It’s the supreme task of any actor to get people to see beyond the body, the clothes, the movements and the voice, to the person inside.
Two-time Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis has so effectively made his career out of this ability, this gift for embodiment of character, that BAFTA/LA has bestowed him with the Stanley Kubrick honor for excellence in film at this year’s Britannia Awards.
In the words of BAFTA/LA exec director Don Haber, Day-Lewis is “the consummate actor.”
The London-born thesp’s versatility astonished from the beginning, when in 1986 he played both a priggish Edwardian fop in “A Room With a View” and a sweet-faced, punk-era gay lover in “My Beautiful Laundrette.” Awards recognition quickly followed, with his first Oscar coming a few years later for his portrayal of palsy-stricken poet Christy Brown in “My Left Foot,” a performance dazzling in its technical virtuosity but marked by the depth of personality, intelligence and feeling Day-Lewis projected in a physically hamstrung man.
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The sharply transformative rigor that would become a hallmark of Day-Lewis’ is part of his mystique and his appeal.
“If you watch the way he acts, it’s got to be exhausting,” says Haber. “But that’s what the audience really loves in his performances. Very few actors today have that range.”
The ’90s saw him tackle projects as diverse as “Last of the Mohicans,” “In the Name of the Father” and “The Crucible.” But as Day-Lewis became choosier, his chameleon tendencies became ever more stunning. In the past 10 years, what’s yanked him out of reclusiveness are a handful of iconic American roles: the swaggering 19th-century thug protecting his turf (“Gangs of New York”), the ruthless entrepreneur with a thief’s heart (“There Will Be Blood,” his second Oscar-winning perf), and this year, in “Lincoln,” the 16th president, a weary politician trying to merge the ideological dream of ending slavery with the often unpleasant pragmatism of the democratic process, all for the good of a wartorn country.
“Lincoln” screenwriter Tony Kushner described the effect of Day-Lewis playing Lincoln as a “double image,” a case of taking in performer and subject simultaneously.
“Everyone on set had the same experience of moments watching the video camera,” Kushner explains, “where he would move his head slightly and he was Daniel Day-Lewis, and he would move his head another way and it looked like a Alexander Gardner photograph of Lincoln.”
He may not work as often as we’d like, but when he does, the commitment level is invariably astounding. Notes Haber: “No matter who he’s playing, you believe him.”
John Schlesinger Award – Quentin Tarantino | Stanley Kubrick Award – Daniel Day-Lewis | British Artist of the Year – Daniel Craig | Charlie Caplin Award – Matt Stone & Trey Parker | Albert R. Broccoli Award – Will Wright
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