The Parnassus Times

February 10, 2008

I Want To Rule and Never, Ever Explain Myself.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — cigarettesalesman @ 3:26 pm

 

 

How many times has the tale been told? A shy introverted boy, a social outsider, the upper class son of a poet-laureate, half Jewish/half Irish, growing up in the tough streets of Greenwich, England. A figure of fun whose alienation from those around him leads to the hasty mastering of the local accent, local mannerisms. The first signs of convincing performance that would later help him to delve deeper than any before him had ever dared to go in the development of characters more wholly embodied than the medium had ever seen in its hundred year history.

 

“I came from the educated middle class but I identified with the working classes. Those were the people I looked up to. The lads whose fathers worked on the docks or in shipping yards or were shopkeepers. I knew that I wasn’t part of that world, but I was intrigued by it. They had a different way of communicating. People who delight in conversation are often using that as a means to not say what is on their minds. When I became interested in theater, the work I admired was being done by working-class writers. It was often about the inarticulate. I later saw that same thing in Robert DeNiro’s early work – it was the most sublime struggle of a man trying to express himself. There was such poetry in that for me”.

 

Daniel Day-Lewis was born rightwise to the world of cinema. Grandson of Sir Michael Balcon, one of the founding fathers of British cinema who could have denied the young mans right to enter the realms of celluloid? Yet growing up in the age of Olivier’s Gielgud’s, Redgrave’s and Jacobi’s, young English actors of the era were expected to ply their trade upon the stage, delving into the world of Shakespeare, a million miles from the world he dreamed of.

 

“I saw Taxi Driver five or six times in the first week, and I was astonished by its sheer visceral beauty. I just kept going back – I didn’t know America, but that was a glimpse of what America might be, and I realized that, contrary to expectation, I wanted to tell American stories.”

 

Over those formative years he played the title role in a stage production of Dracula, and took on the part of Romeo in Romeo and Juliet with the Royal Shakespeare Company, a role he later came to detest, a character who he came to sum up as a “wanker”.

 

“Where I come from, it was a heresy to say you wanted to be in movies, leave alone American movies. We were all encouraged to believe that the classics of the theater were the fiery hoops through which you’d have to pass if you were going to have any self-esteem as a performer. It never occurred to me that that was the case. One of the great privileges of having grown up in a middle-class literary English household, but having gone to school in the front lines in Southeast London, was that I became half-street-urchin and half-good-boy at home. I knew that dichotomy was possible. England is obsessed with where you came from, and they are determined to keep you in that place, be it in a drawing room or in the gutter. The great tradition of liberalism in England is essentially a sponge that absorbs all possibility of change”.

 

It was around this time that his screen career began to take off; controversy was there from the start as he played one half of a gay, bi-racial couple in Stephen Frears small, gritty British flick, My Beautiful Launderette. That same year he performed at the other end of the spectrum, playing the snooty, upper class Cecil Vyse in Merchant-Ivory’s major production of E.M Forster’s A Room with a View. The former embodied the world he yearned to be a part of, the latter, the world he was a part of and sought to escape.

 

[on Five Easy Pieces] “Jack Nicholson is sublime in that film, just sublime. It’s the most stultifying portrait of middle-class life. You want to flee from that world and head anywhere less civilized. Which is, of course, the appeal of the West: It’s not tamed yet”.

 

“Why would I want to play middle-aged middle-class Englishmen”?

 

 It was two years later, in 1987 that the first signs began to emerge of the man we know today. On the set of Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Day-Lewis learned to speak Czech, and refused to break character for the entirety of the eight month shoot.

 

“It’s really about the sense of joy you have in having worked hard to imagine and discover and – one hopes – to create a world, an illusion of a world that other people might believe in because you believe in it yourself, a form of self-delusion. After achieving that, it seems far crazier to jump in and out of that world that you’ve gone to such pains to create. And it wouldn’t be my wish to do that, because I enjoy being in there”.

