Bloody and un­bowed

Daniel Day-Lewis looks set to win an Os­car for his per­for­mance in There Will Be Blood. The in­tensely private ac­tor opens up to Michael Dwyer about the awards cir­cuit, the oil busi­ness, and his nixer as a car­pen­ter

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

DANIEL Day-Lewis has spent the past two months caught up in the whirl­wind of the awards sea­son, trav­el­ling from one cer­e­mony to an­other and col­lect­ing prize af­ter prize for his tow­er­ing per­for­mance in There Will Be Blood.

The tour comes to an end on Sun­day week at the Academy Awards cer­e­mony, where Day-Lewis well de­serves to col­lect his sec­ond Os­car as best ac­tor, which he first re­ceived in 1990 for his ex­tra­or­di­nary por­trayal of Christy Brown in Jim Sheri­dan’s My Left Foot.

One of the finest films in years, There Will Be Blood is a riv­et­ing, in­tense drama di­rected with tremen­dous ac­cu­mu­lat­ing power by Paul Thomas An­der­son (Boo­gie Nights, Mag­no­lia). Span­ning the pe­riod 1898-1927, it stars Day-Lewis as a cold, self­made, hands-on busi­ness­man who makes his for­tune from oil, re­gard­less of all those he ex­ploits in his ac­quis­i­tive greed. In a per­for­mance of stag­ger­ing depth and com­plex­ity, Day-Lewis por­trays this mis­an­thrope in all his sly charm, steely de­ter­mi­na­tion and vol­canic fe­roc­ity.

When we meet, Day-Lewis is back on home ground in Co Wick­low, where he lives with his wife, writer-di­rec­tor Re­becca Miller, and their two sons, Ro­nan and Cashel. He is on the school run and he sug­gests that we meet in the bar of Ard­more Stu­dios in Bray, where he has happy mem­o­ries of film­ing My Left Foot and Sheri­dan’s The Boxer.

We have the bar to our­selves, and DayLewis is in en­gag­ing, ex­pan­sive form as we talk for an hour and a half. He’s glad to be home.

On an ab­nor­mal life: “Trot down a few red car­pets, and you cease to recog­nise your­self”

“It was with great re­lief when I touched down at Dublin air­port,” he says. “As lovely as the last few weeks have been, when you’ve trot­ted up and down a few red car­pets and dis­gorged a few in­com­pre­hen­si­ble sound­bites, you can feel that you’ve ceased to recog­nise your­self to some ex­tent.

“It was hard to get back to nor­mal life. That’s where the real di­vide ex­ists. It’s not be­tween the world of the work and the world of one’s home life. It’s re­ally in that as­pect of what they call the in­dus­try, which can be quite star­tling if you’re not used to it. Jump back into that af­ter a cou­ple of years and you’ve forgotten what it’s like.”

That in­cludes do­ing the in­ter­na­tional in­ter­view cir­cuit, which he has un­der­taken be­cause he is so sup­port­ive of There Will Be Blood, even though it en­tails the re­hash­ing of myths about his process as an ac­tor and how he im­merses him­self in the roles he chooses to ac­cept.

On me­dia: “In Eng­land they feel I should be chopped down to size ev­ery few years”

“The mis­take you make is think­ing that you can be­gin to set the record straight. The only re­sponse, re­ally, is no re­sponse at all, and yet when you do not re­spond, ru­mour be­comes con­fused with fact and the claims get wilder and wilder. There­fore, it ap­pears that I in­vite that kind of stuff.

“You keep out of the way as much as you can, and that prob­a­bly lends a spe­cious aura of mys­tery to the whole thing. Then, when you en­gage in it, it seems like you’re on an orgy of self-pro­mo­tion. There doesn’t seem to be any bal­ance you can achieve that isn’t go­ing to have them sharp­en­ing their knives.”

In his na­tive Eng­land, the me­dia are al­ways keen to re­mind Day-Lewis that he has not made a film in the UK since A Room with a View in 1985. “I dare­say over in Eng­land they feel ev­ery five years or so that I should be chopped back down to size.

“It was never my in­ten­tion to avoid work­ing in Bri­tain. There’s still that fas­ci­na­tion and re­pul­sion for Amer­i­can cin­ema. The Bri­tish at­ti­tude is con­flicted, to say the least. They like to be in­cluded in the big party, but they can’t quite seem to get things on a sure foot­ing for them­selves. They’re be­tween the devil and the deep blue sea, re­ally.

“All the flag-wav­ing puts so much pres­sure on any Bri­tish pro­duc­tion that comes along. It’s like the Falk­lands war when you make a film there. The peo­ple who make the films should be able to re­lease them in the same way other films are re­leased, with­out any added pres­sures. And they are mak­ing some very good Bri­tish films. This Is Eng­land is a very fine film. Lon­don to Brighton was an­other one, so is Con­trol.”

Then there was his re­cent New York Times in­ter­view, which claimed that af­ter see­ing Taxi Driver, Day-Lewis re­alised that he longed to be a great Amer­i­can ac­tor.

“I had to ex­cuse my­self to so many peo­ple af­ter that was pub­lished. Can you imag­ineme ever mak­ing a claim to be or to wish to be an Amer­i­can ac­tor? It’s com­pletely lu­di­crous. The ar­ti­cle was all done with good will, so it’s hard to ar­gue the point. But it’s some­thing that never oc­curred to me.

“When I was com­ing up and watch­ing films, Ken Loach would have been one of the for­ma­tive in­flu­ences in my life, as be­fore him were Lind­say An­der­son, Karel Reisz and Tony Richard­son, who were all part of the Bri­tish so­cial re­al­ist move­ment. I ab­so­lutely de­voured all those films.

“There was a sense of dis­cov­er­ing the ex­otic when I saw Martin Scors­ese’s work and Robert De Niro’s work for the first time, hav­ing al­ready seen the films of Clift and Brando. It never oc­curred to me that I

might ever be a part of that world. At that time, very few ac­tors from our part of the world had a chance to work on Amer­i­can films, and it seemed like our fu­ture would be pre­dom­i­nantly in the theatre. And we ac­cepted that, even though there was a se­cret wish to be part of cin­ema.”

On Os­cars: “You’re try­ing to charm peo­ple into think­ing you’re ter­rific”

Now 50, Day-Lewis was 33 when he won his Os­car for My Left Foot. What would win­ning again this year mean to him?

“It cer­tainly would make me very pop­u­lar at Paramount Pic­tures! Of course, when you get some­thing like that for the first time, it feels unique, an un­re­peat­able ex­pe­ri­ence. There’s a par­tic­u­lar kind of be­wil­der­ment that goes with an ex­pe­ri­ence like that, es­pe­cially when you’re young.”

I re­call meet­ing him at a party on the night he won his pre­vi­ous Os­car and how he de­scribed hear­ing Jodie Fos­ter an­nounce him as the win­ner as “like be­ing hit by a car”. He re­sponds: “It is awon­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence, but it’s quite shock­ing as well. Who knows what’s go­ing to hap­pen this year. There are so many good films and great per­for­mances. It’s im­pos­si­ble not to seem as if you are on a cam­paign trail for it. Ge­orge Clooney is very open and charm­ing about it, and talks about kiss­ing ba­bies and so on. He’s pre­pared to do his bit.

“But it does seem strange to me, hav­ing done a piece of work which you then in­vite peo­ple to look at and make up their minds about, that you then go on an al­most en­tirely sep­a­rate ven­ture which in­volves try­ing to charm peo­ple into think­ing that you’re ter­rific. I just don’t re­ally un­der­stand that.”

On There Will Be Blood: “I was as­ton­ished by the sheer hon­esty of it”

Paul Thomas An­der­son has said that he wrote There Will Be Blood for Day-Lewis and wouldn’t have made the film with­out him. “It’s prob­a­bly easy for him to say that now,” Day-Lewis laughs. “My feel­ing is that he prob­a­bly wrote it partly with me in mind, but I think he didn’t chain him­self to the idea of one ac­tor to the ex­clu­sion of any other. But he cer­tainly didn’t need to sell it to me.

“I was as­ton­ished by the au­dac­ity of it, the depth of the writ­ing, the beauty of the lan­guage, and the sheer hon­esty of it. I felt there was some­thing truly un­con­scious about it, a free­dom to the writ­ing, which was none­the­less beau­ti­fully or­dered and sculpted, be­cause he is a great crafts­man, too.

“I sensed that, as a writer, he had be­gun to ex­plore that world that he was imag­in­ing through the ex­pe­ri­ences and the eyes of that char­ac­ter . . . I felt he un­der­stood that world from the inside. I felt a kin­ship with that and the work that I do.”

There Will Be Blood is set early in the last cen­tury, but its themes are just as rel­e­vant to­day, when greed for oil and re­li­gious zealotry are at the root of so much con­flict in the world.

“Those echoes are ap­par­ent in the film, but for us, the work is a much more self­ish en­deav­our than that. It’s fo­cused very nar­rowly on a very spe­cific pe­riod in time, a very spe­cific cul­ture, and very par­tic­u­lar lives within that cul­ture. I don’t think any of us was con­sciously work­ing to­wards any kind of com­men­tary on the world to­day.”

Does Day-Lewis be­lieve, then, that movies tend to be over-an­a­lysed? “Some­times I think that’s true. In the case of our film, most of the dis­cus­sion about it has been quite vig­or­ous, and I’m glad that the film has made peo­ple want to talk about stuff that is im­por­tant. There’s noth­ing bet­ter than that, re­ally.”

“Film has be­come such a cen­tral part of our cul­ture now that I think some­times too great a weight is placed upon it in terms of scru­tiny and anal­y­sis. There’s a lot of rather spe­cious pro­fes­so­rial stuff that swirls around films, I think. At the same time, God bless peo­ple who do study films, be­cause it keeps alive the pos­si­bil­ity that you’re work­ing on some­thing im­por­tant.”

