Created on: February 27, 2013
Is Daniel Day-Lewis the best movie actor of all time? This is a debate that has been raging since the opening of “Lincoln” and continues after his unprecedented third Oscar for Best Actor. (True, Jack Nicholson has three, but at least one of his was for a Supporting Actor role.) Maybe even more surprising is that Daniel Day-Lewis might have had four, if he had accepted the lead in “Philadelphia” that won Tom Hanks (the director’s second choice) the Best Actor Oscar.
Day-Lewis is not one to snap up roles quickly. If history is any guide to his movie career, it’s clear that he is very selective about roles he accepts. In the case of “Philadelphia,” he instead chose to work on “In the Name of the Father,” which was based on the true story of the Guildford Four, four people false accused of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing, a film that itself garnered seven Academy Award nominations.
Water under the bridge to Daniel Day-Lewis now, as he has had a lifetime full of plum roles in which he has succeeded brilliantly (among them “My Left Foot” and “There Will Be Blood,” as well as Stephen Spielberg’s “Lincoln”…and those are just the Oscar wins).
Other memorable movie roles
Daniel Day-Lewis first made his movie debut in another serious film, “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” a complex British drama in which he appeared as a child actor. His next film also involved a small role, but it was one of history’s most important films, “Gandhi.” Most people, however, date the actor’s movie beginnings to his films of 1984-1985 in which his credits ranged from the literary “The Bounty” to the contemporary, “My Beautiful Laundrette,” to the romantic “Room with a View,” clearly one of his most memorable films.
Other important film appearances for Day-Lewis include “The Unbearable Lightness of Being, “ “The Last of the Mohicans,” “The Age of Innocence,” “The Boxer,” “Nine” and “Gangs of New York.”
Early history and influences
Like so many actors (particularly those from the UK), Daniel Day-Lewis got much of his training and experience in the theater. He studied at the Bristol Old Vic Theater School, which he attended for three years before going on to perform there, as well as with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
It seems inevitable that Day-Lewis would find success in the arts. His grandfather was one of the most important historical figures in the British film business, the head of Ealing Studios. His mother was an actress and his father a poet who became the Poet Laureate of the UK. His sister became a documentary film maker, while Day-Lewis has likely surpassed them all with his fame and fortune.
While many have argued that Oscar hardware does not in itself make a great actor, and some losers (among them Peter O’Toole, Richard Burton, and Glenn Close with a total of 21 nominations and 0 wins among them) have been among the finest of actors, there’s no denying Daniel Day-Lewis’s credentials.
As industry analyst Steve Pond noted, “Historians will decide whether he deserves comparison with the people of the past. But there’s no doubt (Sunday night’s award) sealed the deal as our greatest living actor.”
Learn more about this author, Christine Zibas.
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