Daniel Day-Lewis

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Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis in the 1988 film The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Born 29 April 1957
London, England, UK

Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis (born 29 April 1957), is an Academy Award-winning English-born actor. Although born in London, England, he became an Irish citizen in 1993.

After studying at the world renowned Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Daniel Day-Lewis performed in numerous stage plays and films that gained him an Academy Award, two BAFTA awards, and four Golden Globe nominations. In the midst of his career, he has become known as one of the most selective actors in the film industry, starring in only four movies in the last ten years. He has also been acknowledged for his constant devotion to his roles and copious amounts of research he performs. Often he will remain in character and speak in the accents he has used on screen throughout the entire shooting schedule. Because of his devotion to the method acting technique, he has often been called the "British De Niro".

Early life

Day-Lewis is the son of the late British Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis. His mother, who comes from a Jewish family, is actress Jill Balcon, daughter of Sir Michael Balcon, former head of Ealing Studios. Two years after his birth in London, the Day-Lewis family moved to Croom's Hill, Greenwich where Daniel grew up along with his older sister, Tamasin Day-Lewis, who later become a renowned documentary filmmaker and television chef. Cecil Day-Lewis was already 53 years old at the time of his son's birth, and seemed to take little interest in his children. Following frequent health problems, he died when Daniel was 15. Daniel felt unsettled about his lack of emotion, and regretted not having been closer to his father.

Living in Greenwich, Day-Lewis naturally found himself among some tough South London kids and being Jewish and "posh", he was often bullied. Very quickly, therefore, he mastered the local accent and mannerisms - which he believes to have been the first convincing performances he gave. Later in life, he was known to speak of himself as very much a disorderly character in his younger years, often in trouble for shoplifting and other petty illegalties.

In 1968, Day-Lewis' parents, finding him to be "too wild", sent him to Sevenoaks boarding school in Kent. Though he detested the school, he was introduced to his two most prominent interests, woodworking and acting. He made his debut in Cry, The Beloved Country wearing extensive makeup for his role as a Black boy. While his disdain for the school grew, he made his film debut at the age of 14 in Sunday Bloody Sunday in which he played a vandal in an uncredited role. He described the experience as "heaven", for getting paid £2 to vandalize expensive cars parked outside his local church. After two years at Sevenoaks, Daniel was transferred to the Bedales School in Petersfield.

Leaving Bedales in 1975, his unruly attitude had faded and he now had to make a career choice. Although he loved acting and had excelled onstage at the National Youth Theatre, he found something "seedy" about backstage life, and decided to become a cabinet-maker, applying for a five-year apprenticeship. However, because of a lack of experience, he was not accepted. He then applied (and was accepted) at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which he attended for three years, eventually performing at the Bristol Old Vic itself. (At one point he played understudy to Pete Postlethwaite, whom he would later play opposite in In the Name of the Father, and with whom he shares a brief scene in " Last of the Mohicans"- He is the arresting officer when Hawkeye is imprisoned for sedition ).



Eleven years after his film debut, Day-Lewis continued his film career with a small part in Gandhi (1982) as Colin, a street thug who bullies the title character, only to be immediately chastised by his high-strung mother. In 1984, he had a supporting role as a cowardly first mate in The Bounty, after which he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, playing Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. (He later grew to detest the character, however, and often described him as a "wanker").

The actor was next featured on stage as "The Count" in the stage-play of Dracula where he appeared with his hair dyed blond in a throwback to Nosferatu. He later let his hair grow out to give a frosted "punk look" when he played half of a gay bi-racial couple in My Beautiful Laundrette. Day-Lewis gained further public notice when the film was released simultaneously with a completely different character in A Room with a View (1986), in which he played the effete upper-class fiance of the main character (played by Helena Bonham Carter).

In 1987, Day-Lewis assumed leading man status by starring in Philip Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, co-starring Juliette Binoche, as a Czech doctor whose hyperactive and purely physical sex life is thrown into disarray when he allows himself to become emotionally involved with a woman. During the eight-month shoot he learned Czech and first began to refuse to break character on or off the set for the entire shooting schedule.

Day-Lewis put his personal version of "method acting" into full use in 1989 with his performance as Christy Brown in Jim Sheridan's My Left Foot which won him numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actor. During filming, his eccentricities came to the fore, due to his refusal to break character.

Playing a severely paralyzed character onscreen, offscreen Day-Lewis had to be wheeled around the set in his wheelchair, and crew members would curse at having to lift him over camera and lighting wires, all so that he might gain insight into all aspects of Christy Brown's life, including the embarrassments. He also broke two ribs during filming from assuming a hunched-over position in his wheelchair for so many weeks.

Daniel Day-Lewis returned to the stage to work with Richard Eyre, as Hamlet at the National Theatre, but collapsed in the middle of a scene where the ghost of Hamlet's father first appears to his son. He began sobbing uncontrollably and refused to go back on stage; his understudy (a then unknown Jeremy Northam) finished what little was left of the production's run. One rumour following the incident was that Day-Lewis had seen the ghost of his own father, although the incident was officially attributed to exhaustion. He confirmed on the Jonathan Ross show on BBC that this rumour was true. He has not appeared on stage since.


