Daniel Day-Lewis Q&A The legendary thesp discusses method acting, Millwall FC and his new film, 'The Ballad of Jack and Rose'. Mar 20 2006 'At the age of nine or ten, when I first started following Millwall, I was already entering into a world that was fascinating to me and bore so little relation to the household that I came from. I suppose that kind of began it.' You may be surprised to hear such a frank admission of support for London's most notorious football club from a man with such an impeccably bourgeois background. Daniel Day-Lewis's parents occupied the heights of London's artistic establishment. His father was Cecil Day-Lewis, Poet Laureate from1968 until his death in 1972. His mother is Jill Balcon, an actress born into the aristocracy of British cinema and whose father was Michael Balcon, the founder of Ealing Studios. Yet here he is, impressively bearded and in good humour, claiming an altogether alternative London heritage. 'If I really chose to look at myself, I'd say that probably the thing I'm least interested in about myself is the fact that I'm a middle-class Englishman. So therefore it doesn't really appeal to me the idea of exploring that experience. Probably since childhood, I think my curiosity was almost invariably fired by the mystery of lives I didn't understand. My first school in south-east London only took me a few miles from my comfortable life in Greenwich, but it took me to the frontline in south-east London.' Now 49, Day-Lewis has been living in Ireland for 12 years, at a healthy distance from what he sneeringly calls 'the business'. He's acted in just four films in this time, an average of one every three years. Since 'Gangs of New York' in 2001, he's made only 'The Ballad of Jack and Rose', written and directed by his wife of six years, Rebecca Miller (daughter of Arthur), and it's this that's coaxed him into riding a motorbike the 17 miles from his home at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains to meet Time Out in Dublin. A wet helmet sits on the mantelpiece and the bike leathers make his wiry frame look positively skeletal. Day-Lewis rarely does interviews. He's had his fingers burnt too many times, not least in 1994 when a French magazine perpetuated the (completely untrue) rumour that he'd dumped Isabelle Adjani, his girlfriend of four years, by fax. But today Day-Lewis will freely discuss the twists and turns of the three decades that he's spent as an actor whose life and career has been defined by a mix of rumour, myth and mystery. It's Day-Lewis's slow work-rate, coupled with his much-noted immersive approach to acting and an aversion to talking publicly, that has led to the cultivation of a distinct Daniel Day-Lewis folklore. There's the story of him training to be a butcher before shooting 'Gangs of New York'. Or the one about him living in a wheelchair before and during the making of 'My Left Foot'. Or the disused prison in which he is supposed to have slept in preparation for 'In the Name of the Father'. Or the crude DIY tattoos that he inflicted on himself for 'The Crucible'. As far as I can tell, all these stories are true. But they're only considered extraordinary because most other actors are lazy. Two or three weeks of rehearsal is usually enough to earn a film director or actor the label of 'maverick'. Day-Lewis doesn't approach things by halves. Surely he's a bit sick now of the 'method' tag that's so often wheeled out to describe him? 'I know, I know… I've tried so hard to resist talking… In fact, I've never really talked about it, but unfortunately so many fucking gobshites have talked about it on my behalf that it seems I'm endlessly talking about this fucking thing which I never felt, honestly, was worthy of discussion. It's such a personal thing. It's not something that can ever be truly described or defined in any way. That's why I have resisted it. 'I'm told that I have an almost scientific approach to this work. Of course, nothing could be less scientific. There are absolutely no rules. If you chose to write a thesis about it, you could find common denominators between one piece of work and another… but the truth is that you basically start from the beginning again each time. It's a chaotic and very muddy, earthy process.' Silence has its own pitfalls. Like it or not, these days, an actor must talk, talk, talk and appear, appear, appear… If you don't run the gamut of TV and press interviews, you're likely to be considered moody, reclusive or, worst of all, difficult. 'Silence equals guilt in this case!' he cries. 