Daniel Day-Lewis has a tendency to disappear.
For the select few films he starred in, the British actor would shed his own persona — or as he once said, “drain” himself — to become his character. And over the course of his career, for months or even years at a time, he would retreat into a reclusive lifestyle, escaping the public eye and Hollywood altogether.
Now, Day-Lewis, 60, lauded by many as one of the best actors of his time, is leaving the film industry for good. Without providing any reasoning, Day-Lewis’s spokeswoman confirmed in a statement to reporters Tuesday the actor is retiring.
“Daniel Day-Lewis will no longer be working as an actor,” his spokeswoman, Leslee Dart. “He is immensely grateful to all of his collaborators and audiences over the many years. This is a private decision and neither he nor his representatives will make any further comment on this subject.” Variety reported the news Tuesday afternoon.
His final film will be Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” which has already been filmed and will release in December, according to the Associated Press.
His departure marks the end of a career that made Hollywood history and spurred as much intrigue as it did praise. He was nominated for an Academy Award five times, and is the only person to have ever won the award for best actor three times — for the films “My Left Foot,” “There Will Be Blood,” and “Lincoln.”
But Day-Lewis is perhaps most known for being one of his generation’s most skilled “method actors,” adopting a immersive style of acting for which the late film star Marlon Brando was so revered, a raw style of acting that was “brash, bold and brimming with machismo,” as Angelica Jade Bastién wrote in the Atlantic.
Indeed, many have compared Day-Lewis to Brando, particularly in the wake of the news of his retirement. “Daniel Day-Lewis was our era’s Marlon Brando,” one fan wrote on Twitter.
But even the term “method acting” fails to capture the extent to which Day-Lewis has become his characters — physical and emotional extremes that few others have matched.
While playing a writer with cerebral palsy in “My Left Foot,” he never left his wheelchair and was spoon-fed by the film crew. While preparing for “The Last of the Mohicans,” he lived off the land for weeks, hunting and skinning animals and even sleeping with his rifle, as the Guardian noted in a 2002 profile.
For “In the Name of the Father,” he spent nights sleeping in a jail cell. Before filming “The Crucible,” he built the home in which his character would live using 17th-century tools. Leading up to the 1997 film “The Boxer,” he trained as a fighter twice a day for almost three years. His trainer even said that he could have gone professional, the Independent wrote in an extensive profile and interview.
While filming the 2002 Martin Scorsese film “Gangs of New York,” he caught pneumonia and insisted on only wearing a “threadbare” coat that would have existed in the 19th century, according to the Independent.
He would occasionally walk around Rome, where the movie was filmed, and pick fights with strangers. “I had to do my preparation,” he told the Independent. “And I will admit that I went mad, totally mad.”
And he refused to break character throughout the filming of Abraham Lincoln, even signing off text messages with co-star Sally Field as “Abe.”
Speaking to the BBC in 2013, Day-Lewis described the meticulous process he undertook to create the voice of Abraham Lincoln, which involved intensely researching the accents in various counties where Lincoln grew up across Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.
“I begin to hear a voice, which I don’t try to reproduce. It’s the voice of the inner ear,” he said. Then, he said, “I set about the task of trying to get it outside of me.”
In many of his rare interviews, Day-Lewis seems to dread broaching the subject of his “method acting,” which he asserts is not a scientific or isolationist exercise. Immersing himself in the experience of the role he plays and staying in character throughout the entire filming of a movie is simply how Day-Lewis attempts to “allow the imagination to free itself,” he told the BBC.
“Your job is to more or less drain yourself,” Day-Lewis said. “What would drain me much more in my case is jumping in and out of that world that we’ve gone to such inordinate lengths to create for ourselves.”
Day-Lewis is also notoriously selective in the films he chooses to participate in — he told the BBC he only accepts roles he feels he can truly service, intriguing characters with lives that “feel very far removed from my own.”
“The mystery of that life is the thing that draws me towards it,” he said.
But he is also an “acting enigma,” as the Guardian wrote, and is known for stepping away from the film industry for lengthy periods of time. In the late 1990s, he reportedly apprenticed as a shoemaker in Florence.
Day-Lewis grew up in Greenwich in southeast London, holds both British and Irish passports, and has long had a home in Wicklow, Ireland. (He was knighted by the Duke of Cambridge in 2014.) He is married to writer-director Rebecca Miller, daughter of American playwright Arthur Miller, and has three children.
His stage career ended decades ago “when during his performance of Hamlet he walked off the stage claiming to have seen an apparition of his father, the late poet laureate of England Cecil Day-Lewis,” Burhan Wazir wrote in the Guardian.
His film releasing in December will be his first movie appearance in five years.
“I have a slow rhythm,” he told the BBC, acknowledging that he does seem to “disappear” from time to time.
But, he contends that these breaks, these escapes from the public eye, are what allow him to dive in so deeply to his work.
“What I’m doing is reengaging with life,” he said.
In his acceptance speech for his 2013 Academy Award win, Day-Lewis thanked his wife for having lived with “some very strange men” he had personified over the years.
“They were strange as individuals and probably even stranger if taken as a group,” said the actor who, despite always playing serious roles, exudes an upbeat, down-to-earth temperament in interviews — as long as he is not in character.
Speaking to reporters after his win, Day-Lewis joked that he was “definitely out of character at this moment,” the Telegraph reported.
“If I slip back into it by mistake, you can do an intervention of some kind, the Heimlich maneuver or whatever it is you do for actors stuck in character.”
So perhaps that is what’s in store for Day-Lewis, a seemingly permanent escape from a limelight he never truly felt comfortable in. Some of his fans joked there might be other motives involved.
“What if Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he is retiring from acting as research for a role where he plays an actor who retires from acting,” one person wrote.
“Nobody is happier about Daniel Day-Lewis’s retirement than his wife. You try living with a guy who’s pretending to be Romanian for 8 months,” said another.
His hiatus is not entirely surprising. When it came to public appearances there was an innate comfort for Day-Lewis to express himself through a character, through “these other vessels in a way that we can’t in ourselves,” he told the BBC.
And although he found great joy in his work, Day-Lewis never quite enjoyed the film industry anyway.
“I know this is part of what we have to do. But I really have to be forced,” he told the Guardian in 2002.
And when the movie is over, he said, “I have done my part.”
“And once I’m finished, I always feel a little empty inside.”
And this week, for his fans, that same feeling — of emptiness, of loss — rang true.