Sir Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis (born 29 April 1957 in London, England) is a retired English-Irish actor. Considered one of the greatest actors in film history, with some comparing him to Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando, and Robert De Niro at their best, he is known for his legendarily intense method techniques. He is the first and only man to win three Academy Awards for Best Actor (My Left Foot, There Will Be Blood, Lincoln).
Day-Lewis started out as a stage actor, excelling at the National Youth Theatre before being accepted at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. While he shifted between theatre and film throughout the early 1980s, an incident in 1989 where he had a genuine breakdown while playing the title role of Hamlet and left midway through marked his last-ever stage appearance.note
Day-Lewis is known for refusing to compromise on any performance, fully giving in to each role he plays by working to immerse himself into the lifestyle of his character as much as possible, even to the point of negatively affecting his health. This made it difficult for him to function as a stage actor, where such levels of commitment make performances harder to repeat on a nightly basis. 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 his next role.
Although he took a leave of absence after starring in Jim Sheridan's 1997 film The Boxer — dropping off the media radar, going into "semi-retirement", and returning to an old wood-making passion while apprenticing as a shoemaker — Martin Scorsese convinced Day-Lewis to return for his film Gangs of New York in what was the biggest and most high-profile role Day-Lewis had ever played, as gang leader Bill the Butcher. The role was also different from his earlier parts; Day-Lewis had played sensitive (albeit intense), highly vulnerable and generally heroic characters, but Bill was a flamboyant Large Ham villain who was supremely macho and charismatic. The result was a performance that some consider one of modern cinema's most iconic villains.
This started a new phase for Day-Lewis where he became highly selective (some six films between 2002-2017) but achieved a degree of fame and respect that overshadowed his already commendable career before his first retirement. On June 20, 2017, he announced a second retirement, with his final performance being in Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread. He called it "a private decision".
Day-Lewis' 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, Day-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.
- Gandhi as Colin (bit part)
- The Bounty as John Fryer
- My Beautiful Laundrette as Johnny Burfoot
- A Room with a View as Cecil Vyse
- My Left Foot as Christy Brown
- The Age of Innocence as Newland Archer
- The Last of the Mohicans as Nathaniel "Hawkeye" Poe
- In the Name of the Father as Gerry Conlon
- The Crucible as John Proctor
- Gangs of New York as Bill "The Butcher" Cutting
- There Will Be Blood as Daniel Plainview
- Nine as Guido Contini
- Lincoln as Abraham Lincoln
- Phantom Thread as Reynolds Woodcock
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 The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
- 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.
- Celebrity Is Overrated: He's made clear he has little to no interest in fame or any aspect of acting besides the work itself, keeping a very low profile when not working.
- 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.
- 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 Guy: By all accounts, when not deep into character as a less than lovable person like Bill the Butcher, he's a pleasant and sweet-natured guy, even using one of his acceptance speeches to deliver a heartwarming tribute to Heath Ledger who had passed away recently and dedicating the award to him.
- 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.
- Reclusive Artist: He's known for being intensely private, avoiding the spotlight when not working and not using social media.
- 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".