On oil: “Peo­ple imag­ine Los An­ge­les is founded on the film in­dus­try. It’s not”

An­other cen­tral theme of There Will Be Blood is cap­i­tal­ism as per­son­i­fied by Plain­view, and he has his equiv­a­lents in the mod­ern world who, no mat­ter how much wealth they have, are in­tent on ac­cu­mu­lat­ing even more.

“Power may be part of it,” Day-Lewis says, “but my feel­ing is that the fever be­comes an end in it­self. Peo­ple al­ways imag­ine that Los An­ge­les is founded on the film in­dus­try, but it’s not. It’s founded on muck, on oil. The early pho­to­graphs of the city show a for­est of oil der­ricks with tiny houses lined be­tween them. All the thor­ough­fares would have been swamps, with crude oil and over­spills run­ning down the streets. The whole place was founded on pol­lu­tion.

“When Plain­view is camp­ing in his man­sion, it’s an echo of hisway of life in the sil­ver min­ing days. Be­cause of the na­ture of that work, most men would have been bru­talised by it. Most would have been bro­ken by the ex­pe­ri­ence, and of those who sur­vived, most would have done so with­out any re­ward what­so­ever.

“Those few who ac­tu­ally were re­warded with great show­ers of gold, like Plain­view, seemed like they were still rooted in the sav­agery of those days when they were grop­ing in the dark at the bot­tom of mi­ne­shafts, liv­ing like an­i­mals and hav­ing aban­doned their wives and chil­dren for months and years. The only thing that sus­tains them is the fever.”

“At a given mo­ment, down in the dark they will see some­thing glit­ter, and the pulse starts to beat faster and that may carry them to the next lease on a piece of scrap land and just enough money to dig an­other hole and maybe that’s go­ing to be the big one. In the process of de­vel­op­ing those leases, of course, they have had to be­tray many peo­ple and they them­selves prob­a­bly have been be­trayed very of­ten.

“So de­ceit and bru­tal­ity, and phys­i­cal hard­ship and spir­i­tual an­guish, are very much part of their ex­pe­ri­ence. They are ir­re­triev­able by the time they build th­ese great pyra­mids to them­selves, like the Plain­view man­sion.”

On shoot­ing: “It’s like you’re in an ex­per­i­ment that could go hor­ri­bly wrong”

Hav­ing spent so much time deep inside Plain­view’s skin, how did Day-Lewis feel when shoot­ing ended and he had to leave the char­ac­ter be­hind?

“More than any­thing, I sup­pose, I felt a great sense of sad­ness. That isn’t ex­clu­sively sad­ness at putting aside a life that has en­gaged your cu­rios­ity for a long pe­riod of time, but the en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence, largely thanks to Paul, had been such an in­vig­o­rat­ing one. It al­ways seems like you’re in an ex­per­i­ment that could go hor­ri­bly wrong.”

One of the most dar­ing as­pects of the film is the 12-minute open­ing se­quence, which em­ploys all the el­e­ments of pure cin­ema – the act­ing, the di­rec­tion, the cam­era move­ment, the pro­duc­tion and cos­tume de­signs – to speak the lan­guage of film with­out us­ing any di­a­logue.

“That was an in­tox­i­cat­ing se­quence. We shot that in the first few days and it tells you ev­ery­thing you need to know about that man at that time in his life, with­out say­ing a word.

“The sen­sa­tion I felt as I read it was the same as the first time I read Jim’s script for My Left Foot. It de­scribed Christy’s foot in a lengthy open­ing se­quence, reach­ing into his record col­lec­tion, choos­ing a record, putting it back and pick­ing an­other one, switch­ing the turntable on, putting it on the turntable, and then del­i­cately plac­ing the nee­dle on a par­tic­u­lar place, and chang­ing the nee­dle. That whole se­quence was with­out di­a­logue, and I re­mem­ber the very pow­er­ful vis­ual sense Jim was able to cre­ate.”

Next month Day-Lewis will be tak­ing care of his sons while their mother di­rects a new film, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, which stars Robin Wright Penn, Keanu Reeves, Alan Arkin, Mag­gie Gyl­len­haal and Mon­ica Bel­lucci.

“It’s a won­der­ful cast,” Day-Lewis says. “It will be shot in Con­necti­cut. I might get to swing a ham­mer be­cause there are some sets to be built. That could be the per­fect an­ti­dote to all this. I am in the crafts­men’s union. Af­ter I worked on build­ing the house in The Cru­cible, the union in­vited me to be­come a mem­ber. I’m very proud of that.”

Daniel Day-Lewis will at­tend the Ir­ish pre­miere There Will Be Blood at the Jame­son Dublin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in the Savoy to­mor­row evening. The film opens com­mer­cially on Fe­bru­ary 29th

Daniel Day-Lewis pho­tographed by Gilles Toucas (top); in There Will Be Blood

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.