“It was digging holes in the ground. It was irresistible.”
That’s how Daniel Day-Lewis sums up his research for playing Daniel Plainview, the silver prospector-turned-oil magnate in Paul Thomas Anderson’s haunting “There Will Be Blood.”
If “digging holes” seems overly nuts-and-bolts for playing such a twisted, maniacal character, it is best to remember that Day-Lewis is the only movie star who takes time off from being a cobbler to make the occasional film.
But what about that voice? In “Blood,” it’s a good octave lower, not to mention slower, than any other in the actor’s considerable oeuvre.
“I didn’t base it on anyone,” Day-Lewis explains. “I asked Paul to track down early recordings, and I listened to some Dust Bowl recordings.” However, he found them “not helpful in the end. It’s hard to reconstruct the way things happened. You’re kidding yourself along the way and have to let things be themselves.”
Ultimately, he made some recordings of his new, very baritonal drawl.
“I talk to myself a lot. I sent Paul sample tapes,” he says.
But isn’t there a twinge of John Huston in his portrayal? What Huston is to water in “Chinatown” could pretty much describe Day-Lewis’ relationship to oil in “Blood.”
“It did come to me,” the actor says. “I listened to documentaries of Huston. That did play a part.”
Huston’s actor-father, Walter, may have also been an inspiration. According to Anderson, “I watched ‘The Treasure of Sierra Madre’ over and over. I feel asleep to ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.’ That film means so much to me. I turned Daniel on to it.”
Plainview’s m.o. is to control and annihilate; Day-Lewis sums up that fatal flaw by describing Plainview’s major nemesis, the town preacher, played by Paul Dano:
“This man is using religion as a cover for being a bottom feeder. I recognized a fellow shyster, and I know I’ll have trouble with him. Plainview likes to pull things down and see what they are, especially from the underworld. It just takes him awhile.”
Day-Lewis says he wanted to work with Anderson the director, but it was Anderson the screenwriter who closed the deal for him.
“Some scripts are fast food,” he says. “They go in and they go out. Sometimes you can admire (a script) from a distance. But you’re in trouble when there’s a gravitational pull.”
Quote: “I like to learn about things,” Day-Lewis told the New York Times. “It was just a great time trying to conceive of the impossibility of that thing. I didn’t know anything about mining at the turn of the century in America. My boarding school in Kent didn’t exactly teach that.”