Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Great Daniel Day-Lewis

What do Christy Brown, Daniel Plainview and Abraham Lincoln have in common? There is no proof that Brown and Lincoln were related in any way nor were they in the same profession. Plainview being a fictional character doesn't stand any chance either. What connects them is the brilliance of Daniel Day-Lewis who has played those characters on the screen in such a magnificent way that he won an oscar for each one of his performances.

Lewis is what some of us know as a method actor. He doesn't merely adapt a character and play it but he lives, thinks and behaves like it. It's safe to say that he has taken method acting to another level with his astonishing performances. Well, to be honest I didn't know much about him until I watched There Will Be Blood. The fact that he has been around for a long time and has just a handful of movies under his sleeve shows how particular he is about choosing what he wants to do. The main character Daniel Plainview, played by Lewis left a permanent mark on my mind. I was amazed by his performance and couldn't help marvel at it over and over again. There is a certain aura which he creates with his roles that overflows the viewer's mind with admiration. Be it the brave Christy Brown, the strong and greedy Daniel Plainview or the iconic Abraham Lincoln, he has captured the core of those characters and executed each one of them with unmatched consistency. Not having back to back releases might be his way of doing utmost justice to the roles he chooses and he often ends up being praised for his performance.

Let's talk about his first oscar winning performance in My Left Foot (1989). It's the story of the Irish writer and painter Christy Brown who suffered from cerebral palsy and was able to write and paint with just his left foot. Lewis delivered a strong performance and considering he was playing a character born with such a handicap it was quite a challenging one. Look at it this way: to suffer from a disorder like that means leading a very difficult life and it had been like that for Christy Brown as Lewis managed to make you see and feel the helplessness Christy must have felt. The inevitable struggle, the will to fight and the courage to make something out of that life as Brown did is where the method acting comes into the picture; to live the life of the character in order to portray it and bring out the exact same emotions. It's hard not to notice the wide smile on the face of the great Morgan Freeman who was a fellow nominee after Lewis' name was announced as the winner at the Oscars, while the legendary Robin Williams who defines perfection was applauding with joy. It speaks great volumes of Daniel Day-Lewis as an actor. 

"There's no great mystery. I'm an
oilman, ladies and gentlemen."
As an actor Lewis is a perfectionist. "You use yourself up, that's what you're there to do," he said while discussing his role in There Will Be Blood (2007). He continued: "You've absorbed, you've taken, you've nourished yourself, fulfilled yourself with the possibility of something and then when you're shooting your job is to disgorge that, to use it up, to play it out." He plays the character of Daniel Plainview, an opportunistic oil man who doesn't care about others when it comes to doing his business. Lewis left no stone unturned with his brilliant performance and has left Plainview as an unforgettable character in the history of cinema. It happens many times that after witnessing a great performance by an actor one can't imagine any other actor being capable of matching it, if there was an option of choosing someone else for that role. I think of Daniel Plainview and I stand firm in my belief that no one else could bring out his character in such an impeccable fashion as Lewis did. For an artist like Daniel Day-Lewis finishing the whole process of acting is the most difficult part. He explains: "Because once unleashed, that curiosity which first allows you to entertain even the idea that you might create a whole world cannot easily be put back to sleep again." His commitment to his characters is what separates him from the others. 

Reports say that initially Lewis had refused to play the role of Abraham Lincoln for Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (2012). Spielberg had moved on to the extent of signing Liam Neeson but for some reason things didn't work out. It was Leonardo DiCaprio who managed to convince Lewis to give it a second thought and the rest is history. The way he studied Lincoln, explored his life and personality comes out admirably in his role. He said that he needed a year to study him, one can only imagine how deep he got into knowing and living him in order to play this man. After watching Lewis' performance I came to know Abraham Lincoln better and I must admit that in many ways he introduced me to the great leader and his personality. During his speech after winning the oscar for Lincoln he thanked his wife Rebecca and mentioned that since they got married sixteen years ago she has lived with some very strange men, an indication that only she knows how much he involves himself in the character which he plays. 

Daniel Day-Lewis is the only actor in the history who has won three Academy Awards for Best Actor. As memorable as his roles are he is one actor who will forever reign in the film industry. His constant strive for perfection and consistent relentlessness to push the boundaries make sure that he sets new standards with every role that he picks. When you watch his movies, you forget that you're watching Daniel Day-Lewis. All you see is the character he's portraying. While addressing the press after winning his third oscar he said that he needs to have a lie down for a couple of years after this one and it's really hard to imagine doing anything after it. I hope he said that "out of character" and will be back under a different personality soon to mesmerize us with his brilliance.

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