Today is the birthday of the greatest actor of our time, Daniel Day-Lewis (b. 1957). I think he must unavoidably be aided in the self-possession that feeds his art by the fact that he is sort of modern-day royalty: his father was British poet laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, his maternal grandfather was the head of Ealing Studios, and his father-in-law was the late Arthur Miller.
While Day-Lewis is associated with Method Acting, the fact is he had an old fashioned traditional training at the Bristol Old Vic and was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and is very much associated with classics and period dramas. And, as for the “Method” element, isn’t his level of immersion, especially for roles involving self-torture like My Left Foot (1989), a kind of showmanhip highly reminiscent of Lon Chaney?
And, as emotionally connected as he is capable of being, I think it his devotion to physical technique that sets him head and shoulders above everybody else. Think of his performance in The Gangs of New York (2002) where he is essentially channeling Robert DeNiro. Now: DeNiro is a real Method actor. And he’s famous for his physical devotion to roles, as well (most famously his weight gain and loss for Raging Bull). But do you think for an instant, he can master a foreign accent? (Well, okay he did Italian for The Godfather, Part Two. But, my point is, could he do a part as Daniel Day-Lewis, as Day-Lewis did one as DeNiro? I’m sorry — am I making your head explode?)
Furthermore, do you know the story of the last time Day-Lewis appeared on stage? In 1989 he was playing Hamlet at the National Theatre in London — and broke down weeping in performance because he saw the ghost of his own father. Now if we attribute this event to Method acting insanity, it is definitely the kind of weird-ass episode we can see happening to Marlon Brando or Rod Steiger. On the other hand…a ghost in a theatre? Oh, we have centuries of precedent for that.
And now, because you know you want it, a little scene involving the metaphor of a certain popular beverage from There Will Be Blood: