The actor Daniel Day-Lewis, famous for his intense Method acting and chameleon-like ability to disappear into character, is born on this day in 1957, in London, England.
Day-Lewis’ father, Cecil Day-Lewis, was a British poet laureate; his mother, Jill Balcon, was an actress and a daughter of the film producer Sir Michael Balcon. After dropping out of England’s public school system, the younger Day-Lewis landed his first film role at the age of 13, in 1971’s Sunday Bloody Sunday. He spent time studying at the Bristol Old Vic theater school and later performed with the company itself, as well as with the venerable Royal Shakespeare Company.
In his first film role as an adult, Day-Lewis played a South African street thug in Gandhi (1982). Three years later, he broke out with prominent roles in two acclaimed films, My Beautiful Laundrette and A Room With a View. For his two vastly different performances (as a working-class gay street punk and a priggish British gentleman, respectively) Day-Lewis earned that year’s Best Supporting Actor honors from the New York Film Critics award. After making his debut as a leading man in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), he was heaped with critical praise, including an Academy Award for Best Actor, for his performance in My Left Foot (1989), directed by Jim Sheridan. Living up to his reputation as the consummate Method actor, Day-Lewis reportedly spent months in a wheelchair in preparation for his portrayal of Christy Brown, the author and activist suffering from cerebral palsy.
After a three-year hiatus from filmmaking, Day-Lewis returned as a romantic hero in the box-office success The Last of the Mohicans and in Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (both 1992). The following year, he again basked in critical acclaim for his performance as an Irishman wrongly accused of terrorism in Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father (1993), which garnered him another Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Day-Lewis appeared only sporadically in films over the next several years, including The Crucible (1996), adapted from the play by Arthur Miller. While working on that film, he met the playwright’s daughter, Rebecca Miller, whom he would later marry. The couple has two sons, Ronan and Cashel, and Day-Lewis has another son, Gabriel-Kane, from his relationship with the actress Isabelle Adjani.
After making The Boxer (1997), his third film with Sheridan, Day-Lewis spent a period living in Italy as an apprentice to a cobbler. Martin Scorsese ultimately enticed him back to the screen to star in his big-budget historical epic Gangs of New York. To portray the charismatic, unhinged gang leader Bill the Butcher, Day-Lewis reverted to his legendary intensity, taking lessons from a real butcher and insisting on maintaining his character’s accent even while off screen. When the long-awaited film was finally released in 2005, Day-Lewis’s performance netted him another Oscar nod for Best Actor.
Day-Lewis resurfaced after another two-year absence in The Ballad of Jack and Rose, directed by Rebecca Miller. In 2007, his searing performance as the maniacally greedy oil baron Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood earned Day-Lewis his second Academy Award for Best Actor. And, in 2013, Day-Lewis won his third best actor Oscar for playing U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln. It was confirmation, as if one were needed, of his status as one of the most respected and acclaimed actors of his generation.
In June 2017, Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting.