Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Best: Actors of All Time #5 - Daniel Day Lewis


 There Will Be Blood
The Last of the Mohicans
My Left Foot

There is only one actor in history to win 3 Best Actor Oscars:

Daniel Day-Lewis.

While he does not have as lengthy a resume as most people on this list, what he lacks in quantity, he makes up in quality.

In My Left Foot, Day-Lewis won his first Oscar his portrayal of Christy Brown was a physically daunting challenge to imitate his cerebral palsy.  Watching him work is almost exhausting as he gives a kinetic performance that uses every ounce of his physicality.  But that was just the outer shell of the deeper character Day-Lewis created.  His Christy is difficult character to like, but Day-Lewis doesn't take the easy way out and playing on our sympathy too directly.  He makes Christy full of pride, insecurity, and humanity.

Day-Lewis is a true chameleon as an actor.  He makes a different use of his physicality as Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans.  He stands as a man of action, full of charisma and conviction.  He delivers a performance that was also Oscar worthy.  He completely transformers into a pre-revolutionary American torn between two worlds.  The best part of his performance is the total conviction that he imbues Nathaniel.  His body language, his voice, and the still intensity of his gaze project a sense of total command.

The dark side of that confidence was on full display in There Will Be Blood.  The movie is beautifully shot but pretentious and a bit dull.  However, Day-Lewis' performance is absolutely mesmerizing, which earned him his second Oscar.  The first 20 minutes of the film has no dialogue and the action is fairly mundane.  Day-Lewis fills the screen with his presence.  His character is layered and larger than life.  If he was not in the film, no matter how wonderful the cinematography is, it would be unwatchable.  There is an acting principle called "doing nothing effectively," where you have to be seen doing very little, but not bore the audience.  Day-Lewis could hold the audience with a simple close up stare.  Behind his eyes you could see his evil machinations turning in his mind.  And he could also chew the scenery in a way that few can do as well.  For weeks I still had his line stuck in my head: "I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE!  I DRINK IT UP!"

But I think his boldest performance was as our 16th president in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln.  I remember writing on this blog that the trailers really worried me.  I saw the snippets of Day-Lewis' performance and was taken aback by his acting choices.  His voice and his mannerisms were so different than every portrayal of Lincoln I had scene.  Lincoln is traditionally played with statuesque broadness with a deep timbered voice.  Day-Lewis made him a wiry reed with a high, cracking voice.  It wasn't until I saw the film and watched him completely disappear into the role that I recognized its brilliance.  He intentionally broke from Lincoln movie tradition in order to create something truly unique.  His Lincoln is wrapped in a weak but tall frame.  But Day-Lewis uses that to set it in relief against the monumental intelligence and resolve in the man's character.  Playing good is always more difficult than playing evil.  Day-Lewis does not play the man as infallible, but he knows that he has to step into the shoes of an historical hero.  And this earned him his 3rd Oscar.  And as cheesy and as unhistorical as it sounds, after watching his performance I felt like I encountered Abraham Lincoln.

Daniel Day-Lewis does not go up to bat in a starring role as often as most people on this list.  But when he does, he is almost guaranteed a home run

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