Considered the greatest working actor in the world, Daniel Day-Lewis is known for his method acting and intense commitment to his craft. Here are some of the most noteworthy and interesting facts about the man who TIME magazine called “the World’s Greatest Actor.”
Daniel Day-Lewis Facts
43. Kiss Me I’m Irish
Though born in London, Daniel Day-Lewis jumped islands and moved to Ireland after gaining success, officially becoming an Irish citizen in 1993.
42. No, Again and Again
While it may now be hard to imagine someone other than Viggo Mortensen in the role, Peter Jackson really wanted Day-Lewis to play Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, offering him the role several different times. But, as we all know, Day-Lewis is a man who sticks to his guns.
41. Literary Life
Day-Lewis may be a humble man, but he comes from an acclaimed family. His father was Cecil Day-Lewis, the United Kingdom’s Poet Laureate from 1968 until his untimely death in 1972. Cecil was more than just a poet, though, as he wrote popular mystery stories under the pseudonym of Nicholas Blake.
40. Family In Film
One of the London film industry’s most important figures was Day-Lewis’s grandfather, Sir Michael Balcon, the head of Ealing Studios. Balcon was responsible for changing the name of the company from Associated Talking Pictures Ltd. and was the man behind their influential success in the post-war era.
39. Giving Hitchcock A Break
Michael Balcon is also the man who trusted a young Alfred Hitchcock enough to give him his first directing opportunity in 1925, when he asked Hitchcock to direct The Pleasure Garden. The film was a commercial failure, but Balcon saw the potential in the young master and kept working with him.
When Day-Lewis’s parents married, his father was 20 years older than his mother, Jill Balcon. Michael Balcon was deeply unsettled by their relationship and subsequently became estranged from his daughter and her family.
37. New Family, New Life
Jill Balcon was a successful actor in her own right, and quite charming. When Cecil decided she was the one, he left both his wife, their two kids, and his mistress in order to be with her. No wonder her father wasn’t happy.
36. From The Old Country
The Balcon family were a part of the Jewish diaspora, having descended from 19th century Latvian and Polish immigrants to the United Kingdom.
35. My Sister, The Chef
Day-Lewis has one sibling, the famed English celebrity chef with a great name, Tamasin Day-Lewis. Tamasin is one of the UK’s most successful food critics, and she’s the author of many books, including Tamasin’s Kitchen Bible. It seems like the Day-Lewis family has a serious skill when it comes to naming things.
34. Creative Comfort
With a prestigious family and privileged upbringing, it should be no surprise to learn that Day-Lewis attended the Bedales School, one of the UK’s most famous, progressive, and expensive private schools. Bedales is where he was able to foster his creative side, as the school is famous because of its creative ethos and loose structure.
33. Gaining Fluency
The legend of Day-Lewis began to grow in 1988 when he took the role of Tomas in the film adaptation of Milan Kundera’s classic novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being. For his role, Day-Lewis dedicated his time to become fluent in Czech, as a part of his early method acting technique.
32. Diehard Support
Though he grew up in a rather sterile, upper-class situation, Day-Lewis was fond of playing football as a kid and enjoyed being around kids who were from “rougher” parts of town. This holds over into his adult life, as he’s a fan of Millwall FC, one of the most notorious teams in the UK.
31. Poisonous Prejudice
As a child growing up in England, Day-Lewis had to deal with a good deal of anti-Semitism, and thus turned inward and grew up as an introvert. It also didn’t help that his father was of Northern Irish descent, which led to even more bullying.
30. Accent Heavy
As a way to deal with the prejudiced bullying, young Day-Lewis learned how to imitate the mannerisms of the people around him, and gained a refined skill set in replicating accents. Coulda guessed that one.
29. Marrying The Family
Not only is Day-Lewis from a prestigious family, but he married into one as well. His wife, Rebecca Miller, is the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller, making him the son-in-law of one of the 20th centuries most successful writers. Day-Lewis and Miller met while he was working on the film adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. It was her father who actually introduced them.
28. Smelly Romance
Day-Lewis must have some serious charm, because when he met Rebecca during the shooting of The Crucible he wasn’t just acting as John Proctor—he was John Proctor. That meant he was doing everything Proctor did, including not bathing.
27. Home Sweet Home
Oh, and to maintain his character of John Proctor, Day-Lewis also actually built the house that Proctor lived in in the movie, going so far as to actually live in it himself during production.
25. Confined to a Wheelchair
My Left Foot is the film that showed the world who Day-Lewis was and his preparation methods for the film have gone done in film industry lore. After spending eight weeks in a cerebral palsy clinic, Day-Lewis showed up to set in character as Christy Brown in a wheelchair and refused to leave it until production wrapped.
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24. Spoon Fed
As if making the crew of My Left Foot carry him from location to location wasn’t enough, he also required them to feed him during the shoot, as he was so in character that he acted as if he actually had cerebral palsy.
23. Broken Body Parts
One can’t just commit to acting like you have cerebral palsy for months on ends and not deal with negative repercussions. During the filming of My Left Foot, Day-Lewis broke two ribs due to the hunched over position he assumed.
22. Not Coming Out For Anyone
One story about My Left Foot is that Day-Lewis’s agent showed up to discuss some things with her client, but she grew so frustrated with the actor who refused to come out of character, that she left the set in a huff.
21. Living Off The Land
In the 1992 classic The Last of the Mohicans, Day-Lewis learned how to be Hawkeye by taking on the craft of building canoes, tracking animals, tossing tomahawks, and living with his 12-pound rifle as if it was his baby. He also lived completely off the land while on location.
20. Army training
To learn his combat skills for The Last of the Mohicans, he trained with a US Army colonel.
19. Professional Help
After filming for The Last of the Mohicans wrapped, Day-Lewis struggled for some time as a consequence of his method acting. He had to be professionally treated because he was suffering from claustrophobia and hallucinations. In a conversation with director Michael Mann, he told him “I’ve no idea how not to be Hawkeye.”
18. New Name
When filming for the 1993 Martin Scorsese film The Age of Innocence began, Day-Lewis checked out of his hotel and checked back in under the name Mr. N Archer, after his character Newland Archer.
17. New York Sight To See
After checking into his hotel as Newland Archer, Day-Lewis also spent his life in New York wearing clothing that was true to the time of the film, rocking a top hat and walking with a cane.
16. Gandhi Thug
Day-Lewis’s official film debut was in the 1982 Academy Award-winning film Gandhi, which just proves everything that the man touches turns to gold.
15. Childhood Dreams
Gandhi may have been his official debut, but his first ever film was 1971’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, in which he was cast as a car vandal. He would go on to praise this experience, as he got paid money to vandalize cars in front of a church.
14. Best Actor Fate
After turning down the role of Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia, Day-Lewis chose to work on the film In the Name of the Father instead. He earned an Oscar nomination for his role in the film, but ultimately lost to Tom Hanks…for his portrayal of Andrew Beckett in Philadelphia. Ouch.
13. Pulp Day-Lewis
A highly selective actor who hardly ever pursues roles, Day-Lewis actually fought to be cast as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction. It’s hard to imagine anyone turning down Day-Lewis, but Quentin Tarantino isn’t just anyone, and he had written the character specifically with John Travolta in mind, not Day-Lewis. Still, must have been hard to say no.
12. The Best of the Best
Throughout his career, Day-Lewis has been in eight feature films to be nominated for the Best Picture at the Academy Awards. He’s also been nominated for Best Actor six times, with a record three wins. Overall, the star has amassed an incredible 139 awards in 212 nominations.
11. Call Him Sir
For his contribution to the art of drama, Day-Lewis was knighted by Prince William at Buckingham Palace in 2014.
10. Proper Attire
Day-Lewis nearly went totally mad as Bill the Butcher, and he also got very sick. He refused to wear any clothing that was not authentic to the 19th century, and thus wore a simple threadbare coat throughout the winter. He subsequently caught pneumonia, and after resisting medication, because it was too modern, he finally agreed to take some antibiotics when things got seriously dicey.
9. Eminem Anger
To get psyched up for the role of Bill the Butcher, Day-Lewis resorted to some fairly modern techniques—in order to channel the rage he needed, he listened to the music of Eminem.
8. I’m Moving Out
Rebecca Miller got Day-Lewis the lead role in her film The Ballad of Jack and Rose, and he repaid her by moving out and living separated from her throughout the production, in order to focus on the reality of the character he was playing.
7. Father, and the Ghost
The last theater production that Day-Lewis starred in was Hamlet, in 1989. In playing the character of Hamlet, he once fainted during a show when the ghost of Hamlet’s father arrived. He reportedly sobbed afterward, as he said he saw the ghost of his own father in the scene. He’s since retired from the theater, as the experience left him traumatized of the stage.
6. Solitary Confinement
For his role of Gerry Conlon in In The Name of the Father, Day-Lewis dropped 50 pounds and spent some time isolated in a prison in order to properly evoke the pain of the man and his motives.
5. Boxing Life
After training for 18 months with professional boxing trainer Barry McGuigan for his 1997 film The Boxer, McGuigan believed that Day-Lewis could actually compete as a professional middleweight fighter.
4. Christmas Gun
As production for The Last of the Mohicans was going on during the winter, when Christmastime came, Day-Lewis was still Hawkeye. This means he showed up to Christmas dinner as Hawkeye and ate with his rifle at the dinner table.
3. The Real Butcher
Little did they know what they were getting themselves into by casting Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York. For his legendary performance, he trained with a professional butcher and took circus classes on how to throw knives. As Bill the Butcher is a real villain, Day-Lewis would wander around Rome—where the film was shot—and get into fights with random strangers on the street.
Before taking the infamous role of Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, Day-Lewis was living in Florence, Italy working as a cobbler. As a man who dedicates himself to his craft, he was dead set on living this simple life in Florence, but was lured to New York by Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio under false pretences so that they could convince him to be in the film.
1. That’s All Folks
Day-Lewis’s latest film may also be his last. After completing Phantom Thread, the legendary actor has gone on record saying that he may retire from acting in films after this last performance, as he has found it hard to live with what he gave birth to during production.