Daniel Day-Lewis returns to the screen for the first time in five years in Phantom Thread, and his next hiatus from acting he promises will be eternal. In anticipation of his final collaboration with the great American director Paul Thomas Anderson, Day-Lewis spoke with W about the sadness that enveloped him while making Phantom Thread, and why he won’t act again.
As Day-Lewis is famous for, the actor prepared for his role by immersing himself in his character’s profession, in this case dress-making. He apprenticed for the head of New York City Ballet’s costume department and subsequently recreated a Balenciaga dress from scratch. When filming started, a melancholy came over Day-Lewis that he’s been unable to shake. “I haven’t figured it out,” Day-Lewis told W. “Not wanting to see the film is connected to the decision I’ve made to stop working as an actor. But it’s why the sadness came to stay. That happened during the telling of the story, and I don’t really know why.”
Phantom Thread hit two thematic nerves for Day-Lewis that he hadn’t dealt with in decades: Britain and his father. Day-Lewis had previously been uninterested in playing British characters since he appeared in Age of Innocence in 1993. His return to playing a British man was complicated by the similarities he saw between the character, Reynolds Woodcock, and his own artistically-obsessed father. Day-Lewis did not identify either, however, as the cause of his sorrow.
Day-Lewis has not made concrete plans for what he will do next, but he plans to keep working in some form. His decision on acting remains final. “The work can seem vital. Irresistible, even,” Day-Lewis said of the rewarding acting he’s done. “And if an audience believes it, that should be good enough for me. But, lately, it isn’t.”
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