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The Way He Lives Now 

As Daniel Day-Lewis' fourth film in a decade arrives in theaters, the movies' most enigmatic leading man reveals the method behind his onscreen madness

Wednesday, Dec 26 2007
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Like many other films this season, There Will Be Blood announces in the credits that it's a "carbon-neutral production," which means that for every unit of carbon emitted during the making of the film, an offset was purchased, probably in the form of a tree. And Anderson, who got the idea for the film when he read Sinclair's book while traveling in London, clearly had a point to make about human greed laid bare in the petroleum industry.

But both director and star insist that There Will Be Blood is neither a political film nor a metaphor for anything. "Parallels are a menace," Day-Lewis says. "For the sake of doing the work itself, we had to set aside, put under lock and key, all our personal feelings about [oil]. Otherwise, we'd have been in the business of trying to teach, which is death to any kind of storytelling."

Still, he laments the proliferation of SUVs in Ireland. In Ireland? With those tiny streets?

"I go to school in the morning with my lad, and I park the car in a lot that's jammed full of SUVs they absolutely have no need of whatsoever," he attests. "Everyone is buying cars. They can't afford houses, so I guess they're buying cars instead. They're everywhere. Perched up in those bloody things, looking down on you, lording it over the rest of us.

"The roads in Ireland are only that wide. They're buying these things you can just jam between the hedgerows. It's madness."

A few years ago, Day-Lewis said in an interview that after decades of self-doubt — decades of asking himself whether, even after an Oscar and all that, he could be useful in the profession — he had finally realized that "Is there any reason to be doing this?" is a healthy question to be asking oneself, enthusiastically and repeatedly.

"It came to me in the form of a revelation," he explains. "When I was a young utopian and still had that conflict, I found it terribly unsettling, because it made me question my commitment to the thing I was apparently giving my life over to. And I worked a lot more in those days than I do now. So it really came as a great relief [to discover] that it was vital to have that conflict, to continually reassess the reason for doing this work, which may well have changed over the years.

"My ambition for many years was to be involved in work that was utterly compelling to me, regardless of the consequences. But I worried a lot as a young man about where such and such a thing might take me; you're encouraged to think that way. You're supposed to build a career for yourself. But there's no part of me that was able to do that. And thank God I was able to recognize it before I sort of went gray with anxiety."

Far from building a career, he now sees himself starting all over each time he determines he can be sufficiently useful to a director and accepts a role. "It's absolutely new each and every time," he says. "For all that you carry with you as you get older — and if you've had the good fortune to work in films that people have seen and in some cases liked, you carry with you the burden of expectation — all that went before is meaningless. Absolutely meaningless. Because you're a baby. From the moment you decide to go to work again, you're a baby. You have to empty yourself if you're going to be any kind of vessel at all.

"I suppose that's the salvation of all of us. With all the kind of grandiosity that surrounds the way of life that actors lead, there's an insistent humility to the work itself, because you cannot do it unless you begin with nothing each time."

The beginner's mind: Some people meditate for a lifetime to find it.

Day-Lewis laughs. "I don't think I've achieved separation from the material world just yet," he says. "The loss of myself happens in a place that's very concrete." Right: in the movies.

About The Author

Judith Lewis

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