom Thread, on June 20, 2017. He called it "a private decision". By this time, Lewis attained the status of being considered the best actor of his generation, with some considering him the equal of Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando, and Robert De Niro at their best.


Filmography on TV Tropes

This actor provided examples of:

  • Bookends: As Paul Thomas Anderson notes, Phantom Thread is one to his early roles such as A Room With A View and Unbearable Lightness.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Let's be honest, he'd have been committed to an asylum long ago if he wasn't such a brilliant actor.
  • Call to Agriculture: After learning to make his own clothes in preparation for one film, he left film for six years to become a cobbler in Florence.
  • Chewing the Scenery: When the time calls for him to yell, he will YELL.
  • Creator Breakdown: Daniel's Method Acting once led to an incident where he collapsed into a sobbing wreck during a performance of Hamlet as the titular character, during the scene where Hamlet speaks to his father's ghost. Daniel later admitted that during the scene he saw his own father (who had died over a decade earlier). He never appeared on stage again.
  • Death Glare: Check out the absolute crackers he gives to his nurse/future wife when she tries to take his hidden bottle of whiskey off him in My Left Foot, to Eli Sunday during his "confirmation" in There Will Be Blood, and at several points during Gangs of New York.
  • Doing It for the Art: As has been mentioned, Day-Lewis is one of the most well known method actors around, to the point where he's actually achieved a memetic status as the go to for insane dedication to acting, as during the filming process, he never gets out of character. While playing Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, he famously refused to seek medical treatment for pneumonia until it became almost life threatening, as it was not in keeping with available medical treatment in the 1860's. He also ad libbed tapping on his glass eye with a knife to intimidate William Tweed. When playing a villain, he will accost other actors in character on and off the set, and get into fights in bars in preparation for a role. When playing any character, he will spend six months mastering an accent,note  learning various crafts, and adopting disabilities.
  • Dyeing for Your Art: Trained as a boxer for three years and broke a knuckle for his role in The Boxer.
  • Fake American: Several roles, such as Newland Archer, Hawkeye, Bill the Butcher, Daniel Plainview and Abraham Lincoln. He's a one-man history of 19th Century America.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: His fame (or infamy) of exhaustively adhering to his characters has cost him roles, including ones that he probably would have enjoyed doing and would have been very good in, simply because some directors (such as Peter Jackson, when he was casting for Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings) are unwilling to subject themselves and the other actors under their care to his behavior. Even actors are unwilling to stand him: Liam Neeson was pretty annoyed by how he didn't drop character while they were filming Gangs of New York, to the point that it was reported that he swore to never work with him again.
  • Large Ham: See Chewing the Scenery for more details.
  • Man of a Thousand Faces: He changes his appearance and behaviors radically in every film he acts in.
  • Man of a Thousand Voices: As part of the transformative quality of his performances, Day-Lewis is extremely adept at manipulating his voice and accent to match specific time periods. His most high profile characters, from cerebral palsy afflicted Irish painter Christy Brown in My Left Foot, to Old Californian prospector Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, to President Lincoln in Lincoln , show impressive vocal range. These men sound *nothing* like each other. His filmography is limited, but his vocal range has been a multifaceted tool over the course of his career.
  • Method Acting: To say the least. He's famous for his exhaustive, in-depth preparations for his characters, for which he will always do extensive research, and not once breaking character until production is wrapped. He could be considered the patron saint of this trope.
  • Nice Jewish Boy: Though by his own admission he's an agnostic.
  • Odd Friendship: He is close friends with Adam Sandler, of all people, enough for Sandler to refer him as "Danny".
  • Parental Abandonment: His father died when he was fourteen. This became an issue years later when during a production of Hamlet, he had a nervous breakdown, specifically during the scene of confronting the father's ghost. Years later he admitted that he got so into the role, that he actually felt that he had seen his own father's ghost. It's his last theatrical role to date.
  • Playing Against Type: He doesn't exactly have a type, per se, but he first drew attention in America for playing two incredibly different roles in movies that happened to premiere in the US on the same day: as the repressed, snobbish, upper-class, Edwardian-era Englishman Cecil in A Room with a View; and Johnny, the gay ex-skinhead thug in Thatcher's London engaged in a forbidden romance with a Pakistani boy in My Beautiful Laundrette. Many critics were impressed that he did both roles so convincingly.
  • Production Posse: At the very least, Jim Sheridan, Martin Scorsese and now Paul Thomas Anderson are the only directors willing to work with him more than once.
  • Serious Business: Notoriously takes acting very seriously. Luckily he's very good at it.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • He actively campaigned for the part of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, but was turned down by Quentin Tarantino.
    • He was also going to be cast as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings films when Stuart Townsend was kicked off the project, but Peter Jackson ended up going with Viggo Mortensen because of Day-Lewis's reputation as a difficult actor to work with. Had Mortensen actually drowned in The Two Towers film, however, he might've been Mortensen's replacement.
    • He was Jonathan Demme's first choice to play Andrew Beckett in Philadelphianote . He turned down the role to star in The Age of Innocence. Amusingly, he ended up losing the Academy Award for Best Actor to Tom Hanks, who was ultimately cast as Beckett.
    • He was considered for Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, but was deemed "too European".