' Cinema Romantico: and then he was done

Thursday, June 22, 2017

and then he was done


So Daniel Day-Lewis retired from acting. His announcement bore shades of notoriously demure professional basketball player Tim Duncan who last summer announced his retirement with but a press release. Day-Lewis also went the press release route, handing it off to Variety which published the notice in full. “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.” It is almost Ron-Swanson-ish in its brevity. What else does anyone need to know other than he’s discontinued acting? All other details are irrelevant.

Throughout his legendary career, after all, Day-Lewis was often aloof and fiercely private, though that admirable insistence on maintaining privacy in a profession that put him so squarely in the public eye made it never-endingly easy for that privacy to be errantly transcribed into mystery and that mystery to be errantly transcribed into lunacy. Indeed, his infamous dedication to Method Acting was often portrayed with a lunatic bent in the press, nearly every article or interview with Day-Lewis dutifully recycling the myriad stories of his exhausting preparation and the almost disturbing commitment to remaining in character, all of which provided material for so much comic fodder, which is why every fourth tweet in the wake of his retirement on Tuesday cracked some variation of a joke about Day-Lewis retiring to research a role about an actor retiring.

Granted, he often harmed his own cause by remaining so engimatic on the subject, half-deflecting queries of his process, then sort of offering some vagaries as mock wisdom, mostly expressing his discomfort with having to try and elucidate with words something that he quite simply just did. And his non-acting dalliances, apprenticing as a carpenter and a cobbler, often for years at a time, were also strictly off the record, only furthering the already expansive allure surrounding him.

By shrouding his process in secrecy and by famously being so selective with his roles, each performance he did give felt larger than life, both in the lead up and in what was eventually rendered on screen, which is why it’s so easy to think of him in terms of the towering Daniel Planview or Bill the Butcher. But he could be quiet too, often with an edge, like “Last of the Mohicans” where he was something like an immovable object in the face of a westward expansion, or lacing Abraham Lincoln’s folksy wisdom with just right the amount of political spin, or occasionally with a tenderness, like in “The Boxer”, where for all the rope-jumping and in-the-ring punching he did, he nevertheless played the part so inwardly, like a man who had let all the rage just dissipate from his body until nothing was left other than the last few gentle embers of his soul.

As an actor, I suspect Day-Lewis considered himself as a craftsman, not unlike the carpenter and cobbler he very much became. And for a craftsman, whatever trade he or she might ply, the quality of the finished product is paramount and the only commentary one needs on the process and career behind it. As such, the performances of Daniel Day-Lewis are frozen on film, their quality self-evident. What else do you need to know? He acted, rather righteously, now he doesn’t. All other details are irrelevant.

1 comment:

Alex Withrow said...

Yes. Love this. The performances will always be there, nothing else matters. The man is allowed to live his life as he sees fit. But damn if this isn't one hell of a buildup for his final film, with PTA.