An actor whose on-screen intensity is rivalled only by his off-screen intensity, Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the most acclaimed and least understood performers of his generation. The stories surrounding his complete immersion in his roles are legendary, from his insistence on remaining in a wheelchair between takes for My Left Foot to his refusal to accept manufactured cigarettes in favor of rolling his own, 18th-century style, while filming The Last of the Mohicans.
Day-Lewis' highly cerebral approach to his work may emanate in part from his background. Born in London on April 29, 1957, he was the son of Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis and actress Jill Balcon. The influence of the cinema was particularly strong on his mother's side: she was the daughter of Sir Michael Balcon, the one-time head of Ealing Studios. Educated at various public schools, Day-Lewis took an early interest in acting. After dropping out of school at the age of thirteen, he managed to get a small part in John Schlesinger's Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971). Following his debut, he decided to focus on his theatrical training, which he received at the Bristol Old Vic. He acted with that theatre and with the Royal Shakespeare Company for the rest of the decade, and in 1982 he made his second film appearance, playing a street thug in Gandhi.
It was in 1986 that Day-Lewis first stepped into the realm of international acclaim. Two films which featured him in prominent roles, My Beautiful Laundrette and A Room With a View, opened on the same day in New York. A gay street punk in the former and an insufferable Edwardian prig in the latter, Day-Lewis astonished critics and audiences with his chameleon-like versatility. The New York Film Critics Circle took particular note of his talent, naming him the year's Best Supporting Actor for his work in both films. It was only a matter of time before Day-Lewis achieved leading man status, and two years later he did just that in Philip Kaufman's adaptation of Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The acclaim the actor received for his portrayal of a philandering Czech surgeon paled in comparison to that surrounding his performance as the cerebral palsy-stricken author and artist Christy Brown in Jim Sheridan's My Left Foot (1989). Day-Lewis won American and British Academy Awards as Best Actor for his work, sealing a reputation as one of the most engaging leading men of his generation.
A subsequent return to the stage in Richard Eyre's National Theatre production of Hamlet ended abruptly when Day-Lewis walked off the stage one night, mid-performance, due to "nervous exhaustion." He took a hiatus from film until 1992, when he reappeared, toned up and oiled down, to star in Last of the Mohicans. The film was a success, and it went some way towards giving Day-Lewis a reputation as an unconventional sex symbol. The following year, he returned to the other side of the Atlantic to star in Sheridan's In the Name of the Father, playing an Irish man wrongfully convicted of taking part in an IRA bombing. Best Actor Oscar, BAFTA, and Golden Globe nominations followed suit for his powerful performance. That same year, Day-Lewis' versatility was again on display, as he starred as a turn-of-the-century New York society man in Martin Scorsese's lavish adaptation of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence.
Day-Lewis' screen appearances subsequently took on a more sporadic quality, and it was not until 1996 that he was again visible to film audiences. That year, he starred in Nicholas Hytner's adaptation of Arthur Miller's The Crucible. His portrayal of the tragically adulterous John Proctor netted strong reviews, as did his work in the following year's The Boxer, his third collaboration with Sheridan. Starring as a former boxer trying to make a new life for himself after being imprisoned for fourteen years for his work with the IRA, Day-Lewis turned in another powerful performance. Although the film received mixed reviews, the actor earned a Golden Globe nomination for his work.
Subsequently forsaking film work for the simple life of a cobbler in Italy, Day-Lewis was reportedly drawn out of his self imposed exile through the efforts of producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and former collaborator Scorsese. Lured to New York and back into the hustle and bustle of the film industry, it seemed that Scorsese had finally found an actor capable of the focused yet unhinged intensity that Gangs of New York's Bill the Butcher demanded. Once again submerging himself so much in the character that the lines of reality and fantasy would become blurred (rumors persisted that he would speak with his film accent even while off-screen in addition to taking lessons by a genuine butcher), Day-Lewis' decidedly methodic approach to creating convincing screen characters would ultimately pay off as many cited his Oscar nominated performance as one of the most convincing of the talented actor's career.
Day-Lewis typically disappeared from sight yet again after Gangs, waiting two years before appearing again in a movie, this time being directed by his wife in the drama The Ballad of Jack & Rose, but he would again be showered with praise for his portrayal of Daniel Plainview, the ambitious, misanthropic center of Paul Thomas Anderson's There WIll Be Blood. Day-Lewis appeaed in all but one scene of the two hour and forty minute movie, and his dominating performance garnered him nearly every industry and ciritics award at the end of 2007 including an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
In 2009 he took the lead role in the cinematic adaptation of the smash stage musical Nine. But he was thrust back into the awards race yet again three years later for his lauded performance as the title character in Steven Spielberg's long-gestating biopic Lincoln. For his work in that movie, Day-Lewis captured the SAG award, and became the first man in the history of the Academy Awards to take home a third Best Actor statuette. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi