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Comment 31 JANUARY 2013

Oscars 2013: The eccentric genius of Daniel Day-Lewis

If Daniel Day-Lewis, the Oscar-nominated star of Lincoln, has heard about Laurence Oliver's comment while filming Marathon Man, he will have respectfully dismissed its lesson.

Hearing that his American co-star Dustin Hoffman had gone for days without sleep to get into the mindset of his character, the great Olivier is reported to have remarked dryly: "Try acting, dear boy".



It's not a school of thought the Anglo-Irish star would adhere to. Every few years Daniel emerges from the seclusion of his County Wicklow farm to make a movie, usually a very, very good one, backed by an intense level of preparation that makes Dustin seem like a slacker.

For Steven Spielberg's Lincoln he never dropped the revered American leader's rural Kentucky accent even when the cameras stopped rolling and insisted on being called Mr President at all times.

But the Daniel Day-Lewis mystique dates back nearly 25 years to My Left Foot, the life story of Christy Brown, who became a celebrated artist and writer in the Fifties, despite having cerebral palsy.

After spending eight weeks studying disabled people at Sandymount School and Clinic clinic in Dublin, the actor learned to speak like his character and paint with his left foot. On set members of the film crew were asked to push him about in a wheelchair so he could submerge himself deeper into the embarrassment suffered by the writer.


For the last of the Last of the Mohicans he learned to build a canoe, track and skin animals and fire and reload his gun on the run.

In the Gangs of New York, the crew became accustomed to seeing him continually sharpening the knives of his character 19th-century gang leader Bill the Butcher. He also caught cold after refusing to wear thermal underwear on the grounds that it wouldn't have been available in that era.

This dedication to his craft has its rewards. The king of method acting already has two Academy Awards – one for My Left Foot and another for There Will be Blood – plus several more nominations. In fact the longest, he has ever gone without a nod is the nine years between In the Name of the Father (1993) and Gangs of New York (2002).


The actor can't see what all the fuss is about and is loath to talk about his unique approach.

He says: "I avoid talking about the way I work but in avoiding it I seem only to have encouraged people to focus their fantasies about me in an ever more fanatical way."

Daniel, the son of Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, also dismisses the notion that he's some nutty hermit, pointing to his happy family life with wife Rebecca Miller (pictured), who is the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller.


The couple have been married 16 years, and have two children Ronan, 14, and Cashel, 10. Daniel, 55, is also father to 17-year-old Gabriel from his relationship with French film star Isabelle Adjani.

Of his reputation, the thesp says: "How can you be a recluse in a house full of children, even if you had the inclination to be, which I don't?"

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