Thursday, March 25, 2010
The Script Reads Him
There is something magical about the Englishman Daniel Day-Lewis. His acting is beyond himself. This is what separates him from the Hollywood litter. When even the most famous actors are playing a role, you see them as the actor first, then the character. For example, in amazing performances like Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, you see Hanks first, then Forrest. Or more recently, Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglorious Basterds, on the screen you still see Brad Pitt first, then Lt. Raine. Part of the fault of that falls on the obsession America has to know the details of every celebrity's personal life (Brangelina anyone?). When you know so much about a person's life, it is hard to separate that knowledge from the performance. Even when that feat is conquered, you still are never really convinced of the transformation. Little is known about Daniel Day-Lewis' personal life because he rarely lets us know it. He lives quietly and modestly in a way that it avoids paparazzi from seeking a scandal. As for the transformation, when Day-Lewis puts on his character, he steps outside of himself, completely separating the ties between the two, and makes you forget Daniel Day-Lewis even exists. A new person is born, and using the shell of Daniel Day-Lewis, he is seen in silver screens across the world.
Selective about his roles, he has even waited 5 years between them which is almost unheard of in Hollywood, the town that easily forgets. Famously known as a method actor, most people do not realize the extent and commitment that this entails. He puts his own health and well-being aside, considering the performance as the priority.
Easily earning his first Academy Award for his performance on "My Left Foot", he portrayed a man who was born with cerebral palsy and could only control his left foot. DDL, at the time not the world renown actor he is today, refused to break character long after the cameras stopped rolling. He stayed in his wheelchair (and hunched over position) and the crew resented him for having to lift him and wheel him around, being annoyed by the dedication. DDL learned of his character's embarrassments and sense of being a burden. This gave him the amazing insight to portray the character as marvelously as he did. Oh, and did I mention he broke two ribs from staying in that hunched position in the wheelchair for so many weeks? He just kept on going. Yeah, that's how much of a badass he is.
For his character Hawkeye in "The Last of the Mohicans", he lived in the woods and did intensive physical training. He actually learned to live off of the land where his character lived. He learned to fish and hunt and skin animals using only the primitive techniques of the Indians. He was never seen without his long rifle with which he literally slept with.
He earned his second Oscar nomination for the film, "In The Name Of The Father" in which he was a political prisoner. He spent weeks living inside of a prison cell and instructed the crew to physically and verbally abuse him. Next he played the iconic John Proctor in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" and even went to meet and learn from Miller himself (marrying Miller's daughter shortly after.)
Still, my favorite performance by the greatest actor alive is his role in Scorcese's "Gangs of New York". Having seen this as a teenager I remember being traumatized by the amount of gruesome gore and violence and remembered little of DDL's performance. After growing up a bit, I decided to revisit one of my childhood traumas only for the sake of DDL. I was heavily rewarded. Playing Bill 'The Butcher', he embodied an American Nationalist in the age of America's formation. A villain with principles and honor. A man you hate but understand and somehow respect (not an easy feat to make us hate you and respect you at the same time). For his performance he spoke in his New York accent on and off the set and took lessons as an apprentice butcher. He even was diagnosed with pneumonia during filming but refused to take treatment because it didn't go along with the time period. This earned him another Academy nod.
His most recent Oscar comes from his performance in "There Will Be Blood" where his research involved finding and studying letters written from wealthy oilmen of the era. He assumed the role of a man much older than himself and added an early American accent along with a snarl and a hunched posture. As the film proceeds you grow to hate his greedy character Daniel Plainview who puts his own greediness in front of his own son's well-being.
This chameleon is a modern treasure. He is able to change his voice and body drastically all for the sake of cinema. Accents from all over the world with impeccable diction. Postures and weight varying from film to film. Robert Downy Jr.'s character on 'Tropic Thunder', Kirk Lazarus, is based on him. And in Kirk's hilarious own words, "Man, I don't drop character 'till I done the DVD commentary" and "I don't read the script. The script reads me". Watching him act is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball or TIger Woods play golf. No one has mastered the craft like he has. Brilliance at its finest. Each second on screen is like watching an artist add another stroke to his masterpiece. Daniel Day-Lewis, we are eagerly anticipating your next move.