“films don’t begin only when the camera starts rolling”
Most headlines you read about Daniel Day-Lewis, will talk about the “madness” of his method. Is it “madness” or a unique and brilliant brand of method acting that has brought his widespread and universal acclaim?
Despite only having made a dozen films in his career, he remains the only actor ever to win 3 Best Actor Academy Awards. There may be madness in his method, but it sure is working for him!
Daniel Day Lewis’s Unique Method
Day Lewis famously spent the entire shoot of Oscar-winning My Left Foot (1989) in a wheelchair to get into character as cerebral palsy-sufferer Christy Brown. For Last Of The Mohicans (1992), he lived in the woods and learned how to track, kill and skin wild animals. To prepare for In the Name Of The Father (1993), in which he played Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four, he had himself incarcerated over night and mistreated by the guards. For The Unbearable Likeness Of Being (1988)he took it upon himself to learn Czech, despite the script being in English.
The stories of Daniel Day Lewis’ unique method are well known and very well documented. The man only makes a film every couple of years, and so the story of his preparation for a role is often as talked about as the role itself!
He shuns the spotlight, and is visibly uncomfortable discussing his roles. His reclusiveness creates a level of mystique and intrigue around his process.
“You move very quickly from self-consciousness to a place where you are no longer aware of the decisions you are making, of the life that is taking shape. And that’s how it has to be, because self-consciousness is death in front of the camera.”
While Day Lewis’s method acting has earned him multiple gongs, his real achievement is creating characters that are completely believable and authentic. Daniel Day Lewis doesn’t play the character. He is the character.
“He believes so fervently that he is the character he is playing that audiences are swept along with him.”
In Lincoln (2012)for example, Day-Lewis created a voice and persona for a real historical figure. Given that Abraham Lincoln died in 1865, there are no audio or video recordings of the Civil War-era President. Day-Lewis employed the best of his method techniques to get inside the head of a character he knew little about, to create the voice and character was saw on the screen.
The result won him his third Best Actor Oscar.
While the method that we teach is less about extreme measures, and more effective techniques to channel the character you are playing, Daniel Day Lewis is certainly a fine example of the proven success of the method.