Posted by the_independens
"This preparation, for which Day-Lewis is now notorious, has been the cause of much heated discussion – and some public concern. He crudely tattooed his hands and trained as a real fighter, twice a day, seven days a week, for nearly three years, for The Boxer (1997). His trainer – the former world champion Barry McGuigan, no less – remarked that he could have turned professional.
For In The Name of the Father (1993), he slept in an abandoned jail and ate only prison rations. For The Crucible (1996), he lived in the film set's replica village without electricity or running water and built his character's house with 17th-century tools.
But it was his method work as Bill the Butcher in Scorsese's Gangs of New York (2002) that attracted most attention. He trained as a butcher, caught pneumonia while on set (having refused to change his threadbare coat for a warmer one because it hadn't existed in the 19th century), and wandered about Rome (where Gangs was filmed) in character, fighting strangers. "I had to do my preparation," he says with a grin. "And I will admit that I went mad, totally mad. I remembered the days of fighting on the Millwall terraces and they stood me in good stead for Bill the Butcher. He was a bit of a punk, a marvellous character and a joy to be – but not so good for my physical or mental health."
Day-Lewis plays down most of the rumours about his working methods, and is clearly sick to death of hearing them. "For me, it seems obvious, as that is what I do," he stresses, sounding baffled. "And I think, 'Well, if people think it's odd, then what can I do?'"
One soon realises that it is Day-Lewis's quest for perfection that allows him to take on these different roles, these lives, and (apart from his family) that is what he lives for. "You go to these great lengths to imagine another world and time and imagine a man, like Plainview, living in those times – and having spent your imagination on that, it seems more fun to live there all the time than jumping in and out," he says. "That is the playground you've created, so why not stay there and play? It gets rid of that notion of playing between times, which often people talk about – waiting for the next shot. I don't buy that. Whatever you can do to give yourself a sense of continuity can only add to the work.
"I have always been intrigued by these lives I have never experienced. And I love the pure pleasure of doing the work, no matter if that work involves some kind of discomfort – even though I don't see it as that, one just deals with the day-to-day challenges of the character. I do it out of curiosity and I enjoy it. But the way people would have it, it is like a game of self-chastisement and it has never been that way for me – it's all just a big, funny game."
For Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans (1992), the actor was able to prepare for the role of James Fenimore Cooper's 18th-century hero Hawkeye by living off the land for six months, learning how to hunt, fish and skin animals. But where did this jovial, happily married family man find the seething ferocity of Plainview?
"Well, we all have murderous thoughts throughout the day, if not the week," he replies with a wicked glint. "We all live under some repression; we have to, it's part of the deal. And what is more invigorating than to unleash some of that stuff? But I cannot account for where any of this comes from. It comes from the unconscious and I cannot account for what ferments in my unconscious. That part of the work doesn't take part in the conscious; one just hopes there is a cave somewhere in your mind that you can ransack.
"But so much of the work relies on consciously allowing things to emerge in spite of yourself," he adds. "Consciously always looking for the instinctive – that animal part of yourself – and even though somewhere inside you sculpt and organise with some reason, there is always something a little more chaotic going on."
So engrossed was the actor in the role that, when asked how long the shoot was, he answers: "I don't know – maybe 12, 14 weeks. I really couldn't tell you. But the joy about great work is that you are not looking for the finishing line. Quite the opposite. As with all artistic endeavour, you lose yourself; it's like time out of time, a period when I lose myself and the clocks stop."
How do the wife and kids cope with having a father who, for long periods, is someone else? "For There Will Be Blood, my wife and kids were with me throughout," he replies. "And they did go a little bit crazy living with Plainview all the time, but the kids thought it was a laugh in the end to have this different bloke as their dad and both did a pretty decent impersonation of me. My wife is amazingly tolerant. I knew that from the word go. She just believes, like I do, that if you are attempting anything of a creative nature, no rules apply."
One of the hardest things for Day-Lewis is letting go of the characters he has so lovingly created. "Well, absurd as it might seem, when you've been someone else for that amount of time, it's even more absurd when it's all over." He laughs. "Then the joke is on all of us, because once a curiosity is unleashed you can't just tie it up again. It does take time to let go. There is no great part of you that wants to stop doing that work, and no matter how much you're begging for it to stop you need someone to put a restraining order on it."
Luckily for me, on the day we met, Plainview had long since vacated the premises."
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