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Rumors of Daniel Day-Lewis's method acting have been scarcely exaggerated

By / 10.31.12

And then the Best Boy’s cell phone went off and all hell broke loose.


With Lincoln set to open November 16th, it’s just two weeks until Steven Spielberg transports us back to a time when men communicated BY SHOUTING WORDS AT EACH OTHER, ALL OF THE TIME! I’ve been determinedly pounding my fist against desks for weeks in order to prepare. No one inspires human interest pieces like El Speelzbo, and today, The Old Grey Lady dropped its profile of Daniel Day-Lewis. We like to poke fun at DDL as being the most method actor alive, but it’s important to remember that this joke is mostly true.

Mr. Day-Lewis, 55, has already won two best actor Oscars, and his performance here, tender and soulful, convincingly weary and stoop-shouldered, will almost certainly earn him a nomination.

It’s true, the Academy loves stoop shoulders. I just hope DDL doesn’t get his statue snaked by that slump-necked harelip Joaquin Phoenix.

For a while he seemed to give up movies altogether and apprenticed himself to a cabinetmaker and a cobbler.

For “The Last of the Mohicans” he taught himself to build a canoe, shoot a flintlock and trap and skin animals. For the opening scene of “My Left Foot,” about Christy Brown, an artist with cerebral palsy, he taught himself to put a record on a turntable with his toes; he also insisted on remaining in a wheelchair between takes and being fed by the crew.

DAY-LEWIS: (*ringing bell*) Boy! Come here! I’ve soiled myself again.

PA: God I hate this job.

He learned to box, naturally, for “The Boxer,” in which he played a prizefighter and former member of the Irish Republican Army and in the process broke his nose and damaged his back. To play the gang leader Bill the Butcher in “Gangs of New York,” he took butchering lessons, and to play Abraham Lincoln he half-convinced himself that he was Abraham Lincoln.

“Every day, in order to get him out of his trailer into the modern world, we had to walk him through an empty refrigerator box marked ‘TIME MACHINE.’…”
One of the big questions surrounding Lincoln was how Day-Lewis came up with the distinctive, high voice. The answer? It came to him in a dream, basically.

The voice was one such decision. There is historical evidence, in the form of contemporary accounts, that Lincoln had a high-pitched voice, and Mr. Day-Lewis has a private theory that higher voices carry better in crowds, and that made Lincoln such an effective orator.

“All these things are variables, luckily for me,” he said, smiling. “No one can categorically say this is or isn’t what Lincoln sounded like.” For any part, he went on, he listens for a voice, and generally he hears it at some point. “That to me was a genuine breakthrough for Lincoln,” he said, adding that being able to reproduce a voice after you’ve heard it is another matter and so, sometimes, is holding on to it.

Look, it’s very simple – you put on a stove pipe hat, start to build an actual log cabin out of wood you’ve chopped yourself, and eventually the right way to speak just comes to you. Don’t you know anything about acting?

To hold on to Lincoln’s voice, he used it all the time, between takes and even after the filming was over. Mr. Spielberg said he couldn’t remember for certain whether Mr. Day-Lewis used his Lincoln voice in their private conversations but then added: “I just came to see him as the character. I assume he didn’t change the voice. Why would he?”

“After a while, I just assumed he was Abraham Lincoln. But then the difficulty became, why would Abraham Lincoln be helping me shoot a movie about himself? That’s what the movie business is all about, finding elaborate ways to trick yourself into believing ridiculous things that you know aren’t true in order to tell the truth when you’re lying. Do you understand? “

Jared Harris (better known to most Americans as Lane Pryce in “Mad Men”) plays Ulysses S. Grant in the movie. He recalled that like other British cast and crew members on the set, he was asked not to throw Mr. Day-Lewis off by speaking in a British accent, so Mr. Harris too stayed in character.
“It was sort of an extended improvisation,” he said in a telephone interview. “You didn’t go up to him and say, ‘Hey, did you see the Pirates game last night?’ It was important for him to retain the attitude, if you like, and the dialect he had created. So we would sit there and joke, for example, about the Vicksburg campaign.” He added, “At the end of the day sometimes we’d ride back in the car, and he’d stay in character but talk about ‘Mad Men,’ which of course he couldn’t know about, because television hadn’t been invented then.” [NYTimes]

Someone needs to devise a way to get Daniel Day-Lewis and Andy Serkis in a movie together, where DDL is going strictly method and Andy Serkis is crawling around on the floor like a lizard covered in ping pong balls, and just film the director trying to respect their process.


TAGSDANIEL DAY-LEWISLincolnMETHOD ACTINGsteven spielberg

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