LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the top actors of his generation for a range of roles, from his Oscar-winning portrayal of a cerebral palsy victim in “My Left Foot” to currently playing “There Will Be Blood.”
The latter movie stars the 50-year-old British actor as an early 20th Century oil prospector named Daniel Plainview who earns great wealth but at a personal cost to his soul.
Day-Lewis is known for delving deeply into his roles but in an interview with Reuters he was lighthearted and witty when talking about work, his new movie and life with his wife, writer/director Rebecca Miller, and the tattoos on his arms:
Q: It’s been two years since we last saw you in “The Ballad of Jack and Rose,” which was written and directed by Rebecca. So what’ve you been doing?
A: “I’ve been working. It’s taken three years to make this film. Two years in getting ready, four or five months shooting, and a year cutting. It feels like it’s been my life for three or four years now.”
Q: I talked to “There Will Be Blood” writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, and he said that you and he worked closely on the writing and the development of Daniel Plainview.
A: “Paul didn’t need any help with the script. Having met and decided to throw our lot in together we, over months and months and months, we discussed the shaping of Daniel ... I could spend 10 years making a movie if it was a subject that interests me. You have to limit the shooting because you can only mine so much out of yourself. But during preparation, it is a period of nourishment.”
Q: What do you do over three years to prepare and make a film?
A: “It’s hard to be specific about the things one does. But each piece of work requires that you imagine a world and then you try to understand that world through the eyes and experience of a human being that isn’t yourself.”
Q: So, what is the world like through the eyes of Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood.”
A: “Some part of us is still truly animalistic. If you put any human being in certain circumstances, you’d pretty much reduce that human to a state of primeval savagery if that is what they need for their survival ... Part of the work that is joyful is breaking down borders, those fences in which we live, and exploring areas we necessarily have to keep in check. Splashing around in that muck can be a joyful thing.”
Q: In the middle of the movie, Plainview has a speech about being angry and competitive, and that is what drives him. What drives Daniel Day-Lewis to do the best work he can?
A: “Curiosity. Pride. Pride in the sense that I’m almost always proud to be involved in the thing that I’m currently involved in — that kind of pride. The other kind of pride, too, that I don’t want to look like an idiot, so that helps.”
Q: That answer implies that you have to take big risks, and the saying is, with big risks come big rewards.
A: “You have to take big risks, but whenever I use that word in relation to what I do. I think, ‘well, what’s the worst that can happen to you in this line of work?’ People talk about no safety net, but you know man, if the worse thing that can happen is you look like a fool, I’m not sure that is real risk-taking. That’s a playful kind of a risk.”
Q: I notice the tattoos on your arms. They are hands. Do they represent anything in particular.
A: “They do, they do.”
Q: One last question on working with Paul Thomas Anderson. He, too, is considered to be at the top of his craft. Can you tell us what it’s like working with him.
A: “I so try to resist the temptation to describe a working relationship when it’s been as close as the one I’ve had with Paul because it seems everything I say could diminish it. I’m reluctant to squeeze that thing, which is a big thing for me, into a few words. (Pauses and looks at tattoos). These are my sons’ hands, by the way. This is thing one, (he points) my 12 year-old. He’s got the smallest one. Then, 9 and 5.”