Actor Daniel Day-Lewis is famous - infamous, to some - for going to extremes to bring authenticity to the roles he plays. He is said to insist on remaining in character on and off set, so much so that he is rumoured to have spent months teaching himself to paint with his foot preparing for his Oscar-winning turn as quadrapligic Christy Brown in "My Left Foot", to have lived in buckskin during the entire filming of "Last of the Mohicans", to have learned Czech for "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", and to have become expert in butchery for his portrayal of Bill the Butcher in "Gangs of New York". Whether true or apocryphal, these stories are believable: Day-Lewis brings an intensity and focus to his acting that makes him utterly convincing in whatever role he plays.
The Day Lewis family is an accomplished one. His father Cecil Day Lewis was an Irish author who, besides penning some 20 detective novels under the nom de plume Nicholas Blake, was Britain's poet laureate from 1968 until his death in 1972. Daniel's mother Jill Balcon was an actress of some renown in Britain; her father, Sir Michael Balcon, was a famed movie producer. Daniel was born in 1957 and grew up in London; his parents were not much involved with the children - Cecil consumed with his work and Jill consumed with Cecil - so Daniel became very close to his elder sister, Tamasin; she would become a documentary film-maker and TV chef. A pall was cast over the lives of the siblings as Cecil suffered a series of heart attacks and then cancer; Daniel would later say that he learned a sense of melancholy and decay watching his father deteriorate while he himself was still just a boy.
In Greenwich, where the family had moved when Daniel was still very young, the boy was teased and tormented for being Irish, Jewish, and posh, and he took on his first convincing role, adopting the local accent and mannerisms in an ultimately successful attempt to fit in. He became a bit wild, and his parents sent him to boarding school in Kent to tame him; he hated it, and continued in his juvenile delinquent ways, but discovered two things there that he did love: woodworking and acting. After two years at the repressive Sevenoaks he was sent to a more progressive school where his sister also was; while there, he made his screen debut, appearing as a young thug in "Sunday Bloody Sunday". He continued to act in school plays, but when his father died, Daniel at his side holding his hand, the teenager was devastated, and threw himself into his passions, acting and woodworking. He began abusing painkillers that had been prescribed for migraines and was locked up for a spell to break what was thought to be an addiction; he would later say his impersonation of a sane man, which got him back his freedom, was one of his better performances. He began living with his high school sweetheart, Sarah Campbell, and agonized over whether to pursue acting, which he found somehow seedy and distasteful, or cabinet-making. He applied for an apprenticeship in the latter but was turned down, so acting it was.
He spent 1977 to 1980 at Bristol's Old Vic School working in theatre, after which he began to appear regularly on TV, stage, and the silver screen. His breakthrough came with the independent film "My Beautiful Launderette", in which he played a homosexual punk involved with a South Asian who owns a laundromat and must deal with the weight of family expectation, as well as racism and homophobia from society and his lover. Day-Lewis then appeared as an awkward prig in "A Room with a View", based on the novel by one of his father's peers, E.M. Forster. The chameleon-like contrast between these two roles made it clear that this skilled young actor was one to watch out for.
His turn as the ladykiller Tomas in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" was filled with long erotic scenes; his on set affair with co-star Juliette Binoche brought his relationship with Campbell to an end. In "Stars and Bars" he showed lots more skin, and though neither of these films garnered him great critical acclaim, they did establish him as a sex symbol. Then came "My Left Foot", Day-Lewis' masterful turn as a man with cerebral palsy who only has control of one foot and struggles to convince first his large poverty-stricken family, then outsiders, that he is not a vegetable, but instead an intelligent man stuck in a body that will not respond. He then flew to Argentina to film "Eversmile, New Jersey", playing a maverick travelling dentist in Patagonia. His next role, as Hamlet at the National Theatre, proved too intense; as always remaining in character, he found Hamlet's conversations with the ghost of his father too much to bear, and he left the stage halfway through a performance one night, claiming nervous exhaustion. The newspapers had a field day with this one; he had already been in the spotlight for his new relationship with Isabelle Adjani, and this was the icing on the cake. Rumours flew that he would never act again. But soon after he was vindicated: he won an Academy Award for his performance in "My Left Foot".
He took a year off from acting, producing the film "Orlando" and, it was rumoured, having an affair with Madonna, then he was back playing Hawkeye in "The Last of the Mohicans", having studied hunting and put on 20 lbs of muscle in preparation. He then appeared in Martin Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence" (perhaps also having an affair with fellow lead Winona Ryder). He gave another riveting performance in "In the Name of the Father", dropping weight dramatically for the true-life role of a man imprisoned for 15 years for an IRA bombing he did not commit, and got another Oscar nomination for best actor. He was linked in the press, though not necessarily in real life, with Sinead O'Connor and Julia Roberts, who wanted Day-Lewis to star opposite her in "Shakespeare in Love". Day-Lewis bought a house in Ireland and took Irish citizenship; Adjani moved in with him, but their always-stormy relationship was soon over, though Adjani turned out to be pregnant. She gave birth to a son as a result of this failed relationship in 1995.
Day-Lewis then appeared in "The Crucible", again opposite Ryder, and in 1996 married Rebecca Miller, coincidentally daughter of Arthur Miller, author of "The Crucible"; the couple have two sons, born in 1998 and 2002. He also appeared in another pro-Irish film, "The Boxer", after which he went into semi-retirement. During this time he apparently became intrigued by a pair of shoes he bought and studied the cobbler's craft; some say he spent years in Italy learning to make shoes, others that he just dabbled. Day-Lewis, who's had enough of wild stories about his life, refuses to confirm or deny those rumours, but what is clear is that, when Scorsese came calling, wanting him in "Gangs of New York", Day-Lewis went back to the movies and stole the film from co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, garnering another Academy Award nomination; DiCaprio was passed over. Day-Lewis' next film was written by his wife; he also took home another golden boy for his portrayal of a greedy oilman in "There Will be Blood".
There Will be Blood (2007)
The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)
Rose and the Snake (2004)
Gangs of New York (2002)
The Boxer (1997)
The Crucible (1996)
In the Name of the Father (1993)
The Age of Innocence (1993)
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
My Left Foot (1989)
Eversmile, New Jersey (1989)
Stars and Bars (1988)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)
The Insurance Man (1986) (TV)
A Room with a View (1985)
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
The Bounty (1984)
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
The Internet Movie Database