Daniel Day-Lewis - Biography - IMDb
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Overview (4)

Born in Greenwich, London, England, UK
Birth NameDaniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis
Nickname DDL
Height 6' 1½" (1.87 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Born in London, England, Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis is the second child of Cecil Day-Lewis (pseudonym Cecil Day-Lewis), Poet Laureate of the U.K., and his second wife, actress Jill Balcon. His maternal grandfather was Sir Michael Balcon, an important figure in the history of British cinema and head of the famous Ealing Studios. His older sister, Tamasin Day-Lewis, is a documentarian. His father was of Northern Irish and English descent, and his mother was Jewish (from a family from Latvia and Poland). Daniel was educated at Sevenoaks School in Kent, which he despised, and the more progressive Bedales in Petersfield, which he adored. He studied acting at the Bristol Old Vic School. Daniel made his film debut in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), but then acted on stage with the Bristol Old Vic and Royal Shakespeare Companies and did not appear on screen again until 1982, when he landed his first adult role, a bit part in Gandhi (1982). He also appeared on British television that year in Frost in May (1982) and BBC2 Playhouse: How Many Miles to Babylon? (1982). Notable theatrical performances include Another Country (1982-83), Dracula (1984) and The Futurists (1986).

His first major supporting role in a feature film was in The Bounty (1984), quickly followed by My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and A Room with a View (1985). The latter two films opened in New York on the same day, offering audiences and critics evidence of his remarkable range and establishing him as a major talent. The New York Film Critics named him Best Supporting Actor for those performances. In 1986, he appeared on stage in Richard Eyre's "The Futurists" and on television in Eyre's production of Screen Two: The Insurance Man (1986). He also had a small role in a British/French film, Nanou (1986). In 1987, he assumed leading-man status in Philip Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), followed by a comedic role in the unsuccessful Stars and Bars (1988). His brilliant performance as Christy Brown in Jim Sheridan's My Left Foot (1989) won him numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actor.

He returned to the stage to work again with Eyre, as Hamlet at the National Theater, but was forced to leave the production close to the end of its run because of exhaustion, and has not appeared on stage since. He took a hiatus from film as well until 1992, when he starred in The Last of the Mohicans (1992), a film that met with mixed reviews but was a great success at the box office. He worked with American director Martin Scorsese in The Age of Innocence (1993), based on Edith Wharton's novel. Subsequently, he teamed again with Jim Sheridan to star in In the Name of the Father (1993), a critically acclaimed performance that earned him another Academy Award nomination. His next project was in the role of John Proctor in father-in-law Arthur Miller's play The Crucible (1996), directed by Nicholas Hytner. He worked with Scorsese again to star in Gangs of New York (2002), another critically acclaimed performance that earned him another Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Day-Lewis's wife, Rebecca Miller, offered him the lead role in her film The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005), in which he played a dying man with regrets over how his wife had evolved and over how he had brought up his teenage daughter. During filming, he arranged to live separate from his wife to achieve the "isolation" needed to focus on his own character's reality. The film received mixed reviews. In 2007, he starred in director Paul Thomas Anderson's loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair's novel "Oil!", titled There Will Be Blood (2007). Day-Lewis received the Academy Award for Best Actor, BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama, Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, and a variety of film critics' circle awards for the role. In 2009, Day-Lewis starred in Rob Marshall's musical adaptation Nine (2009) as film director Guido Contini. He was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and the Satellite Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Pedro Borges

Spouse (1)

Rebecca Miller (13 November 1996 - present) ( 2 children)

Trade Mark (9)

In-depth and exhaustive preparations for roles
Frequently collaborates with directors Jim Sheridan and Martin Scorsese.
His skill with accents
His characters are often deeply unsympathetic
Rich dramatic voice
Dramatic emotional performances
Hoop earrings
Renowned for his eloquent acceptance speeches
Is very selective in his role choices

Trivia (82)

Ranked #25 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October 1997]
Moving to County Wicklow, Ireland, he assumed Irish citizenship. [1993]
Was in a relationship with Isabelle Adjani from 1989 to 1994; they had one son together, Gabriel-Kane Day Lewis.
Younger brother of Tamasin Day-Lewis.
Chosen by People magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World. [1990]
Chosen by Empire magazine as one of the "100 Sexiest Stars" in film history (#11). [1995]
Several times offered and turned down the role of Aragorn (Strider) in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The role went to Viggo Mortensen.
According to Harvey Weinstein, Day-Lewis was taking time off to work as a cobbler in Florence, Italy when Weinstein, director Martin Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio lured him into coming back to New York "on false pretenses" so they could persuade him to accept lead role in Gangs of New York (2002).
Describes himself as "a lifelong study of evasion".
According to Gangs of New York (2002) co-star John C. Reilly, he got sick during shooting in Italy, refusing to trade his character's threadbare coat for a warmer coat because the warmer coat did not exist in the 19th century; doctors finally forced him to take antibiotics.
On February 25, 2003, he announced that he would star in Rose and the Snake, co-written and directed by his wife, Rebecca Miller. The film was later renamed The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005).
Chosen by People magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World. [2003]
Is a skilled woodworker in addition to being able to make his living as a cobbler.
He listened to Eminem to get into an angry, self-righteous frame of mind as Bill the Butcher while shooting Gangs of New York (2002).
He was Jonathan Demme's first choice for the role of Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia (1993). He turned down the role to work on In the Name of the Father (1993) and Tom Hanks was cast in Philadelphia (1993) instead. He earned an Oscar nomination for best actor in In the Name of the Father (1993), but Hanks won the Best Actor Oscar for Philadelphia (1993).
Daniel's father was of Northern Irish and English descent, and was the son of The Rev. Frank Cecil Day-Lewis and Kathleen Blake Squires. Daniel's mother was from a Jewish family that emigrated to the United Kingdom from Latvia and Poland, and was the daughter of Michael Elias Balcon and Aileen Freda Leatherman.
He was the first of three consecutive British actors to win the Oscar for Best Actor in a leading role. Day-Lewis won for his performance in My Left Foot (1989), Jeremy Irons being next with his performance in Reversal of Fortune (1990) and Anthony Hopkins the third for his performance in The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Each of them coincidentally won with their first nomination at the Academy Awards.
Joan Allen plays his wife in The Crucible (1996). Emily Watson plays his wife in The Boxer (1997). Both have played Reba McLain. Allen played the role in Manhunter (1986), Watson played the role in the remake Red Dragon (2002).
Was considered for the role of Jesus Christ in The Passion of the Christ (2004), but director Mel Gibson thought he looked "too European". The role instead went to Jim Caviezel.
Frequently called the "English Robert De Niro". He has also referred to De Niro as his champion speaking of his biggest acting inspirations, along with Marlon Brando, Meryl Streep and Phil Davis.
Considered doing an adaptation of "Rose and the Snake" in the early 1990s, but the project fell through. After marrying Rebecca Miller, she convinced him to take the lead role and directed him in the adaptation The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005).
After Michael Madsen was found to be unavailable for the role, Day-Lewis tried to get the role of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction (1994), one of the few times he actively pursued a role. However, by that point in the casting, Quentin Tarantino had John Travolta in mind for the role.
Hated being at Sevenoaks School so much that he ran away.
While filming Gangs of New York (2002) he rarely got out of character and would talk with a New York accent the whole day and would be sharpening his knives at lunch.
His performance as Christy Brown in My Left Foot (1989) is ranked #11 on Premiere magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
His performance as Bill "The Butcher" Cutting in Gangs of New York (2002) is ranked #53 on Premiere magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
Son of Cecil Day-Lewis (aka Cecil Day-Lewis) and Jill Balcon. Grandson of Michael Balcon.
Has appeared in the novel "That Must Be Yoshino".
Turned down the leading role of Steven Soderbergh's Solaris (2002). The role instead went to George Clooney.
While filming The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005) on Prince Edward Island, Canada, he lived alone in a hut on the beach, away from his wife, director Rebecca Miller, and their children.
Late in the run of the 1989 production of "Hamlet" at the National Theatre in London, he reported that he had a strange sensation that he was talking to his father, who died of pancreatic cancer when Daniel was age 15. Unnerved, he walked off the stage and never returned. He still doesn't like to talk about it.
During The Last of the Mohicans (1992) he built a canoe, learned to track and skin animals, and perfected the use of a 12-pound flintlock gun, which he took everywhere he went, even to a Christmas dinner.
After Heath Ledger's sudden death in January 2008, Day-Lewis dedicated his 2008 SAG Award to Ledger, who was one of his favorite actors.
Has dual citizenship between the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Was director Alex Cox's second choice for the role of Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy (1986). The role went to Gary Oldman.
Is a supporter of the Millwall Football Club.
Trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School where colleagues included Miranda Richardson and Greta Scacchi.
Owns homes in the United States and Ireland.
Got to know his future wife Rebecca Miller while working on The Crucible (1996), the film version of her father Arthur Miller's play.
Is the first non-American actor to win three Academy Awards for Best Actor. Also the first actor anywhere to win three Oscars in that category--the 2013 Oscar for Lincoln (2012) was his third.
Dedicated his 2008 Oscar to his grandfather, film studio boss Michael Balcon, his poet father Cecil Day-Lewis (aka Cecil Day-Lewis), and his three sons Gabriel-Kane Day Lewis (born April 9, 1995), Ronan Cal Day-Lewis (born June 14, 1998) and Cashel Blake Day-Lewis (born May 2002).
He won 23 acting awards for his performance in There Will Be Blood (2007), including the coveted Oscar.
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and A Room with a View (1985) both opened in New York on the same day--March 7, 1986. Both featured him in prominent and very different roles: in "A Room with a View" he played a repressed, snobbish Edwardian upperclassman, while in "My Beautiful Laundrette" he played a lower-class, gay ex-skinhead in love with an ambitious Pakistani businessman in Margaret Thatcher's London. When American critics saw him--he was then virtually unknown in the US--in two such different roles on the same day, many (including Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times and Vincent Canby of The New York Times) raved about the talent it must have taken him to play such vastly different characters.
Is one of 13 actors to have won the Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Critics' Choice Award, Golden Globe Award and SAG Award for the same performance (There Will Be Blood (2007) and Lincoln (2012)). The others in chronological order are Geoffrey Rush for Shine (1996), Jamie Foxx for Ray (2004), Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote (2005), Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland (2006), Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men (2007), Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight (2008), Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds (2009), Colin Firth for The King's Speech (2010), Christopher Plummer for Beginners (2010), J.K. Simmons for Whiplash (2014), Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant (2015), Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), and Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour (2017).
Son-in-law of photographer Inge Morath and playwright Arthur Miller.
His performance as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007) was listed as third in TotalFilm's "150 Greatest Movie Performances of All Time". [December 2009]
Turned down a role in Terminator Salvation (2009).
Zack Snyder offered him the role of Jor-El in Man of Steel (2013), which went to Russell Crowe.
Turned down the lead role in Mary Reilly (1996), which went to John Malkovich.
Turned down a role in Cutthroat Island (1995).
Sir John Gielgud said that "he had what every actor in Hollywood wants: talent. And what every actor in England wants: looks".
Turned down the lead role in The English Patient (1996), which went to Ralph Fiennes.
Turned down the role of Simon Templar in The Saint (1997), which went to Val Kilmer.
Turned down the lead role in a film based on mass murderer Dennis Nilsen.
He originally decided to become a cabinet maker but was not accepted for an apprenticeship.
Always quiet and introverted, he said that he was not popular in school and was mocked as an outsider while growing up in England, partially because he was of half Jewish stock. The upside was that, instead of socializing, he developed a rich fantasy life that later helped him to delve so deeply into his characters.
He first became interested in acting when he learned to replicate the accent and mannerisms of people in his neighborhood to avoid standing out to bullies.
The longest he has gone without an Oscar nomination is 9 years, between In the Name of the Father (1993) and Gangs of New York (2002).
Is the second actor to have received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for portraying Abraham Lincoln; the other is Raymond Massey in Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940).
Is one of five actors to have won the Academy Award three times in their career; the others in chronological order are Walter Brennan, Ingrid Bergman, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. These actors have only been surpassed by Katharine Hepburn, who won the Academy Award four times during her career.
Dedicated his 2013 Best Actor Oscar to his late mother, actress Jill Balcon.
Is the first actor to win an Oscar for playing a U.S. President, and the first to win for playing Abraham Lincoln. Only one other actor, Raymond Massey, has been Oscar-nominated for playing the role; despite turning in a critically acclaimed performance as Lincoln in Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), Henry Fonda was not nominated for his performance.
On March 19, 2013, a two-DVD set entitled "Daniel Day-Lewis Triple Feature", a compilation of much of the actor's performances on British TV programs from 1982 to 1986, was released in the United States by BBC Home Entertainment.
One of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World. [2013]
Received an honorary degree from the Juilliard School in Manhattan, New York City. [May 2013]
He partook in the 2013 Millie Miglia driving a 1953 Jaguar XK 120. His co-driver was James Gianopulos, the Chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment.
In 2013, he used the international premiere of his film Lincoln (2012) in Ireland as a fundraiser for the Wicklow Hospice Foundation.
Became a father for the first time at age 37 when his ex-girlfriend Isabelle Adjani gave birth to their son Gabriel-Kane Day Lewis on April 9, 1995.
Became a father for the second time at age 41 when his wife Rebecca Miller gave birth to their son Ronan Cal Day-Lewis on June 14, 1998.
Became a father for the third time at age 45 when his wife Rebecca Miller gave birth to their son Cashel Blake Day-Lewis in May 2002.
In Gangs of New York (2002) his character "The Butcher" throws a knife at a picture of President Abraham Lincoln, hitting him right between the eyes. Ten years later he starred in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (2012), playing the president himself.
As of 2018, has appeared in eight films that were nominated for the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars: Gandhi (1982), A Room with a View (1985), My Left Foot (1989), In the Name of the Father (1993), Gangs of New York (2002), There Will Be Blood (2007), Lincoln (2012) and Phantom Thread (2017). Gandhi (1982) won in both categories. He was also nominated for Best Actor in the last six of these, winning for My Left Foot, There Will Be Blood and Lincoln.
Is not only the first actor to receive three Best Actor Oscars, but the only British actor to receive at least two Best Actor Oscars.
He was awarded Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire in the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours List for his services to drama.
His Oscar for Lincoln (2012) makes he and Raymond Massey the eighth pair of male actors to be nominated for playing the same role (Massey for Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), and he is the only actor to win when his predecessor had lost. Charles Laughton and Richard Burton were both nominated for playing King Henry VIII (Burton for Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), Laughton for The Private Life of Henry VIII. (1933)), for which Laughton won. Robert Donat and Peter O'Toole were both nominated for playing Mr. Chips (Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), O'Toole for Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)), which Donat won. John Wayne and Jeff Bridges were both nominated for playing Rooster Cogburn (Wayne in True Grit (1969), Bridges in True Grit (2010), which Wayne won. Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro both won for playing Vito Corleone (Brando in The Godfather (1972), De Niro for The Godfather: Part II (1974)). José Ferrer and Gérard Depardieu were both nominated for playing Cyrano de Bergerac (Ferrer for Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), Depardieu for Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)), and Ferrer won. Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella were both nominated for playing Richard Nixon (Hopkins in Nixon (1995), Langella for Frost/Nixon (2008)); both lost. Jason Robards and Leonardo DiCaprio were both nominated for playing Howard Hughes (Robards for Melvin and Howard (1980), DeCaprio for The Aviator (2004)); both lost.
On June 20, 2017, he announced that he was retiring from acting and that Phantom Thread (2017) would be his last acting role. His US agent said that this was a private decision and that no further comment would be made on the subject.
All six times he has been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar, the film he was in was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Director.
His last four Best Actor Oscar nominations came every five years: Gangs of New York (2002), There Will Be Blood (2007), Lincoln (2012) and Phantom Thread (2017).
As of 2018, has the largest gap between first and last Best Actor Oscar wins, which is 23 years between My Left Foot (1989) and Lincoln (2012). It is also the longest duration between first and last acting Oscars of any male actor.
Shares a birthday with Uma Thurman.
Of his thirteen film roles since 1989, he has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for six of those roles.
He starred in one musical film, Nine (2009), said in an interview that he doesn't normally rehearse for a film, but was forced to in this film.

Personal Quotes (74)

[on acting] If I weren't allowed this outlet, there wouldn't be a place for me in society.
I suppose I have a highly developed capacity for self-delusion, so it's no problem for me to believe I'm somebody else.
[on whether or not he will act in films more often in the future] Nothing happened over the course of making Gangs of New York (2002) that made me think, "Why don't I do this more often?".
In every actor's life, there is a moment when they ask themselves, "Is it really seemly for me to still be doing this?".
[on Martin Scorsese] Martin doesn't have to convince me about anything. I can only say that I would wish for any one of my colleagues to have the experience of working with Marty once in their lifetime. If you get it twice, it's a privilege that you don't necessarily look for but you certainly don't try to avoid.
Life comes first. What I see in the characters, I first try to see in life.
The West has always been the epicenter of possibility. One of the ways we forge against mortality is to head west. It's to do with catching the sun before it slips behind the horizon. We all keep moving toward the sun, wishing to get the last ray of hope before it sets.
[on playing Jack Slevin in The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)] I was, as always, wary of taking on the role. This was a man whose soul was torn, and once you've adopted that kind of internal conflict, it's difficult to quiet.
[on disengaging from a character after filming] There's a terrible sadness. The last day of shooting is surreal. Your mind, your body, your spirit are not in any way prepared to accept that this experience is coming to an end. In the months that follow the finish of a film, you feel profound emptiness. You've devoted so much of your time to unleashing, in an unconscious way, some sort of spiritual turmoil, and even if it's uncomfortable, no part of you wishes to leave that character behind. The sense of bereavement is such that it can take years before you can put it to rest.
Before I start a film, there is always a period where I think, "I'm not sure I can do this again". I remember that before I was going to start There Will Be Blood (2007), I wondered why I had said yes. When Martin Scorsese told me about Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York (2002), I wanted to change places with that man. But even then, I did not say yes right away. I kept thinking, "I'm not sure I can do this again".
[on seeing his face on posters for The Last of the Mohicans (1992)] That was, and will always be, difficult for me. The work itself is never anything but pure pleasure, but there's an awful lot of peripheral stuff that I find it hard to be surrounded by. I like things to be swift, because the energy you have is concentrated and can be fleeting. The great machinery of film can work against that. I have never had a positive reaction to all the stuff that supposedly promotes the film. The thought of it will make me hesitate to do any films at all.
[on learning to box for The Boxer (1997)] I wanted to see if I loved the sport, because if I didn't love the sport, I wouldn't want to tell the story. At its best, boxing is very pure. It requires resilience and heart and self-belief even after it's been knocked out of you. It's a certain kind of a test. And it's hard: the training alone will kill you. And that's before people start giving you a dig.
Playing the part of Christy Brown [in My Left Foot (1989)] left me with a sense of setting myself on a course, of trying to achieve something that was utterly out of reach.
[after filming The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)] I was hopelessly at sea. I was extremely unhappy most of the time. I think I probably felt I'd made a fundamental error in agreeing to do that movie even though it was the part and the film that everyone wanted to do. And God help us, that is, in itself, a reason not to do something.
[while filming My Left Foot (1989)] I needed--and I still need--to create a particular environment. I need to find the right kind of silence or light or noise. Whatever is necessary--and it is always different. I know it sounds a little fussy and a little ridiculous, but finding your own rhythm is one of the most important things you can discover about yourself. And you have to observe it. As actors, we're all encouraged to feel that each job is the last job. They plant some little electrode in your head at an early stage and you think, "Be grateful, be grateful, be grateful". So it's not without a sense of gratitude that I work. But I couldn't do this work at all unless I did it in my own rhythm. It became a choice between stopping and taking the time I needed.
Why would I want to play middle-aged, middle-class Englishmen?
There's a quality of wildness that exists in Ireland that coincides with utter solitude.
I've managed to create a sense of banishment in so many different areas of my life. I live in Ireland, not England. I make films in America. And now I'm banished from the theater because I've slagged it off so much. And I did the unspeakable thing of fleeing from "Hamlet".
[on acting school] For a few years at school I tried to play the roles they wanted me to play, but it became less and less interesting to ponce around the place. Even now, when I sometimes think of doing a play, I think of rehearsal rooms and people hugging and everyone talking over cups of coffee because they are nervous. It's both very touching and it makes me a little nauseous and claustrophobic. Too much talk. I don't rehearse at all in film if I can help it. In talking a character through, you define it. And if you define it, you kill it dead.
Laurence Olivier might have been a much better actor on film if he hadn't had that flippant attitude. [He] was a remarkable actor, but he was entirely missing the point consistently. He felt that film was an inferior form.
The thing that Konstantin Stanislavski lays out is how you do the thing the first time every time - 1,000 times. That's the idea you're always searching for.
[on working when he was a teenager as an extra in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)] I was just a local kid. I got to come out of the church, the same church where I sang in the choir, and scratch up a row of cars--a Jag, a Bentley--parked in front. I thought, "I get paid for this!". Years later I saw the director, John Schlesinger, at the Edinburgh festival, where we were showing My Beautiful Laundrette (1985). I play a hooligan punk in that, too. I said to Schlesinger, "I guess I haven't progressed much.".
I came from the educated middle class but I identified with the working classes. Those were the people I looked up to. The lads whose fathers worked on the docks or in shipping yards or were shopkeepers. I knew that I wasn't part of that world, but I was intrigued by it. They had a different way of communicating. People who delight in conversation are often using that as a means to not say what is on their minds. When I became interested in theater, the work I admired was being done by working-class writers. It was often about the inarticulate. I later saw that same thing in Robert De Niro's early work--it was the most sublime struggle of a man trying to express himself. There was such poetry in that for me.
[on obtaining Irish citizenship] I dare say it was still considered to be an abandonment of England! A betrayal! A heresy! It is not expected that someone from my background will leave England. But I've committed so many heresies that there's no sense in not making the final gesture.
[on visiting the west of Ireland every year since childhood] From the day we arrived here, my sense of Ireland's importance has never diminished. Everything here seemed exotic to us. Just the sound of the west of Ireland in a person's voice can affect me deeply.
[on researching his role as Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007)] I like to learn about things. It was just a great time trying to conceive of the impossibility of that thing. I didn't know anything about mining at the turn of the century in America. My boarding school in Kent didn't exactly teach that.
[on researching his role as Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007)] Back then men would get the fever. They would keep digging, always with the idea that next time they'll throw the dice and the money will fall out of the sky. It killed a lot of men, it broke others, still more were reduced to despair and poverty, but they still believed in the promise of the West.
[on researching his role as Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007)] I read a lot of correspondence dating from that period. Decent middle-class lives with wives and children were abandoned to pursue this elusive possibility. They were bank clerks and shipping agents and teachers. They all fled West for a sniff of cheap money. And they made it up as they went along. No one knew how to drill for oil. Initially, they scooped it out of the ground in saucepans. It was man at his most animalistic, sifting through filth to find bright, sparkly things.
It was always assumed that the classics were a good line of work for me because I had a decent voice and the right nose. But anybody who comes from an essentially cynical European society is going to be bewitched by the sheer enthusiasm of the New World. And in America, the articulate use of language is often regarded with suspicion. Especially in the West. Look at the president. He could talk like an educated New Englander if he chose to. Instead, he holds his hands like a man who swings an ax. George W. Bush understands, very astutely, that many of the people who are going to vote for him would regard him less highly if he knew how to put words together. He would no longer be one of them. In Europe, the tradition is one of oratory. But in America, a man's man is never spendthrift with words. This, of course, is much more appealing in the movies than it is in politics.
[replying to a compliment on his articulation] I am more greatly moved by people who struggle to express themselves. Maybe it's a middle-class British hang-up, but I prefer the abstract concept of incoherence in the face of great feeling to beautiful, full sentences that convey little emotion.
[on applying to theater school, the Bristol Old Vic] I picked just one because then it would be a sign from the gods if it was not meant to be.
[on his reluctance to expose the mechanics of his acting process] It's not that I want to pull the shutters down. It's just that people have such a misconception about what it is I do. They think the character comes from staying in the wheelchair or being locked in the jail or whatever extravagant thing they choose to focus their fantasies on. Somehow, it always seems to have a self-flagellatory aspect to it. But that's just the superficial stuff. Most of the movies that I do are leading me toward a life that is utterly mysterious to me. My chief goal is to find a way to make that life meaningful to other people.
I was deeply unsettled by the script [of There Will Be Blood (2007)]. For me, that is a sure sign. If you remain unsettled by a piece of writing, it means you are not watching the story from the outside; you've already taken a step toward it. When I'm drawn to something, I take a resolute step backward, and I ask myself if I can really serve this story as well as it needs to be served. If I don't think I can do that, no matter how appealing, I will decline. What finally takes over, what took over with this movie, is an illusion of inevitability. I think, "Can this really be true? Is this happening to me again? Is there no way to avoid this?".
My love for American movies was like a secret that I carried around with me. I always knew I could straddle different worlds. I'd grown up in two different worlds and if you can grow up in two different worlds, you can occupy four. Or six. Why put a limit on it?
I used to go to all-night screenings of [Clint Eastwood] movies. I'd stagger out at 5 in the morning, trying to be loose-limbed and mean and taciturn.
Where I come from, it was a heresy to say you wanted to be in movies, leave alone American movies. We were all encouraged to believe that the classics of the theater were the fiery hoops through which you'd have to pass if you were going to have any self-esteem as a performer. It never occurred to me that that was the case. One of the great privileges of having grown up in a middle-class literary English household, but having gone to school in the front lines in Southeast London, was that I became half-street-urchin and half-good-boy at home. I knew that dichotomy was possible. England is obsessed with where you came from, and they are determined to keep you in that place, be it in a drawing room or in the gutter. The great tradition of liberalism in England is essentially a sponge that absorbs all possibility of change. America looked different to me: the idea of America as a place of infinite possibilities was defined for me through the movies. I'm glad I did the classical work that I did, but it just wasn't for me. I'm a little bit perverse, and I just hate doing the thing that's the most obvious.
I saw Taxi Driver (1976) five or six times in the first week, and I was astonished by its sheer visceral beauty. I just kept going back--I didn't know America, but that was a glimpse of what America might be, and I realized that, contrary to expectation, I wanted to tell American stories.
I don't particularly like westerns as a genre, but I do love certain westerns. High Noon (1952) means a lot to me--I love the purity and the honesty, I love Gary Cooper in that film, the idea of the last man standing. I do not like John Wayne--I find it hard to watch him. I just never took to him. And I don't like James Stewart as a cowboy. I love him, but just not as a cowboy; Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) is one of my favorite films. I love Frank Capra. I love Preston Sturges. But we're talking about westerns... I have always admired Clint Eastwood's westerns. The spaghetti westerns were a great discovery. And Pale Rider (1985). As a child, the John Ford film Cheyenne Autumn (1964) made a big impression on me. And Five Easy Pieces (1970). It's not really a western, but it is about the possibilities that can be found in the West. Jack Nicholson is sublime in that film, just sublime. It's the most stultifying portrait of middle-class life. You want to flee from that world and head anywhere less civilized. Which is, of course, the appeal of the West: It's not tamed yet.
[on creating a characterization] The intention is always the same. To try to discover life in its entirety, or at least create for yourself the illusion that you have, which might give you some chance of convincing other people of it. It's the same thing each time, but it requires totally different work in the process of achieving that. You are set on a path that's strewn with obstacles, but getting over them is the joy of the work. So it's impossible to think in terms of difficulty: it all seems utterly impossible, but the pleasure is in trying to forge ahead anyway.
My ambition for many years was to be involved in work that was utterly compelling to me, regardless of the consequences. But I worried a lot as a young man about where such and such a thing might take me; you're encouraged to think that way. You're supposed to build a career for yourself. But there's no part of me that was able to do that. And thank God I was able to recognize it before I sort of went grey with anxiety.
[on why he takes long breaks between films] For my sense of continuity, I suppose I work in a certain way. But it goes beyond that. It's really about the sense of joy you have in having worked hard to imagine and discover and--one hopes--to create a world, an illusion of a world that other people might believe in because you believe in it yourself, a form of self-delusion. After achieving that, it seems far crazier to jump in and out of that world that you've gone to such pains to create. And it wouldn't be my wish to do that, because I enjoy being in there.
Whenever we reach what we think are the boundaries of our endurance, you know ten minutes later you're thinking: "I could have done that"--like in any athletic pursuit--"I could have gone further than that; I could have jumped higher".
I am rather surprised that I haven't made more stories about my own country but it is a mistake to suggest that the biggest influence on my life in terms of movies has been America. It was and remains Ken Loach and his whole body of work, not that I have ever worked with him. There is something unique and pure about the way he works, without a taint on it. His beliefs have remained unwavering since he made
I do have dual citizenship, but I think of England as my country. I miss London very much but I couldn't live there because there came a time when I needed to be private and was forced to be public by the press. I couldn't deal with it.
I was very influenced by Ken Loach's work from the moment I saw Kes (1969) when I was a kid. It still remains for me one of the most powerful pieces of work ever. Before that, there was Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), This Sporting Life (1963) and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), which all expressed a new British social realism. Undoubtedly, they opened up the possibility of examining British life in a new way. That was probably the most important film experience I had.
I have no illusion about the fact that I'm an Englishman living in Ireland. Even though I do straddle both worlds and I'm very proud to be able to carry both passports. But I do know where I come from. I particularly miss southeast London--the front-lines of Deptford and Lewisham and New Cross and Charlton--because that's my patch.
[on accepting the best actor Oscar for There Will Be Blood (2007)] This sprang like a sapling out of the mad, beautiful head of Paul Thomas Anderson.
[on the "wisdom" of actors as public figures] Initially it was invigorating. People suddenly wanted to hear my views on all manner of social problems. I was up for it but it palled very soon afterwards. It was not like real conversation, where you listen and learn. It's hard to learn anything when you are talking about it. You only learn doing it. And if you are not learning, what's the point?
Theatre invites a nuts-and-bolts process to rehearsing in which all the actors are transparent to each other. For me, even if the truth I am looking for might be a specious one, I still need to believe in a kernel of truth. And I find it hard to do in a rehearsal situation where everyone is saying, "Are you going to do it like that?" It is distracting and deadly in the end to any discovery you might make. I'm never far away from a sense of potential absurdity of what I am doing, and maybe as I get older I have to work harder and harder to obliterate it. That's maybe why I seem to take it far too seriously.
[His acceptance speech for Best Actor In A Leading Role SAG award for There Will Be Blood (2007)] Thank you. I'm very, very proud of this. Thank you so much for giving it to me. And I'm very proud to be included in that group of wonderful actors this year. You know, for as long as I can remember, the thing that gave me a sense of wonderment, of renewal, the thing that teased me with the question, "How is such a thing possible?", and then dare you to go back into the arena one more time, with longing and self-doubt, jostling in the balance. It's always been the work of other actors, and there are many actors in this room tonight, including my fellow nominees, who have given that sense of regeneration and Heath Ledger gave it to me. In Monster's Ball (2001), that character that he created, it seemed to be almost like an unformed being, retreating from themselves, retreating from his father, from his life, even retreating from us, and yet we wanted to follow him, and yet we're scared to follow him almost. It was unique. And then, of course, in Brokeback Mountain (2005), he was unique, he was perfect. And that scene in the trailer at the end of the film is as moving as anything that I think I've ever seen. And I'd like to dedicate this to Heath Ledger. So, thank you very much. Thank you so much.
[on choosing film roles] I begin with a sense of mystery. In other words, I am intrigued by a life that seems very far removed from my own. And I have a sense of curiosity to discover that life and maybe change places with it for a while.
[on Heath Ledger] As much as I was glad to have a chance to say something in that moment. There was plenty more I could say but we're not just fueling a fire that's already out of control. His family, for instance, at this moment are trying to suffer that unimaginable grief in the full scrutiny of a fucking circus and anything that I say is probably going to contribute even more to that and keep the story running and running and running. There will come a time eventually when people just remember that he was a beautiful man who did some wonderful work and we would have seen great things from him. Right now I can't say that I'm too enthusiastic about just adding more fodder to what is already a horrendously, obscenely overblown machine that's gathered around his death. It's horrible.
[on the passing of Pete Postlethwaite] "Pos" was the one. As students, it was him we went to see on stage time and time again. It was him we wanted to be like: wild and true, lion-hearted, unselfconscious, irreverent. He was on our side. He watched out for us. We loved him and followed him like happy children, never a breath away from laughter. He shouldn't have gone. I wish so much that he hadn't. There's a tendency to make lists at this time of the year. When we get to the Best of British, if Pete isn't at the top of that list, he shouldn't be far from it.
[on the rumors surrounding his acting process]: Certainly in England I think they prefer to believe that I'm stone mad. That's how they account for all my eccentric behavior. But I always feel as if that has been largely misrepresented, the details that have been singled out... People are fascinated by the peripheral details. But that's not where the principal work takes place, obviously. That takes place either inside you, or it doesn't happen at all. It's your own life that breathes itself into and through the character. But people prefer to dwell on the stuff that appears on the face of it to be some form of self-flagellation. And for me, everything is part of the joy of discovering this life--that one is trying to inform as well as satisfying an irresistible curiosity. So it's the pleasure in learning that has always been the prevailing feeling for me. And yet consistently it's represented as this tortured thing.
Interviews are God's great joke on me.
I like to take a long time over things, and I believe that it's the time spent away from the work that allows me to do the work itself. If you're lurching from from one film set or one theater to the other, I'm not sure what your resources would be as a human being.
[on playing Abraham Lincoln] The minute you begin to approach him--and there are vast corridors that have been carved that lead you to an understanding of that man's life, both through the great riches of his own writing and all the contemporary accounts and biographies--he feels immediately and surprisingly accessible. He draws you closer to him.
I became conflicted in my late teens. I imagined an alternative life as a furniture maker. For about a year I just didn't know what to do. I did laboring jobs--working in the docks, construction sites. When I did make the decision to focus on acting, I think my mother was just relieved for me that I had finally started to focus. She probably feared for me much more than she ever let on, because all I got from her, no matter what I was doing was encouragement--so much so that I think I became quite a harsh judge of myself to try to restore some kind of balance.
[on the United States] I probably do have a greater fascination for the history of this country than I do for my own. I date that back to the moment that Michael Mann invited me to do The Last of the Mohicans (1992)]. I hedged my bets for a long time because I thought, "Why? Why would he want to do that?". Eventually I thought, "Well, if he's willing to take that chance, who am I to say no?".
[on events in America, 2012] I think a lot about what President [Barack Obama] is going through at this moment. I look to the extent to which he has aged visibly. I feel I aged visibly just playing [President Abraham Lincoln], so to actually have that responsibility is a burden that one can only explore in one's imagination. Anyone who has that position of authority must necessarily find themselves very, very alone at certain times. I'm not in any way comparing his work to the work that I do as an actor, but it's a common theme.
I'm woefully one-track-minded. Without sounding unhinged, I know I'm not Abraham Lincoln. I'm aware of that. But the truth is the entire game is about creating an illusion, and for whatever reason, and mad as it may sound, some part of me can allow myself to believe for a period for time without questioning, and that's the trick. Maybe it's a terrible revelation about myself that one does feel able to do that.
[on playing Abraham Lincoln] I thought this is a very, very bad idea. But by that time it was too late. I had already been drawn into Lincoln's orbit. He has a very powerful orbit, which is interesting because we tend to hold him at such a distance. He's been mythologized almost to the point of dehumanization. But when you begin to approach him, he almost instantly becomes welcoming and accessible, the way he was in life.
[on photos of Abraham Lincoln by Alexander Gardner] I looked at them the way you sometimes look at your own reflection in a mirror and wonder who that person is looking back at you.
I never, ever felt that depth of love for another human being that I never met. And that's, I think, probably the effect that [Abraham Lincoln] has on most people that take the time to discover him... I wish he had stayed [with me] forever.
[accepting the Best Actor award at SAG, 2013] It occurred to me--it was an actor that murdered Abraham Lincoln. And therefore, somehow it is only so fitting that every now and then an actor tries to bring him back to life again.
[on being presented the 2013 Best Actor Oscar by Meryl Streep] It's strange because three years ago, before we decided to do a straight swap, I had actually been committed to play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl was Steven Spielberg's first choice for Lincoln (2012). I'd have liked to see that version.
Since we got married 16 years ago, my wife [Rebecca Miller] has lived with some very strange men. But luckily, she's the versatile one in the family and she's been the perfect companion to all of them.
I miss playing [Abraham Lincoln]. Very much. I miss the proximity to his character. There was a time in my life when it wasn't clear whether or not I would amount to anything. I was fearful about my future. In England, people were hell-bent on certifying me--to them, the way I work as an actor is the system of someone who is unhinged. As a young man, when I saw the early movies by Martin Scorsese, I saw a way to be, a kind of liberation. In those movies, America seemed like a place of infinite opportunities. In Lincoln (2012), we tried to show that sense of grand democratic possibility. We created a world I didn't want to leave.
[on Barack Obama's re-election, November 2012] I know as an Englishman, it absolutely none of my business, but I'm so very grateful it was you.
[on stage vs. film acting in a 1987 interview] I'm greedy. I prefer both. By that I mean I feel that I'd be missing out if I were to do only one or the other.
There's no point in making social comments badly. That is really dangerous... I don't like things that just gripe.
[In a 1987 interview about the variety of his roles] I don't set out in search of something that is different, although I probably do go in search of things that involve traveling a certain distance away from my own life and away from the lives of characters I've already explored. But at the end of a job, there's always a sense of having failed to some extent in the exploration - of knowing that there are many, many other factors that might have been explored. Yet at the same time, I always feel it's time to move on, regardless of any dissatisfaction.
(To Harvey Weinstein) There's only one part of you that works - the ability to pick scripts and pick movies. Otherwise, you're a complete disaster as a person.
[on briefly joining the National Youth Theatre while at Bedales] [It left me with] bad thoughts about the theatre. Having been completely convinced that theatre was the only plausible life for me, I decided there was something intrinsically very seedy and distasteful about it. [I was] very spotty, very spotty, quite morose, quite sullen. I met up with a friend of mine years later, and he said, 'What I remember about you is your saying, "Want to come down the Edgware Road to get a flick knife?"' I think my father was preoccupied with whether I'd survive as a human being, because the last couple of years before he died I got into a lot of trouble: usual stuff, shoplifting - *that* was the end of the world - and smoking and drinking and messing around with girls.

Salary (1)

The Crucible (1996) $8,000,000

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