Thursday, January 18, 2018

Daniel Day-Lewis Opens-Up About Retirement

I watched "The Last of the Mohicans" over the weekend, and then "Lincoln" was on the other night, so I got to thinking about Daniel Day-Lewis: Why'd he retire? So then I'm out with my wife yesterday at the Spectrum shopping center in Irvine, and she stepped into a hair salon for a consultation about getting a perm. While waiting, I started reading this article about Day-Lewis at W Magazine. Not sure if I'll see his latest --- and last --- movie, "Phantom Thread," which seems a bit too artsy, even for me.

In any case, at W, "Exclusive: Daniel Day-Lewis Opens Up About Giving Up Acting After Phantom Thread":

Day-Lewis has not seen Phantom Thread. He has viewed many of his other films, but has no plans to see this one. Earlier this summer, he announced through a written statement that he would not continue acting. He only discussed this decision with Rebecca—and has not spoken publicly about his retirement until now. In the past, he always took extended breaks between films—blue periods and times of decompression that prompted Jim Sheridan, the director of My Left Foot and two other Day-Lewis films, to remark that “Daniel hates acting.” But after a break, he would be seduced anew by a fascinating character, a compelling story, an exciting director. “What has taken over in the past is an illusion of inevitability,” Day-Lewis said. “I’ll think, Is there no way to avoid this? In the case of Phantom Thread, when we started I had no curiosity about the fashion world. I didn’t want to be drawn into it. Even now, fashion itself doesn’t really interest me. In the beginning, we didn’t know what profession the protagonist would have. We chose fashion and then realized, What the hell have we let ourselves into? And then the fashion world got its hooks into me.”

The fashion world, in turn, was obsessed with the film, which was cloaked in secrecy. At first, Phantom Thread was rumored to be about the couturier Charles James, a great innovator whose work was recently celebrated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, who ended life destitute and virtually unknown, living in the Chelsea Hotel. Anderson and Day-Lewis were not interested in telling that story. ­Phantom Thread is one of the most beguiling portrayals of fashion in the history of film, but in the end, it’s not a film about fashion.

Day-Lewis was uncharacteristically inarticulate when speaking about the exact reasons why he found Reynolds Woodcock so overwhelming. Perhaps, I suggested, it was a combination of being back in his homeland and playing an exacting artist like his father. He politely brushed my theories aside. “There are spells in these films that you can’t account for,” he said. “Paul and I spoke a lot about curses—the idea of a curse on a family, what that might be like. A kind of malady. And it’s not that I felt there was a curse attached to this film, other than the responsibility of a creative life, which is both a curse and a blessing. You can never separate them until the day you die. It’s the thing that feeds you and eats away at you; gives you life and is killing you at the same time.”

Day-Lewis paused. I wondered why a man who is widely acknowledged as the greatest actor of his generation, who has won three ­Academy Awards for best actor and is magical onscreen, would want to walk away from his profession. “I haven’t figured it out,” he said. “But it’s settled on me, and it’s just there. Not wanting to see the film is connected to the decision I’ve made to stop working as an actor. 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.” He paused again. “One of my sons is interested in musical composition, so I showed him the film Tous Les Matins du Monde, about the French composer Sainte-Colombe. My son was deeply struck by the sobriety that it took to create that work, Sainte-Colombe’s refusal to accept less than what was extraordinary from himself or anyone else. 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.”

Day-Lewis has often wanted to quit after emerging from a character. This time, by making a public announcement of his retirement, he sought to make the decision binding. “I knew it was uncharacteristic to put out a statement,” he continued. “But I did want to draw a line. 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.”

Interestingly, Day-Lewis speaks about the need to retire in the same manner he speaks about the need to take on a character: with a kind of intensity that takes over his entire being. And, as with acting, he is still uncertain of his feelings. “Do I feel better?” he asked, anticipating my question. “Not yet. I have great sadness. And that’s the right way to feel. How strange would it be if this was just a gleeful step into a brand-new life. I’ve been interested in acting since I was 12 years old, and back then, everything other than the theater—that box of light—was cast in shadow. When I began, it was a question of salvation. Now, I want to explore the world in a different way.”

Although there have been rumors that Day-Lewis is going to become a fashion designer, he laughed when I suggested that career. “Who knows?” he said mischievously. “I won’t know which way to go for a while. But I’m not going to stay idle. I don’t fear the stony silence.” He has always had a variety of passions: He once wrote a comedy script with Rebecca; he paints well; he makes furniture; and he is a fan of MotoGP, the competitive motorcycle tournament. But he also has a deep love of film, and it is hard to imagine that he will not continue to contribute to movies in some way.

“They will not let you go quietly,” I said to him. And Day-Lewis smiled. “Hmmm,” he said. “They will have to.”
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