In 1992, three years after his Oscar win, The Last of the Mohicans was released. Day-Lewis' character research for this film was well-publicized; he reportedly underwent rigorous weight training and learned to live off the land and forest where his character lived, camping, hunting and fishing. He even carried a kentucky rifle at all times during filming in order to remain in character.

While the film carried him to new heights of stardom, Day-Lewis preferred less "Hollywood" films such as The Age of Innocence co-starring Michelle Pfeiffer and directed by Martin Scorsese. He ultimately returned to work with Jim Sheridan on In the Name of the Father, in which he played Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four who were wrongfully convicted of a bombing carried out by the Provisional IRA. He lost a substantial amount of weight for the part, kept his Northern Irish accent on and off the set for the entire shooting schedule, and spent stretches of time in a prison cell. He also insisted that crew members throw cold water and verbal abuse at him. The film earned him his second Academy Award nomination, his third BAFTA nomination, and his second Golden Globe nomination.

In 1996, Day-Lewis starred in a film version of The Crucible based on the play by Arthur Miller and co-starring Winona Ryder. He followed that with Jim Sheridan's The Boxer as a former boxer and IRA member recently released from prison. His preparation included training for six months with former boxing world champion Barry McGuigan.

Following The Boxer, Daniel Day-Lewis took a leave of absence from acting by putting himself into "semi-retirement" and returning to his old passion of woodworking. He moved to Florence, Italy where he became intrigued by the craft of shoemaking, eventually apprenticing as a cobbler for a time. His exact whereabouts and actions were not publicly known.


After a three-year absence from filming, Day-Lewis was convinced to return to acting by Martin Scorsese (with whom he had worked on The Age of Innocence) and Harvey Weinstein to play (opposite Leonardo Di Caprio) the villain gangleader, "Bill the Butcher", in Gangs of New York. He began his lengthy, self-disciplined process by taking lessons as an apprentice butcher. Day-Lewis' dedication to the role even threatened his life at one point during filming when he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He refused to wear a warmer coat or to take treatment because it was not in keeping with the period. However, he was eventually persuaded to seek medical treatment. Also, between takes, he would often listen to songs by hip-hop artist Eminem, to help get him into the self-righteous frame of mind of the character.

His performance in Gangs of New York earned him his third Academy Award nomination and won him the BAFTA Award for Best Actor. At the time, he swore that this film would be his last.

This was not to be the case, however, when Day-Lewis' own wife, director Rebecca Miller, offered him the lead role in her film The Ballad of Jack and Rose, in which he played a dying man with regrets over how his life had evolved and over how he had raised his teenaged daughter. During filming he arranged to live separately from his wife in order to achieve the "isolation" needed to focus on his own character's reality. The film received mixed reviews, while Day-Lewis received almost universal praise for his performance.

In 2006, it was reported in Variety that Paul Thomas Anderson's next film would be an adaptation of the controversial novel Oil!, renamed There Will Be Blood and starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

Personal life

Because of his desire for privacy, Day-Lewis rarely talks publicly about his personal life, although he had what he would later describe as "the most on-off relationship in the world" with French actress Isabelle Adjani. The strained relationship lasted six years and eventually ended when Adjani notified Day-Lewis, reportedly by fax, that she was pregnant. Gabriel-Kane Day-Lewis was born in 1995 in New York, months after the relationship between the two actors had ended.

In 1996, while working on the film version of the stage-play The Crucible, he visited the home of playwright Arthur Miller where he was introduced to the writer's daughter, Rebecca Miller. They fell in love and were married two weeks before the film's release. The couple have two sons, Ronan (born June 14, 1998), and Cashel (born May 2002) and divide their time between their homes in the US and Ireland.

Selected filmography

Year Title Role Other notes
2007 There Will Be Blood Daniel Plainview
2005 The Ballad of Jack and Rose Jack Slavin
2002 Gangs of New York Bill "The Butcher" Cutting Oscar Nominee - Best Actor in a Leading Role
1997 The Boxer Danny Flynn
1996 The Crucible John Proctor
1993 In the Name of the Father Gerry Conlon Oscar Nominee - Best Actor in a Leading Role
1993 The Age of Innocence Newland Archer
1992 The Last of the Mohicans Hawkeye (Nathaniel Poe)
1989 My Left Foot Christy Brown Oscar Winner - Best Actor in a Leading Role
1989 Eversmile, New Jersey Dr. Fergus O'Connell
1988 Stars and Bars Henderson Dores
1988 The Unbearable Lightness of Being Tomas
1985 A Room with a View Cecil Vyse
1985 My Beautiful Laundrette Johnny
1985 My Brother Jonathon (TV) Jonathan Dakers
1984 The Bounty John Fryer
1982 Gandhi Colin, South African street tough
1982 Frost in May (TV) Archie Hughes-Forret
1982 How Many Miles to Babylon? Alex
1971 Sunday Bloody Sunday Child vandal uncredited

Academy Award and nominations

  • 1989 Won My Left Foot
  • 1993 Nominated In the Name of the Father
  • 2002 Nominated Gangs of New York
Preceded by:
Dustin Hoffman
for Rain Man
Academy Award for Best Actor
for My Left Foot
Succeeded by:
Jeremy Irons
for Reversal of Fortune

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