When it comes to the world of acting, Daniel Day-Lewis is in a league all his own. Despite his notoriously sparse filmography, he has proven time after time that he is absolutely without peer. And in a statement made to Variety on Tuesday, he unceremoniously announced his retirement from acting.
The sixty-year-old thespian told the news outlet that 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 the subject.” He will appear in one final film, The Phantom Thread, which is due out later this year. And then the curtain will fall on the most talented actor of his generation.
Over his decades-long career, Day-Lewis has won more Best Actor Oscars than anybody in the history of the Academy. The only person to win more was actress Katharine Hepburn, who died in 2003. Of the four other who won three acting Oscars, none of them achieved that distinction without the addition of a supporting actor win. Day-Lewis did it all in the more competitive lead category.
His first win was for 1989’s My Left Foot, where he played a paralyzed man capable of only moving one of his four limbs. He won the award again in 2007’s There Will Be Blood, where he played a selfish oil baron and one of this century’s great movie villains: Daniel Plainview. Most recently, he won for portraying the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, during his fight to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery. He was additionally nominated for two other Oscars: one for 1993’s In the Name of the Father and again for 2002’s Gangs of New York.
The knighted actor has been widely celebrated for his use of method acting: a school of acting which forces the actor to mentally put themselves in the shoes of the character they portray. More than simply trying to figure out what the character would do in a given situation, it’s surrendering your psyche to both mentally and physically become that character, putting an understandable strain on the psyche of anybody adhering to its philosophies.
Although employed through every stage of film’s history, and despite its often highly praised results, it is rarely used do to its unintended psychological side-effects. When filming Nosferatu, German actor Max Schreck refused to take off his vampire costume or eat with the rest of the crew, giving rise to the rumor that he actually was a vampire (an idea explored in the film Shadow of the Vampire). It was later employed by actors like Marlon Brando and lampooned by films such as Tropic Thunder.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that Day-Lewis has left the acting profession. While playing the title role in a stage production of Hamlet, he had a psychological breakdown: believing that he actually saw the ghost of his dead father like his character in the play. Afterwards, he retired from stage acting, focusing instead on his film career.
After completing The Boxer in 1997, he took a five-year sabbatical. He devoted his time to learning woodcraft and shoemaking before returning for his third Oscar-nominated performance in 2002. After winning his record-setting third Oscar for 2012’s Lincoln, he took another five-year sabbatical to learn stonemasonry, bringing us to what is presumably his last film.
While I have to imagine that Day-Lewis is serious about his surprise retirement, history has shown that he frequently returns to work for the right role and under the right direction. I can only hope that the same is true this time as well.