Daniel Day-Lewis is one of Hollywood's most talented performers, but now his stellar career is coming to an end, by choice. In 2017, Day-Lewis announced he would be walking away from acting after the release of his latest project, Phantom Thread.
The film (written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson) centers around Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis), a gifted fashion designer whose life is turned upside down after meeting Alma (Vicky Krieps), a young woman who becomes his lover and muse.
With Phantom Thread marking the actor's last movie, let's take a look at six of his most electrifying performances to celebrate his remarkable career:
'My Left Foot' (1989)
Jim Sheridan's drama tells the real-life story of Christy Brown (played in the film by Day-Lewis), an artist/author with cerebral palsy who learned to use his left foot to write and paint. Embodying such an inspiration individual comes with its fair share of responsibility, and Day-Lewis handled it with great care and passion.
As detailed by this excerpt from a 1990 Rolling Stone article, the actor fully committed himself to the role:
For eight weeks, the actor prepared for the role in a clinic near Dublin. He learned to paint and type with his left foot, since Brown's movements were restricted to that extremity. During the six-week shoot, Day Lewis spent each day sitting twisted in a wheelchair, speaking in strangled tones, being fed and cared for by other cast members.
Such an effort translated into his performance. Day-Lewis created a perfect physical language that at times, made words feel unnecessary for Christy. There was this palpable internal struggle happening inside him throughout the movie, and his drive to get better was evident. It's one of the actor's most heartwarming performances, and one that's a testament to his commitment to his craft.
Steven Spielberg's historical drama is set during the Civil War, and focuses on Lincoln as he fights to abolish slavery. Playing such a powerful and inspirational historical figure in a way that resonates with general audiences isn't easy, but Day-Lewis accomplished it.
One of the most gripping aspects of his performance was the fact that he effectively humanized the legend of Lincoln. Speaking with Oprah in 2012, the actor described his thought process when approaching such a mythical individual in a way that resonated with audiences:
The astonishing thing about [Lincoln] is that the preconceived notion we have of him is that he's inaccessible. Well, the reason he's inaccessible is because he's been mythologized. And that process also dehumanizes him.
Day-Lewis perfectly delved into Lincoln's invulnerability. He explored his fears and insecurities and thus, made him feel like an actual human being. His deep psychological struggle was evident throughout the film, and it made his exploratory journey of the former president a fascinatingly compelling experience.
'The Last Of The Mohicans' (1992)
The film (set during the French and Indian War) centers around Nathaniel Poe, a.k.a. Hawkeye, (Day-Lewis), a white man inducted into the Mohican tribe at an early age. As an adult, he's tasked with protecting two women –– Alice and Cora –– and taking them to their father, a powerful British colonel.
At the time the film was released, seeing Daniel Day-Lewis in such an action-heavy role was surprising. Once again, however, the actor threw himself into the part. To prepare for the movie, he traveled to the wilderness alongside his director, Michael Mann, and together went through a rigorous survival training process.
This dedication resulted in a fascinating and nuanced character. While the part wasn't as emotionally taxing as his usual body of work, Day-Lewis perfectly conveyed Hawkeye's sense of earnestness and internal conflict. He wasn't entirely sure of where he belonged, but his insecurities didn't compromise his moral compass.
'In The Name Of The Father' (1993)
This biographical drama tells the story of Gerry (Day-Lewis) and Patrick Conlon (Pete Postlethwaite), a father-and-son duo wrongly imprisoned for a terrorist attack. With Gerry, the film gives audiences a fascinating protagonist that plays against type. He isn't someone with noble intentions. He loves getting into trouble and even hurting others. It isn't until he's imprisoned that he starts to evolve.
The film's main focus is Gerry's character growth, and it's Daniel Day-Lewis that makes that journey such a gripping experience. When he's first incarcerated, he's scared and isn't sure of whether he has what it takes to survive in such a hostile environment. As the story progresses, however, he evolves and slowly finds motivation to prove his innocence.
The actor masterfully played Gerry's slow-turn from an irresponsible, care-free young man, to a wiser individual who's determined to provide his father with the justice he was denied for the better part of two decades. It was a haunting approach to character development, and by the end of the film, not cheering alongside Gerry as he walked out of the courtroom was a difficult endeavor.
'There Will Be Blood' (2007)
Paul Thomas Anderson's period piece centers around Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) a ruthless prospector focused on striving in the oil drilling business. The brilliance in Day-Lewis's performance comes from his handling of the character's duality.
Plainview is a despicable man. He constantly uses other people to his advantage and has no problem in ruining the lives of those close to him. He tries to hide his evil nature beneath an attractive veil of charm, but he isn't always successful. The film shows him slowly breaking down until he openly embraces the deranged side of his personality.
Day-Lewis portrays that dynamic perfectly. He marries Plainview's charming and vicious sides in such a way that it never feels like he's dealing with two different characters. They're two sides of the same person, and they make for a complex and compelling individual that's seldom seen on film.
'Gangs Of New York' (2002)
Martin Scorsese's crime drama tells the story of Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo DiCaprio), a young man who travels to Five Points, Manhattan to get revenge on his father's killer, William "Bill The Butcher" Cutting (Day-Lewis). To accomplish this, Vallon infiltrates Cutting's gang and befriends him with plans to betray him down the line.
The movie presents a unique dynamic between its protagonist and antagonist, and it couldn't have worked the way it did without Day-Lewis's deliciously nuanced performance. For someone as vile and violent as Cutting is, it would have been easy to play him as a usual one-dimensional adversary, but that's not how the actor approached it.
There's a point in the movie where Leonardo DiCaprio's Amsterdam starts to sympathize with Cutting, and it's easy to see why. Day-Lewis crafted a rounded individual with different facets. He's ruthless, intimidating and despicable, but he could also be a dedicated mentor when the situation called for it. Yes, agreeing with his motivations in the film was impossible, but it was easy to understand where he was coming from thanks to Day-Lewis' approach.
Few performers have the kind of range that Day-Lewis has shown throughout the years. If you're eager to experience his final acting role, Phantom Thread is currently in theaters.