Daniel Day-Lewis Breaks Silence on Retiring From Acting After ‘Phantom Thread’
Daniel Day-Lewis is known not only for his exceptional performances, but for the meticulous method he employs to achieve them. He’s also rather meticulous in selecting his roles; hardly surprising, given the time he devotes to each one. While Day-Lewis’ approach has yielded some of the finest acting in contemporary cinema history, it’s also led him to eschew quantity in favor of quality. In recent years, the acclaimed actor’s work has become more infrequent, and as he confirms in a new interview, it’s coming to an end with Phantom Thread.
Day-Lewis reunites with There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson for the new romantic period drama, which takes place in the world of high fashion. The actor portrays Reynolds Woodcock, an eccentric designer every bit as meticulous (and then some) as Day-Lewis himself. Speaking with W magazine, the actor described his extensive preparation for the role, which involved watching vintage fashion show footage from the ’40s and ’50s, researching designers, and learning how to sew. He also served as an apprentice to Marc Happel, the head of costuming for the New York City Ballet, and eventually set out to recreate a Balenciaga couture dress — using his wife, filmmaker Rebecca Miller, as his model.
The W magazine interview is filled with fascinating details about Day-Lewis’ life and how he employed his method approach for Phantom Thread, which included curating every aspect of Woodcock’s life — from his clothing and accessories to his home decor and work instruments. “I was probably infuriating,” Day-Lewis admits.
More significantly, Day-Lewis confirms prior reports that Phantom Thread is his final film. The actor previously released a written statement to announce his plans to retire from acting, though this is the first time he’s commented on the subject publicly:
Before making the film, I didn’t know I was going to stop acting. I do know that Paul and I laughed a lot before we made the movie. And then we stopped laughing because we were both overwhelmed by a sense of sadness. That took us by surprise: We didn’t realize what we had given birth to. It was hard to live with. And still is.
When asked why he’s decided to leave his profession behind, Day-Lewis seemed somewhat uncertain. Although he’s watched some of his other films, he has not yet seen Phantom Thread, and he doesn’t intend to do so:
I haven’t figured it out. But it’s settled on me, and it’s just there. Not wanting to see the film is connected to the decision I’ve made to stop working as an actor. But it’s not why the sadness came to stay. That happened during the telling of the story, and I don’t really know why.
“I need to believe in the value of what I’m doing,” said the actor, who went on to describe the work as “vital” and “irresistible.” He adds, “And if an audience believes it, that should be good enough for me. But, lately, it isn’t.”
Day-Lewis, who has won three Academy Awards for his work, has considered leaving acting many times before. He says that he put out a public statement to hold himself accountable for his decision to retire:
I knew it was uncharacteristic to put out a statement. But I did want to draw a line. I didn’t want to get sucked back into another project. All my life, I’ve mouthed off about how I should stop acting, and I don’t know why it was different this time, but the impulse to quit took root in me, and that became a compulsion. It was something I had to do.
The actor says he intends to “explore the world in a different way,” though he still feels a “great sadness” about retiring from his craft. It’s unclear what Day-Lewis will do now that he’s left acting behind, but it seems entirely plausible that he’ll remain involved in the world of film, even if he never steps foot in front of a camera again.
Phantom Thread hits theaters on December 25.