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Daniel Day-Lewis on Retirement From Acting: ‘The Impulse to Quit Took Root in Me’

Daniel Day-Lewis has opened up about his much-lamented decision to retire from acting, stating that he hadn’t planned on quitting before embarking on couture drama “Phantom Thread.”

“Before making the film, I didn’t know I was going to stop acting,” Day-Lewis said in an interview with W Magazine. “I do know that Paul [Thomas Anderson] and I laughed a lot before we made the movie. And then we stopped laughing because we were both overwhelmed by a sense of sadness. That took us by surprise: We didn’t realize what we had given birth to. It was hard to live with. And still is.”

Variety exclusively reported the news of Day-Lewis’s retirement in June. His original statement read, “Daniel Day-Lewis will no longer be working as an actor. He is immensely grateful to all of his collaborators and audiences over the many years. This is a private decision and neither he nor his representatives will make any further comment on this subject.”

Day-Lewis wasn’t quite able to give an exact reason for his decision to depart the acting world. “I haven’t figured it out,” he said. “But it’s settled on me, and it’s just there…I dread to use the overused word ‘artist,’ but there’s something of the responsibility of the artist that hung over me. I need to believe in the value of what I’m doing. The work can seem vital. Irresistible, even. And if an audience believes it, that should be good enough for me. But, lately, it isn’t.”

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Despite the intense amount of preparation Day-Lewis put into his “Phantom Thread” role as Reynolds Woodcock — including apprenticing under the costume department head at the New York City Ballet and actually sewing a Balenciaga dress — he said that he has no intention of seeing the finished film.

“Not wanting to see the film is connected to the decision I’ve made to stop working as an actor,” he said. “But it’s not why the sadness came to stay. That happened during the telling of the story, and I don’t really know why.”

Some speculate that he’ll return to acting someday, but Day-Lewis did not seem open to the idea. He said he had felt like quitting acting after emerging from other roles, and conceded that it was “uncharacteristic to put out a statement” about his retirement. “But I did want to draw a line,” he stated.  “I didn’t want to get sucked back into another project. All my life, I’ve mouthed off about how I should stop acting, and I don’t know why it was different this time, but the impulse to quit took root in me, and that became a compulsion. It was something I had to do.”

Day-Lewis is the only performer to ever win three best actor Oscars. He was honored for the title role in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” for his turn as a rapacious oil man in “There Will Be Blood,” and for his performance as writer and artist Christy Brown in “My Left Foot.” He earned two other Academy Award nominations for “Gangs of New York” and “In the Name of the Father.”

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