When an actor gives themselves to a role and embodies their character not just on the set of the film’s production, but also off it too, this is known as ‘method acting’. Originating in the 1930s, the acting technique was refined by the likes of Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro in the 20th century before the term became confused by the likes of Jared Leto in contemporary cinema. Whilst it can certainly be mistaken for an actor trying too hard for an Academy Award, often the technique can lead to some of the finest performances in cinema, with Daniel Day-Lewis and Christian Bale being flag bearers for the infamous acting style.
Starring in the likes of The Last of the Mohicans, Gangs of New York and There Will be Blood, Daniel Day-Lewis has earned his acclaim as one of the finest actors of the modern generation, dedicating his mind and body to every role he commits to. Winning Oscars for his roles in There Will be Blood by Paul Thomas Anderson as well as in Lincoln by Steven Spielberg, Day-Lewis eventually decided to retire from acting in 2017.
Speaking about why he left the profession, he told RTE, “I did want to draw a line. I didn’t want to get sucked back into another project. All my life, I’ve mouthed off about how I should stop acting, and I don’t know why it was different this time, but the impulse to quit took root in me, and that became a compulsion. It was something I had to do”.
When the mastery of the actor is discussed, it is always Day-Lewis’ extreme commitment to his characters that is celebrated, making note of his hijinks on set that often involved his fellow cast and crew. His performance in My Left Foot playing Christy Brown, a painter born with cerebral palsy is one of his most celebrated roles, showing the actor dedicating himself to his role more than ever.
A biopic about the real-life writer and painter, Daniel Day-Lewis became the star of the show, winning an Oscar for his extraordinary portrayal of the disabled artist. Committing himself to the role, the actor insisted that everyone on set refer to him as Christy Brown, refusing to reply to Daniel. More radical, however, was the actor’s physical dedication to the role with Day-Lewis learning to type and paint with his feet just like Christy Brown, as well as demanding to be pushed around set on a wheelchair.
Practically frustrating, Daniel Day-Lewis’ refusal to leave his wheelchair meant that the film’s production assistants were forced to lift the actor over the masses of equipment littered on set to get him ready for his next scene. Furthermore, the actor took this a step further during the production’s lunch break where it was reported that My Left Foot’s set assistants were made to spoon-feed the actor in accordance with the lifestyle of his character.
Whether you think method acting is nonsense or revolutionary, no one can deny that Daniel Day-Lewis’ dedication to his craft is nothing short of extraordinary.