Method Acting Gone Too Far: Daniel Day-Lewis

We learned about Method Acting  back with On The Waterfront. It’s the idea of tapping into what the character would actually be experiencing at the time so that the acting can be “real.” It seems like a cool way to make the movie just that much better. But you know who takes it WAY TOO FAR? Daniel Day-Lewis.

Let’s look at Lincoln. He took a year off before filming so that he could read every book on Lincoln he could (over 100), work with a makeup artist to perfect the look, and working on his accent. And that accent was important. Daniel Day-Lewis is British by birth, so he doesn’t have that accent like in the movie. So, he refused to let anyone with any sort of accent that wasn’t American speak to him so that it didn’t mess up the way that he talked. Also, for the entirety of filming, he had everyone refer to him as Mr. President, even when they weren’t shooting. Imagine going up to craft services and he’s standing there as Lincoln and you have to refer to him as Mr. President. But he won his third Oscar for Best Actor for it, so whatever. Even though I will point out that Lincoln was described as having an extremely shrill voice, almost like a teapot, and that never happened.

But this isn’t his craziest moment. He spends so much time doing wild stuff just to be more realistic for movies. For The Last of the Mohicans, he went full survivalist. He taught himself how to hunt and live off the land, and for the entirety of filming, refused to eat anything that he hadn’t personally killed.And then he went off and learned how to build a canoe.

In The Name of the Father had our boy putting himself into solitary confinement for multiple day stretches, just because. When he was getting ready for the interrogation scene in that movie, he stayed awake for three days and nights. And, to make the “prisoner being tortured” role a little more accurate, he told crew members to randomly throw water at him.

For Gangs of New York, Daniel Day-Lewis refused to break character. At all. Liam Neeson hated him for it because they’d go out after a day of filming and Daniel Day-Lewis would still be in character in random bars and restaurants. He apprenticed as a butcher and would stay in character by sharpening knives when he wasn’t filming. Once, it was raining on set, and he refused to wear a warm jacket because it wasn’t period-accurate. Then, he got pneumonia. And he refused treatment because medicine wasn’t period-accurate.

Seriously, watch out. The desk you’re sitting at could actually just be Daniel Day-Lewis getting ready for his next role. Paul Dano quit There Will Be Blood  because Daniel Day-Lewis started throwing bowling balls at him, so just imagine what he’ll do to you.

1 thought on “Method Acting Gone Too Far: Daniel Day-Lewis

  1. Maggie Purcell

    I watched Gangs of New York for my Early American Republic class, and I think that Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance saved the movie. Had he not been so into his character as Bill the Butcher I think the movie would have completely faltered, especially historically. Many people will say that his methods are too extreme, but I think his performances stand for themselves. If he did not go to such extremes, than it would not reflect in his acting, and his films would not be elevated to the best level.

Leave a Reply