On DVD from this weekened is P.T Anderson’s American epic ‘There Will Be Blood’, we talk to Daniel Day Lewis about his role in Oscar winning film.
There will be Blood,’ Paul Thomas Anderson’s fifth and latest film, represents a significant departure for the writer/director. Loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil! the film moves out of Anderson’s usual San Fernando Valley setting, for such acclaimed films as ‘Boogie Nights’, ‘Magnolia’ and ‘Punch Drunk Love’, to South California and the oil boom of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Akin to the change of setting, the film lacks the trope of actors whom Anderson is affiliated with: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, et al. are nowhere to be seen. Instead the film centres on the life of oil tycoon Daniel Plainview, played by English actor Daniel Day-Lewis. ‘There will be Blood’ is a story of power and the means to power, whether that be oil, blood or religion.
In a recent interview, Movies.ie met up with Daniel Day-Lewis to discuss the film.
Known to be somewhat uneasy around the media, Day-Lewis is remarkably friendly and welcoming. Articulate and obviously well educated (the son of the late British Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis) he first reflects on how he chooses a script:
“It’s very much like drilling for oil. We mine in the dark, sometimes in pretty uncomfortable places in the hopes of finding some rich material. As you grow older, just as a wildcat like Plainview would have had developed a nose for mining, you learn to recognise the signs of what you are looking for.”
He is quick to add that he always looks for a unique character when selecting a role. Not wanting to provoke him but curious about his role as Bill ‘the Butcher’ in ‘Gangs of New York’, like Plainview, another quintessentially American character with a similar violent and eruptive personality, I ask does he see any comparison between the two roles,
“I never saw any connection between them. It would have been fatal if I had. Had I seen any sense of similarity, I think I would have fought shy of it but the character seemed utterly unique and mysterious to me, which is, in part, what brought me to the role.”
Indeed between the two of them, Anderson and Day-Lewis create an unbiased portrayal of the central character Daniel Plainview; often misanthropic with occasional moments of kindness, you would be forgiven for feeling a degree of ambivalence towards him which is what makes this character so enthralling.
Taking two years in total to fund, TWBB allowed both Anderson and Day-Lewis time to prepare for the film and for the two men to get to know each other. For Day-Lewis their relationship was an odd one:
“I’m separated from him (Anderson) by quite a number of years in age, by a vast ocean, an eight hour time difference, a whole continent and yet when I met him, I felt like we’d grown up together and had we been brothers I dare say we would have strangled each other”, he jokingly remarks, “Isn’t that what brothers do?”
Discussing Andersen, Day-Lewis comments that he is a fan of his work, particularly the perversely enchanting ‘Punch Drunk Love’ starring Emily Watson and Adam Sandler, “Of all his films, I feel it is most personal, what a great film and Adam Sandler’s performance is one of the best I’ve seen in years.”
Likewise for Day-Lewis, the film process is deeply personal. Infamously known for his hands on approach to acting, whether that be learning to hunt and skin animals for ‘Last of the Mohicans’ or throwing heavy knives for his role in ‘Gangs of New York’, Day-Lewis’ process has been greatly mythologized over the years. For this role he listened to recordings from the period, Dust Bowl recordings from the ‘20s and John Houston tapes however such practices he notes are only a means to an end:
We create the illusion for ourselves first and foremost, in the hopes that then you might convince others that you are travelling a great distance from your own life. Of course you remain at the very centre yourself and that is where the principle work takes place – within yourself. It can be exhausting but everyone is exhausted at the end of a film.”
During the preparation, he explained, “[…] you ingest, gather and learn and when you start shooting, you divest yourself of whatever it is you can offer. It can be a savage process. You build a world and people for this character; you try to see the world through the eyes of that other man. Now as bizarre as that might seem, it can be even more bizarre when you are told that’s it. There is a great deal of reluctance to put a character aside once examined but you need to finish. I’m not saying that you walk around in character, it’s not that obvious. It’s just the sense of connection to something else that doesn’t belong to your everyday life. You are not entirely present, you’re distracted for a time.”
Based on his description, it’s understandable that Day-Lewis chooses to do so few projects with only a handful produced in the last decade.
Similar to his intense preparation for a role, the actor is also notoriously known to stay in character during filming. For Gangs of New York, it was reported that Day-Lewis would antagonise his co-star Leonardo DiCaprio both on and off screen (as a reflection of their characters rivalry). During the course of our interview he admits, “I had to make a few compromises when I had a family.” Despite this, it has been unofficially reported that Day Lewis’ intensity on-set resulted in the replacement of the original actor to play Eli Sunday, Plainview’s chief adversary in the film. American actor Paul Dano, from films such as L.I.E and more recently Little Miss Sunshine, was brought in half way through the 60-day shoot to replace the actor. Having previously acted along side each other in ‘The Ballad of Jack and Rose’, directed by Day-Lewis’ wife Rebecca Miller, Dano’s performance, as the fanatical preacher obsessed, merits as much credit as Day-Lewis’.
Finally, with the recent Oscar win, we discuss awards. Day-Lewis is surprisingly frank and acknowledges that “anyone [who said they were not interested in the Oscars] would be protecting themselves from the likelihood they are not going to get one anyhow; it’s a totally unknown quantity. Also, as all actors say to the point of platitudinous and tedium, the reward is in the work and that’s the beginning and end of it. If someone gives you reward or prize because of that, it’s a beautiful thing. I have to say, from when I first read the script I felt the potential was there for a very unusual story and I really think Paul has made a wonderful film.”