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Feature: There Will Be Blood

BLACK GOLD

Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis)

He’s won a Golden Globe, been nominated for a BAFTA and is sure to triumph on Oscar night; Daniel Day-Lewis on bagging the role of a lifetime…

His career has been defined by extraordinary performances, so it should come as no surprise that Daniel Day-Lewis draws such fervent acclaim for his latest performance in There Will be Blood.

This most magnificently transformative of actors retains the ability to inhabit characters so thoroughly that you quickly forget the softly spoken actor behind them. Cast your mind back to 1985, and imagine the awestruck response to the realisation that the priggish Cecil Vyse in Room With A View and the rugged, bisexual punk Johnny in My Beautiful Launderette were played the same man.And in the same year. Some actors spend a career rooted to the qualities and characteristics that make them familiar and, in time, boring. Day-Lewis changes from role to role. He won an Oscar for playing Christy Brown in My Left Foot and followed that with the heroic Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans before playing genteel Newland Archer in Martin Scorsese’s tale of Victorian manners in New York society The Age of Innocence.

In The Name of the Father saw him cast as the wrongly convicted Gerry Conlon, and for his role in The Crucible he supposedly worked as a carpenter in preparation for playing a 17th century farmer accused during the Salem witch trials. He trained with former world featherweight champion Barry McGuigan in preparation for The Boxer, stole The Gangs Of New York from a stellar cast and most recently starred in The Ballad of Jack and Rose, directed by his wife Rebecca Miller whom he met filming The Crucible, which was written by her father Arthur.

So we should not be surprised he has emerged two years on from that film fully formed as Daniel Plainview, the dark anti-hero of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. He is an oil prospector whose skill and determination eventually lead to his fortune, though even as this grows it cannot keep pace with the demons that drive him and eventually threaten to destroy all that he has. Those woodworking skills, if he ever had them, will come in handy now for there will surely be awards too – by the time you read this two particularly notable prizes could well be his.

In person Day-Lewis is – mercifully – an affable and engaging presence in contrast to the focussed and driven Plainview. Candid and thoughtful, he weights his answers carefully and he speaks with an accent that occasionally carries echoes of his adopted Irish home. Above all he deals patiently with questions about the way he gets under the skin of characters such as Plainview.

“I feel I’ve been soundly misrepresented so many times about the way that I work,” he explains, “that there’s almost no point in even talking about it. But people tend to focus on the details of the preparation, the practical details in this clinic or that prison and so on and so forth. But for me as much as that work is a vital part of it and always fuel to one’s fascination, the principal work is always in the imagination. That’s where it’s going to happen if it’s going to happen anywhere at all. The imagination in very close working partnership with the subconscious I think, because when the work is happening the way it should you can’t entirely be in control of it.”

by Anwar Brett

Read the full interview and more from the movie in
Film Review (Mar)

Photo © Paramount Vantage
Feature © Visual Imagination 2008. Not for reproduction

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Film Review (Mar), see below for ordering options
Film Review (Mar)
#693, March 2008
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