 

Then in 1989 came the breakthrough, playing Hamlet on stage at the National Theatre he collapsed on stage in the middle of the characters confrontation with the ghost of his father. Sobbing uncontrollably he walked from the stage and refused to return, some labeled it exhaustion, other more outlandish theories spoke of him having seen the ghost of his father. Whichever version of events one chooses to believe, the point we reach in the end is undeniably the same, here is a man who gives nothing less than 100% to every part he plays. Not since that night has Daniel Day-Lewis appeared on stage, and it is highly unlikely that he ever will again.

 

“For a few years at school I tried to play the roles they wanted me to play, but it became less and less interesting to ponce around the place. Even now, when I sometimes think of doing a play, I think of rehearsal rooms and people hugging and everyone talking over cups of coffee because they are nervous. It’s both very touching and it makes me a little nauseous and claustrophobic. Too much talk. I don’t rehearse at all in film if I can help it. In talking a character through, you define it. And if you define it, you kill it dead”.

 

Yet thanks to accomplishments that year Day-Lewis was put in a position where by he would never again have to return to the medium from which he had fled. Playing the part of Christy Brown in Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot landed the 32 year old an Oscar. The pinnacle of screen acting had been reached, he had conquered the mountain and would never have to venture to realms of disinterest again. Day-Lewis’ process has gained him a great deal of notoriety. Refusing to leave his wheelchair on the set of My Left Foot, determined to experience all aspects of Christy Brown’s life, he broke two ribs from sitting hunched in the wheelchair for so many weeks.

 

For The Last of the Mohicans he underwent weight training, lived off the land his character inhabited, learned to track and skin animals, built a canoe, and perfected the use of the rifle he carried with him at all times.

 

The next year he re-teamed with Jim Sheridan for In the Name of the Father, losing a substantial amount of weight, spending time in a prison cell and insisting that crew members throw water at, and verbally abuse him.

 

For 1997’s The Boxer he trained for 2 years with former professional boxing champion, Barry McGuigan.

 

After a three year absence from the craft Day-Lewis returned with a monstrous performance in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, his preparation included working as an apprentice butcher, listening to Eminem each day on set to enter into his characters angry, self righteous frame of mind and refusing to wear warm clothing during cold weather due to his complete dedication to authenticity, an act that lead to him being diagnosed with pneumonia and having to seek medical treatment.

 

In 2004, during the filming of his wife’s film The Ballad of Jack and Rose, Day-Lewis lived separately from his family for the duration of the shoot in order to capture his characters isolation.

 

“The intention is always the same. To try to discover life in its entirety, or at least create for yourself the illusion that you have, which might give you some chance of convincing other people of it. It’s the same thing each time, but it requires totally different work in the process of achieving that. You are set on a path that’s strewn with obstacles, but getting over them is the joy of the work. So it’s impossible to think in terms of difficulty: it all seems utterly impossible, but the pleasure is in trying to forge ahead anyway”.

 

Day-Lewis has oft been criticized for his process, for taking things further than many believe they need to be taken. Yet acting at its heart is nothing more than the embodiment of a character and the only difference between Day-Lewis and his critics is the extent of that embodiment.

 

“I like to learn about things. It was just a great time trying to conceive of the impossibility of that thing. I didn’t know anything about mining at the turn of the century in America. My boarding school in Kent didn’t exactly teach that”.

 

Here is a man who commits entirely to his character for the entirety of his shoot. A man who does away with his natural self and literally morphs into another. Some actors begin performing at “action” and finish at “cut”, Day-Lewis is no different, only he refuses to break the illusion between takes. He is not so much an actor of movie roles as a creator of characters. A man who transforms into others so fully in order that he may fully comprehend who he is, and by extension allow his audience to understand the world in which he is existing.

 

“It’s not that I want to pull the shutters down. It’s just that people have such a misconception about what it is I do. They think the character comes from staying in the wheelchair or being locked in the jail or whatever extravagant thing they choose to focus their fantasies on. Somehow, it always seems to have a self-flagellatory aspect to it. But that’s just the superficial stuff. Most of the movies that I do are leading me toward a life that is utterly mysterious to me. My chief goal is to find a way to make that life meaningful to other people”.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: