Daniel Day Lewis: Truly An Acting Great

After becoming the first person to collect three Best Actor Oscars for his barnstorming performance in Lincoln, Daniel Day Lewis has cemented his legacy as a unique talent and possibly the greatest actor ever.
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After becoming the first person to collect three Best Actor Oscars for his barnstorming performance in Lincoln, Daniel Day Lewis has cemented his legacy as a unique talent and possibly the greatest actor ever.


On Sunday evening at the 85th Anniversary of the Academy Awards, for the first time in its history,Daniel Day-Lewis won the Best Actor statue for the third time, surpassing Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman in the process.  After conquering the Best Actor category across all the major film festivals this season the statuette headed back to Britain after Day Lewis' gentle and commanding role as Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg’s best film for years. I’m not a film student; I don’t seek out indie arthouse movies from the ‘80s or new wave French films by Godard. However, I can appreciate a unique film and an even more unique actor. When watching Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood and Lincoln it is difficult to imagine the leading man to be the same person, let alone begin to conceive that he is actually British. The greatest screen actor of the modern era is alive and was born in Greenwich and should be celebrated.

In a time when OBEs, Knighthoods and National Treasures are issued daily it seems strange that a man so successful in his field receives relatively light coverage. Working underneath the media radar is perhaps to his detriment in that respect but acting for Day-Lewis seems more like a typical job to be taken thoughtfully and without the need of sensational appraisals.  The very fact that he subscribes to this private way of life allows room for reinvention, as well as room for hilarious speculation about how he fills his time. It was the Day-Lewis ‘myth’ that made me watch his movies, a similar drive that made me read Hemingway or watch 10minute Youtube videos of Neymar. I began with Gangs of New York. DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, I know those actors so I’m sure it will be a good film. After finishing it I became fully aware of Day-Lewis’ acting force as he shouted and stomped through scenes with a blade in his hand a comical moustache that created an unnerving contradiction. I followed Gangs of New York with Paul Thomas-Anderson’s epic and literate, There Will Be Blood and again watched an actor physically pull a movie from one emotion to another. In both Day-Lewis moves from rage to charm in moments and acts as the centre-point to films that are more like landscapes. But wait, what, this guy is from England? After seeing an interview with him on Parkinson and realising he was this delicately spoken and polite man I could not believe that this was Bill Cutting or Daniel Plainview. I accept that British actors have played Americans in the past, ‘The Wire’ being a great example, but surely none to such a ferocious level as Day-Lewis in these two films?


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Nevertheless, there are low points. After continuing on to the excellent My Left Foot, three weeks ago I noticed Film4 screening My Beautiful Laundrette. I had known of this film from a distance, I was aware of its ‘cult film’ status and how revered it is in British cinema and thought that this would be a perfect choice. Yet, despite the 100% marking on Rotten Tomatoes and despite the general view of its “classic status”, the film is terrible. I have seen The Happening and I have watched Grown-Ups so I am placed to comment on a bad film and My Beautiful Laundrette is. Terrible acting all round, a script that reads like a series of rejected left-wing political slogans and a budget of about £30 made this a film to avoid. I can still remember those opening credits rolling in to shot. I’m never going near it again and I will approach the rest of his film canon with caution and that definitely includes Nine.

But with Lincoln there was no hesitation. This long, earnest political discourse of a film calmly rocks the viewer into its attention. Again Day-Lewis bends and moulds his body into a new, and very American, shape yet this time he leaves the shouting and the rage behind to convey a far more noble and reticent figure. Day-Lewis’ Lincoln is arguably his most successful trick of transformation. With his steady gait and ponderous gaze, Day-Lewis builds an interpretation of man that is known to many but is intimately and personally lost to history. The most impressive feat is his ability to construct an entirely new voice; the soft tones flow through the film alongside heels in hallways and John Williams’ horn section.

Although the Oscars are seen as a rigged gift-giving exercise between people in the film community, they have the ability to cement extraordinary moments of cinema in a more tangible and memorable way. After his latest reinvention, on Sunday night Daniel Day-Lewis will won his third Best Actor statue ahead of Denzel Washington, Hugh Jackman, Joaquin Phoenix and Bradley Cooper and go down as one of the most determined, humble and talented screen actors ever. Let’s hope that the recognition crosses the Atlantic and arrives on his doorstep in Britain as well.