Thursday 29 September 2016

'Day-Lewis never forgot Christy', three decades after 'My Left Foot'

Claire McCormack

Published 17/05/2015 | 02:30

Christy Brown and his mother
Christy Brown and his mother
Christy Brown and Mary Carr
Christy Brown
My Left Foot

Screen star Daniel Day-Lewis hasn't forgotten Christy Brown or his family, nearly three decades after winning his first Oscar for his portrayal of the author, painter and poet in My Left Foot.

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In 1989, as part of his preparation for the role, Day-Lewis spent a significant amount of time with Christy's brothers and sisters to ensure he accurately portrayed Christy, who had cerebral palsy and could only write and paint using the toes of one foot.

During this period, Day-Lewis visited the family's cramped two bedroom home in Kimmage, Co Dublin, where Christy - ninth of 13 surviving children - once lived.

The triple-Oscar winning actor, who lives in Co Wicklow, formed a special bond with many of the siblings and their friendship has remained to this day. Christy's younger sister Ann, (72), told the Sunday Independent: "He got to know us and the family have stayed in touch from time to time. We wouldn't abuse the situation but we'd feel like we could call him and he'd be happy to hear from us."

Ann told how seeing Day-Lewis takes on the role of her brother in the early days of filming on the set of My Left Foot was "very emotional" for her.

"Daniel's performance was so unbelievable for me and for most of my family who were alive then. But it was quite emotional because he stayed in character behind the scenes," added Ann, who was 11 years younger than Christy.

"I remember walking into the canteen and someone was feeding him the same way we used to feed Christy and I found that really upsetting because it was like looking at my brother. I had to get up and leave, I was overcome with emotion because he played him so well," she said.

Despite her love of the film version of Christy's autobiography, My Left Foot, made eight years after his death at the age of 49, for Ann, it doesn't tell the full story of her "big brother".

Now, it is hoped that a new exhibition dedicated to his life's work - including some unpublished poetry - at The Ireland Funds Gallery in The Little Museum of Dublin will offer a more complete picture of his intelligence, articulacy and ability.

The Christy Brown archives were saved following interventions from the Athlone-based Direct Medical and the National Library of Ireland who between them paid €44,820 for it last year.

Simon O'Connor, the curator of the exhibition, said: "The movie tells his life story up until his relationship with Mary Carr [Christy's nurse, who he later married] begins and our exhibition continues after that point up to his death."

While the film is an accurate dramatised account of Christy's life, based on his own memoir, the exhibition focusses more on his work as a writer. "What struck me as we were developing it, is that within the character of Christy in the movie we hear him through verbal communication, whereas it's through his writing that he communicates best," said Mr O'Connor.

The exhibition also offers samples of Christy's correspondence with his much-loved social worker and confidant, Katriona Maguire, about his plans for the future. "Will I be a painter or a writer?" he mused at the age of 16, signing off with a series of kisses.

He went on to become both - accomplishing four novels, four collections of poetry and many paintings, portraits and nude drawings. His second book Down All the Days is considered a masterpiece and it is referred to in a letter in the exhibition as "the best Irish novel since Ulysses".

"People need to read his poetry, and especially his love of art, then people might get more of an insight into the genius I believe he was," said Ann, who was the only surviving sibling able to attend the launch along with Katriona Maguire, now aged 92.

An invitation has been extended to Day-Lewis, who is currently in New York, to visit the exhibition during its run until the end of July.

"It was really his amazing performance that brought his story to the public and we'd love if Daniel Day-Lewis could come in to see it. He studied every inch of his character and was very close to the surviving members of the family at that time," said Mr O' Connor.

Sunday Independent

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