British actor Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting in 2017, shortly after appearing in the incredible Paul Thomas Anderson drama Phantom Thread alongside Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville. However, Day-Lewis’ career as an actor has spanned over 40 years, making his first film appearance in 1971, playing an uncredited child vandal in John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday.
In the early 1980s, Day-Lewis appeared in his second film, Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, portraying a racist street thug. Simultaneously, Day-Lewis was making a name for himself in the theatre world, eventually joining The Royal Shakespeare Company in 1983, playing Romeo in their adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (1983), and Flute in A Midsummer’s Night Dream a year later in 1984.
However, the actor gained recognition for his incredible performance in My Beautiful Laundrette in 1985, playing a young gay man in a relationship with a Pakistani man, played by Gordon Warnecke. He followed this performance with a role in James Ivory’s A Room With a View that same year, alongside Helena Bonham Carter and Julian Sands.
In 1990 Day-Lewis won his first Academy Awards for Best Actor due to his performance as Christy Brown in My Left Foot. Although it is questionable whether an able-bodied actor should have played the role of a man with cerebral palsy, Day-Lewis unquestionably dedicated himself to the role, becoming friends with many disabled people at Dublin’s Sandymount School Clinic in order further understand his role.
The actor went as far as to stay in character whilst on set, regardless of whether the camera was rolling. He asked crew members to push him around set in a wheelchair and carry him where necessary. Day-Lewis wanted to truly immerse himself in the life of someone with severe physical limitations, even if it meant having to be spoon-fed by the crew.
During a performance of Hamlet at the National Theatre in 1989, the star collapsed on stage, uncontrollably sobbing, whilst performing the scene where Hamlet sees the ghost of his father in front of him. After refusing to return to the stage, he was replaced by Jeremy Northam. In fact, Day-Lewis has never returned to a theatre stage since.
He claims to have seen the ghost of his father whilst performing that night, however, he stated that this claim was more so metaphorical: “To some extent I probably saw my father’s ghost every night, because of course if you’re working in a play like Hamlet, you explore everything through your own experience”.
Over the past few decades, Day-Lewis has starred in many critically acclaimed films, such as Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will be Blood, and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. It is clear from every performance that the actor is incredibly dedicated to the roles he takes on, and in 2012 he was featured on the cover of Time magazine, labelled as “the world’s greatest actor”.
At a screening of Phantom Thread, in which Day-Lewis delivers a career-defining performance as Reynolds Woodcock, the star was asked about the film roles he wishes he could’ve played. He stated that there are no roles that he wishes to have played, instead only roles that made him want to act, a feeling he describes as “how the hell is that possible?”.
One of the films that most inspired Daniel Day-Lewis to start acting was Ken Loach’s 1969 British drama Kes. The film centres around a young working-class boy who finds a means of fulfilment through training a stolen kestrel in the art of falconry. Describing the film, Day-Lewis said: “I’ve probably seen that film a dozen times, but when I first saw it – I was 12 – that film was probably one of the extraordinary films to have affected me more than anything in my life.”
Lead actor David Bradley had not acted before this starring role, however, Day-Lewis describes his performance as “one of the greatest” he’d ever seen, “so beautiful and heartbreaking”. Without this incredibly inspiring performance, we may never have got to witness the talents of Day-Lewis, who over his impressive career has acquired three Oscars, four BAFTAs, two Golden Globes, and even a knighthood.