Sunday, December 4, 2011

Is Daniel Day-Lewis the greatest actor of all time?

It is something of a broad question but this has been on my mind for the best part of all weekend. It is a question that releases an almighty large can of worms. Upon gazing with amazement at the first picture of Day-Lewis in full Abraham Lincoln form earlier this week, it struck me at how uncanny he resembles the 16th President of the United States. For anyone who needs bringing up to speed, Steven Spielberg is finally on the brink of production mode on his long awaited historical biopic, Lincoln. Alongside the method actor himself, he is part of a stellar cast that includes Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jared Harris (son of Richard Harris) James Spader and John Hawkes.

The double Oscar winner is widely known for going to unbelievable depths to immerse himself in every character he plays and for Lincoln, he is not cutting any corners. The first image shows he has nailed the Lincoln look with the slick back hairstyle and the neatly trimmed beard. It is a shame however he has gone for his usual day-to-day wardrobe instead of the smart attire and black top hat. Having said that, the County Wexford man has been seen in some questionable clothing ensembles in the past, but the overall image looks to be coming together very nicely. What I found astonishing is that he has supposedly not broken character since way back in March and that includes the Lincoln accent. The man doesn’t do things by halves that’s for sure. Furthermore his real name does not appear on the call sheet. And even on top of that, he has been reported seen in his hometown of Wexford in full Lincoln clothing including top hat. This is an actor who could not take his craft more seriously and is going to all lengths to deliver the most accurate interpretation of the former American President.
The above reports really got me thinking about the whole method acting and does it really produce results and ultimately deliver on screen. In terms of Daniel Day-Lewis’s career so far and the methods he used, his performances speak for themselves. Take his role as Christy Brown in 1989’s My Left Foot as a prime example. As a writer with cerebral palsy, DDL never left his wheelchair all throughout production and was spoon-fed by the crew to fully absorb the complex character of Christy Brown. That powerful performance earned him his first Academy Award and rubber stamped his position in the school of method acting. He was then to be hailed at the top of his class for the 1997 IRA drama The Boxer. He crudely tattooed his hands and trained with former Boxing Champion Barry McGuigan, twice a day, seven days a week. The training was that intense, McGuigan went to lengths to declare he could have turned professional.
It was however his preparation for the 2002 Martin Scorsese epic Gangs of New York that made Day-Lewis notorious for his complex and unorthodox methods. He trained as a butcher, caught a dose of pneumonia having declined to change his threadbare coat for a warmer one because it hadn’t existed in the 19th century when the film was set. The character of Bill the Butcher was a terrifying, almost punk-like it’s safe to say, that the actor portrayed in such a way that must of given co-star Leonardo DiCaprio nightmares for weeks on end.

His notorious methods rank him in many a top acting poll and have done so for years. I believe he is firmly up there with the likes of Richard Burton, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and many, many more. But could he ultimately end up as the top dog, the number one, the greatest actor of all time? Well according to IMDB he is already at the coveted number one spot. On the one hand, he doesn’t have a large enough fan base for people to truly appreciate his acting talents. A minor criticism I do have with the man is that is he a little too selective with his acting roles. He has gone years without acting at times throughout his career and I have hoped he would branch out on occasions and bring out an all-out action thriller or something a little more light-hearted. There were strong reports he was linked with the role of the villainous Professor Moriarty in the upcoming Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. The role eventually went to his Lincoln co-star Jared Harris. Something like that would bring about a lot more attention to his already sterling reputation.
On the other hand the roles he has engulfed himself in, in the past hallmarks him in the true acting greats of all time, and rightly so! It was only a brief moment, but I had the great pleasure of meeting Daniel Day-Lewis in Dublin in February of this year. He made an appearance during a special screening of In The Name of the Father which was in dedication of the late, great Pete Postlethwaite. Only a few words were exchanged but I was in absolute awe of his presence and it is something that will live with me for years.

If the 54-year-old continues to do what he is doing, then it will be other actors chasing his lead at the top. He has been at the peak of his game since he begun and with Lincoln dated for a December 2012 release, expect a rash of accolades to join his already busting trophy cabinet before you can say, “I, DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!”

Written by Michael Cunneen


  1. I have to say you can't be far off with that call! You do tend to forget about him then along he comes every few hundred years it seems (!) with an absolutely awesome performance, in some cases outshadowing the films itself, and just reminding you that no-one comes close IMO when you're talking about someone who steals every scene - legend in the making? I think it's safe to say he'll go down as one when he retires. Great piece by the way Mike!

  2. Thank you Kev, always appreciate some constructive feedback. Plus I totally agree his performance a lot of the time takes over the film entirely - There Will Be Blood is a good example, the film is all about his role as Plainview. That's up there with my all-time favourite performaces, the character epitomises pure evil, power and greed and he totally embodied himself in that character. That's the stuff of legends for sure mate!