'But I thought that I'd keep my trap shut. It doesn't help, of course. Because half-truth becomes rumour. Or lie becomes rumour becomes fact before the ink is even dry. And this applies as much to my personal life as it does to my work. To people who don't know me I'm defined by a number of things that people know about me that are entirely untrue.' A quick glance at the list of characters that Day-Lewis has played doesn't reveal any obvious pattern other than the wild difference between them. He followed his first lead turn as a gay punk in 'My Beautiful Laundrette' (1985) with a role as an uptight aristocrat in 'A Room with a View'. He followed paraplegic Christy Brown in 'My Left Foot', the performance that won him the Best Actor Oscar in 1990, with the wild Hawkeye in 'The Last of the Mohicans', following that with Winona Ryder's dapper, conflicted husband, the mild, refined Newland Archer in 'The Age of Innocence' before stealing the screen in Martin Scorsese's flawed 'Gangs of New York' with brutal, moustachioed gang-leader Bill the Butcher. Some actors bring themselves to a role, Day-Lewis leaves himself behind. Famously, and literally. It's 17 years now since – while playing Hamlet in Richard Eyre's production at the National Theatre – eight months into the play's run (and with only a few days to go), Day-Lewis stormed out midway through a performance, never to return. His understudy, Jeremy Northam, took over as Day-Lewis went into hiding amid ghoulish rumours of him conversing on stage with the ghost of his dead father. He hasn't worked in theatre since. 'Not many people invite me,' he says, breaking into more laughter. 'Maybe it's my reputation. The insurance would be too high!' I refer to this little hiccup as a 'bad experience', but Day-Lewis calmly corrects me in a voice that betrays the time he's spent in Ireland; his actorly British diction – all clauses and qualifications – has a definite Irish lilt. 'Certainly, if one focuses on the final days, it would seem it was a bad experience,' he reasons. 'But I've never had any sense of it being that. Of course, it was extremely unpleasant at the end. My poor colleagues had to deal with the fucking mess I left behind… But Jeremy Northam's done quite well since!' Although Day-Lewis saw much theatrical success in the early 1980s, he's never shaken his early self-doubt about becoming an actor. As he admits, 'That question mark became a part of my life. I'm really grateful for it now. It's what's allowed me to remain distanced from the things I find unpalatable about the business. It's also kept my enthusiasm as vibrant now as it ever was. It's thanks to the question marks that you reassess things. If you reassess them, you go back into the fray with renewed vigour. I wouldn't have missed it for anything.' There is little evidence of the touchy young actor he was once reckoned to be; he appears supremely relaxed and talks at length about his need to take long breaks between each film. When he finishes a film, he has no desire to pick up his tools again. 'Instead, I think that I absolutely mustn't work!' It takes a long time for the itch to return: 'I know when the field's lain fallow for a while and I kind of sense when the soil is ready again.' It's incredible how much mystery he can attach to the simple talk of inaction. You can see why his attitude has been interpreted as aloof and self-possessed. Today, though, he appears generous in his self-reflection. So, how's the field looking these days? 'Well, I'd better be ready as I'm going to go back to work!' he declares. Nowadays he will only work during the long summer holidays, refusing to abandon the two children he has by Miller for long periods of time or pull them out of school. And so this summer he will shoot 'There Will Be Blood', the next film from Paul Thomas Anderson, director of 'Boogie Nights' and 'Magnolia'. He will play a wildcat oil driller. It's loosely based on Upton Sinclair's [1927] novel, "Oil!", about the life of oilman Edward Doheny. It was standard practice for men in his position to bribe governments for oil rights. So they bought and paid for governments.' It sounds like we can draw some parallels with contemporary America. 'Well, Paul isn't doing it coincidentally, I don't think.' There's also the imminent release of 'The Ballad of Jack and Rose', a screenplay that his wife wrote a long time ago and sent to her future husband in the early '90s, before they even met. The film is essentially a calm two-hander: Jack (Day-Lewis) and his teenage daughter Rose (Camilla Belle) live together in 1986 on a remote island, the last two inhabitants of a formerly thriving hippy commune. Miller's screenplay examines fading '60s idealism and it's an intriguing debate made real. It's refreshing to see Day-Lewis (who's very, very thin in the film; his character is dying) back on screen in such a low-key, sensitive role. The fact that he's become such an enigma in a world of over-mediated, over-exposed actors makes his rare appearances all the more interesting and, in this case, his approach has paid off again. 'I like to cook things very slowly,' he says. 'I learnt early on that I couldn't jump from one kind of work to another. I did it a couple of times and it didn't work. At some point in your life, if you're lucky, you get to design the way in which things evolve.'
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