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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Mar-18 > The invisible man

The invisible man

Daniel Day-Lewis’s shock decision to retire means the movie industry has lost one of its most mercurial talents. But who is he, really? Wendy Ide tries to separate the man from the mythology

Most film stars tipped to collect a fourth best actor Oscar—their sixth Academy Award nomination overall—would barely be out of the public eye. But Daniel Day-Lewis has a talent for disappearing.

When taking on a role, he hunkers down for months or even years of preparation.

Between films he steps away entirely, provoking speculation that he has abandoned it all for cobbling or carpentry.

In a life story populated with ghosts, perhaps the most persistent is the enigmatic, elusive man himself.

Thanks to a lifetime of reticence and fiercely-guarded privacy—he rarely gives press interviews—there is an almost translucent quality to Day-Lewis’s persona, which makes him an actor of rare talent. The effect is increased by the mythology that surrounds his methodacting techniques. Day-Lewis famously keeps in character for the whole shoot; often other actors and crew members are forbidden from interacting with him. He embraces hardship, even humiliation— he lived in a cell and insisted on being doused with icy water in preparation for prison drama In the Name of the Father.

For Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002), he learned how to dismember a pig; for 1997’s The Boxer he spent over a year getting pummelled by ex-fighter Barry McGuigan.

When Day-Lewis does open up, his answers are lyrical riffs, elegantly phrased and noncommittal. In an era of insta-insights and Twitter oversharing, he is that most exotic of oddities—a truly unattainable celebrity.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the mythology is that it works in everyone’s favour. The fans get fitful glimpses of the interior life of this most private of actors. The media get colourful anecdotes; flashes of overwrought neargenius.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s March issue: A series of writers turn their thoughts to the developing war over words in the UK and the US. Lionel Shriver, Afua Hirsch, Simon Lancaster, Hugh Tomlinson, Tom Clark and two students ask if free expression is truly compromised? What’s really going on in our universities? And what do voters think? Elsewhere in the issue: Michael Ignatieff questions why today’s left-wing leaders can’t live up to the high mark set by FDR, Sameer Rahim shows how western powers have been trying to dictate what Islam should be, and Mary Beard asks “How do we look?” as our perceptions of what is beautiful have changes over the centuries.