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Sunday, April 21, 2013

DISCOVERING DANIEL DAY LEWIS IN 2013: The actor and gentleman

The Last of the Mohicans” (1992) was on top of a pile of DVDs on sale in Walmart so it caught my eye while on my way to the photo centre one day. I thought I should watch and compare it with the book with the same title by James Fenemore Cooper. What immediately came to my mind was how I cried after reading this historical romance during one of my annual flights home. Although most passengers were asleep at that time, I pretended that I was having the sniffles or a runny nose. I felt so ashamed of myself—a lone old lady crying over the death of a protagonist. I was afraid I would cry again at the end of this movie.



The name Daniel Day Lewis was on its case cover – a name I hadn’t heard of before. I thought that it didn’t matter for I just wanted to do my job. Normally though I would pick movies by my favourites like Sandra Bullock (“The Blind Side,” 2009), Julia Roberts (“Eat, Love, Pray,” 2010), and the like. I could also spare time for award-winning films like “Gandhi” (1982), “Dances with Wolves” (1990), “Forrest Gump” (1994), “Braveheart” (1995), “Gladiator” (2000), “A Beautiful Mind” (2001), or for works based on literature for purpose of comparison. So how was the film compared to the book (or if I cried again at the story’s end), you might wonder. The answer is I failed to do my job. I lost my focus after seeing this good-looking actor on screen for 82 minutes. (Madeleine Stowe was as lovely as ever.) Where he had been or whatever happened to him I wanted to find out, so I googled him for days.



What I discovered in Daniel Day Lewis was a great actor and a gentleman. His portrayal of Irish writer and painter Christy Brown who had cerebral palsy (“My Left Foot,” 1989) was superb. If it’s sometimes hard to see people with this disability, how they struggle to talk or move, it was a real torture watching Daniel Day Lewis playing Christy Brown. Behind every bit of movement, such as muscle twitching and spasm, was undoubtedly a lot of hard work and perhaps pain. Scene after scene, I felt like I, too, was using every fibre and strand of my body and draining all my energy. I wished that watching Daniel Day Lewis as Christy Brown was as easy as watching stand-up comedian Josh Blue (Last Comic Standing winner, 2006) who has cerebral palsy but moves like a child happily jerking his head and swinging his hand. (Worth mentioning is the equally astounding performance of Hugh O`Conor who played young Christy Brown.)

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Who then would not vote for all the passion and intensity of Daniel Day Lewis as Best Actor after “My Left Foot” (also “There Will Be Blood,” 2007, and “Lincoln,” 2012)? In my very limited movie-viewing experience, I have seen only one other actor with equal seriousness—Heath Ledger. His outstanding performance in “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012) gave me not only goose bumps but also nightmares. These two artists reminded me of my brief acting training in high school by a professional stage actress. She said that actors should get into the character—forget who they are and live, think and feel the character—for it is only through this that the actor’s job can be effective and can create the audience reaction that it should get. (I had to drop out of this training for my mother would surely throw me out of the house the moment I started acting strange.) With Daniel Day Lewis as Christy Brown, I empathized with the character. With Heath Ledger as the devilish Joker with such hideous smile and laughter, I hated the character. Heath Ledger’s rarity and greatness as an actor were recognized by Daniel Day Lewis and dedicated his second best actor award to the late actor. In his acceptance speeches, Daniel Day Lewis was a humble gentleman who never failed to acknowledge the talents of the other nominees, and with an Oscar in hand for the third time, Daniel Day Lewis expressed gratitude for his wife Rebecca Miller who has patiently lived with all his personas as an actor.



With the exemplary works that Daniel Day Lewis has done, his gentleman ways and professionalism, he will surely be sought after by great directors and producers like Steven Spielberg for more challenging roles. Production crews and actors will surely take pride working with him while I await more acceptance speeches with his usual humour, humility and sincerity. Why I hadn’t heard of him before was either because I was in places where theatres showed movies based on the popularity of the cast or I picked movies based on the lady actors in them. Daniel Day Lewis may not have the popularity of typecast silver screen heroes and may not shine year after year for he is only human – requiring time to find his real self and to recharge after each gruelling role. For now, the world should leave him if he is reclusive again for in the years to come, he will surely be out again like a phoenix. As for myself, I plan to see all his great performances and perhaps fall in love with the theatre again.

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