Most actors have to get into character, some do so by writing back stories for their roles, others do a little research on the subject that their character will cover… But no-one goes as far as Daniel Day-Lewis, and that’s why he’s won three Oscar’s for best actor in a leading role.
Here are some reported stories about how he goes about transforming himself for the screen.
The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (1988)
Learned a new Language
This was one of the first stories in the Daniel Day-Lewis legend, as he leant Czech, then once he started shooting,. he refused to break character for almost the entire eight month production.
For his role as an Irishman born with cerebral palsy, who could control only his left foot. Daniel Day-Lewis decided to live life as if he was also wheelchair bound. The crew weren’t as keen though, as they had to lift him over obstacles and carry him to set. He spent weeks in the wheelchair, but he did end up with an Oscar, plus 2 broken ribs from slouching and falling out of the wheelchair. He went on to win his first Academy Award for this role, so he probably didn’t mind the broken ribs.
Channelling Bear Grylls, for the role of native American Hawkeye, he learnt to live off the land, spending days alone in the wilds. He learnt how to hunt, track and skin animals, throw a tomahawk accurately, build a canoe and became a crack shot with his flint-lock rifle. He apparently would only eat things he had killed himself
He decided to spend two months living in the New York Plaza hotel and dressing in genuine 1800’s clothing like top hat, cane etc.
To get into the role of a wrongly convicted prisoner, he spent many nights locked in solitary confinement in the abandoned prison where they were shooting the film. He kept himself awake for 3 days straight to feel suitably wrung out to film an interrogation scene. Brutal!.
The movie was set during the Salam witch trials of 1692, so Daniel decided he didn’t need to wash for the entire shoot, so helping him to understand how 17th century folk lived. He also lived in one of the replica houses on set for a while, with no electricity or running water.
To play a boxer, he decided to ‘become’ a boxer. He was trained by Barry McGuigan, for 18 months, getting tattoo’s on his hands and training twice a day to follow a professional boxers regime. At the end of the shoot, McGuigan said Day-Lewis could easily turn pro.
Gangs Of New York (2002)
In getting in character, he trained as an apprentice butcher, would only talk as his character on set and would sharpen his butcher knives between takes. He ended up with Pneumonia after refusing to wear a winter coat as it was too modern and not in keeping with the period. When offered treatment, he turned down the medicine as it was too modern.
The Ballad Of Jack And Rose (2005)
Left His Wife
He reportedly left his wife for a few months to live totally alone, so he could understand what it would feel like to live on a island, even though it was his wife who got him the role in the first place.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
In the scene where Plainview (Paul Dano) throws bowling balls at him, they were apparently real bowling balls. Day-Lewis also learnt how to use traditional turn of the century oil mining gear for the role. He also won his second ‘Best Leading Actor’ Oscar for this performance.
Take what you will, but Daniel Day-Lewis is an amazing actor, maybe this “becoming the character” method is the way to go.