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Tuesday 12 December 2017

'Daniel is our greatest actor - better than De Niro or Pacino'

Jim Sheridan hails the genius of Daniel Day-Lewis after the reclusive actor's shock retirement, writes Niamh Horan

DANIEL DAY-LEWIS: in ‘In The Name Of The Father’
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS: in ‘In The Name Of The Father’
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Irish director Jim Sheridan has described the retirement of Daniel Day-Lewis from acting as like a 'mini death' in the world of film.

Jim Sheridan directed Daniel in three movies that helped copper-fasten the reclusive star's reputation as a screen great - My Left Foot, In The Name of the Father and The Crucible.

"It will be a huge loss to the world of film. I don't know why he decided it, you know? I feel emotional because he is such a great talent. I am sad that we won't get a chance to see him, to witness his genius, but there you go…"

Sheridan added: "I was completely shocked when I heard. He had never mentioned anything about this. It just came out of the blue. I thought he was looking forward to doing this movie a lot [Day-Lewis was working on a film called Phantom Thread], I think he was. I don't really know what it's about."

His voice wavering at times, the film-maker said his personal disappointment was that he wouldn't have the experience of working with the actor again.

"Of course I'm disappointed, are you mad? When you have to talk about Daniel retiring, it raises memories of the past and it brings a lot of feelings up. I feel regret. I'm sorry he's not going to act again. It's a mini-death in the family. I just want to have a pint with him. I hope he's good. I hope he's OK."

He added that he wouldn't even try to change his friend's mind.

"No, I wouldn't do that. Not now that he has made the announcement, I would never do that. You have to respect him and his decision."

But he is convinced that the loss to the film world is immense. "He is a genius, one of the best actors who has ever lived. He's a man who was unbelievably committed and unbelievably straightforward and real and honest.

"I would describe him as a 'poet' of acting. He just can't lie. That's his genius. Of all the people I have met he is just incapable of being false. Most people see acting as being false, that it's about playing someone else - but he sees it as bringing somebody to life and he is as committed to that as you can be."

He continued: "Daniel is probably one of the best actors who has ever lived, just on a technical basis alone. You can have your views on who you like, whether you like Brando or Pacino or De Niro, but just for technical mastery, no one compares. He has passion and commitment. It's an inner-intensity that no-one else can match."

Sheridan's devotion to Day-Lewis is well chronicled. Previously, he gave a revealing insight into how one of the world's great actors prepares for a role.

He recalled Day-Lewis's break-out performance in My Left Foot. "I went on the first morning to the set of My Left Foot and Eugene Lambert was teaching Daniel how to paint with his foot - and I was amazed at how long Daniel kept painting. So I came back just before lunch and they were painting away and I came back after - and he was still at it and when I left at six he was still painting.

"I went home and tried myself and I got a cramp after 10 minutes - and I realised this guy is insane.

"The pain! Daniel wouldn't even tell you he endured the cramps. He would be too private to reveal that it might hurt him. He would just keep going."

Sheridan also described the extreme lengths the three-time Oscar winner was prepared to go while filming In The Name of The Father.

"I got to a point where I was like 'I can't write this scene where Gerry signs his life away [with a false confession]. It's very hard for the audience to buy that'. So Daniel just nods and says 'can you get somebody to keep me awake? I asked Pat Henry, the trainer, to keep him up for a night.

"So two or three nights later Pat is still throwing water at him, shaking him and waking him up. When we came to the scene, it was in his physicality and you can't act that. He was like someone ready to cry at any minute of the day. All I had to do was touch him."

This is the kind of preparation, for which Day-Lewis has become notorious. In the 1997 film The Boxer he crudely tattooed his hands and trained as a real fighter, twice a day, seven days a week, for nearly three years. His trainer - former world champion Barry McGuigan - remarked that he could have turned professional.

In 1993, while preparing for his role as Gerry Conlon in In The Name of the Father, he slept in an abandoned jail and ate only prison rations. For his 1996 movie The Crucible, he lived in the film set's replica village without electricity or running water and built his character's house with 17th-century tools.

But it was his method acting as Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York in 2002 that attracted the most attention. He trained as a butcher, caught pneumonia while on set (having refused to change his threadbare coat for a warmer one because it hadn't existed in the 19th century), and wandered about Rome (where Gangs of New York was filmed) in character.

Speaking about his 2008 movie There Will Be Blood, Day-Lewis described how his wife, the writer Rebecca Miller, and their kids were with him throughout. "My wife is amazingly tolerant. I knew that from the word go. She just believes, like I do, that if you are attempting anything of a creative nature, no rules apply."

Sheridan was speaking ahead of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby which takes places at The Curragh Racecourse this Saturday. He will be one of 400 guests attending the private pavilion. Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, together with his wife Breeda, will host the event.

Sunday Independent

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