Daniel Day-Lewis has always been known for taking breaks. Five years separate 2007’s “The Boxer” and 2002’s “Gangs of New York”; when his next film, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” emerges in December, it will have been another half decade since “Lincoln.” It may also be the last time we see him on a big screen. For Daniel Day-Lewis has, it’s been revealed today, announced he’s retiring.
Whether this is a Jay-Z-style “retirement” or not is something we’ll probably have to wait another five years to see. The statement was issued by his spokeswoman, Leslee Dart, who gave no reason for his decision (except that life is unfair).
“Daniel Day-Lewis will no longer be working as an actor,” Dart’s statement read. “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.”
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Were this any normal actor, you’d be able to mourn Day-Lewis’ retirement by gorging on a buffet-sized table of film work. But the three-time Oscar-winner — one of the few male performers to rack up that many — has always been choosy, if inhumanly committed when he did work. For 1988’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” he learned how to speak Czech. For 1996’s “The Crucible,” he was schooled in how to build old-timey houses. For “My Left Foot,” the 1989 drama that scored him his first Goldie, in which he played a man with cerebral palsy, he confined himself to a wheelchair even when cameras weren’t rolling.
The scarcity of Day-Lewis’ movie appearances made each one an event. We even saw “Nine,” the misbegotten musical adaptation of Federico Fellini’s “8 ½,” in which he took a rare onscreen vacation, lounging about as he was bewitched by a gaggle of beautiful women. One of his smaller films, 2005’s “The Ballad of Jack & Rose,” he made with his wife, the director Rebecca Miller, daughter of no less than “The Crucible” playwright Arthur Miller.
Day-Lewis’s other two Oscars are for “There Will Be Blood” and “Lincoln.” We still say he should have nabbed a fourth for “Gangs of New York.” Amazingly, he wasn’t nominated for one of our favorite Day-Lewis pictures, Martin Scorsese’s 1993 film “The Age of Innocence.” On the surface, it’s not a very flashy role; Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder handily steal the movie from under him. But that’s all part of the plan: His Newland Archer, in love with Pfeiffer but betrothed to the terribly kind Ryder, can’t betray any emotions lest he ruin his life, and the lives of others. He’s trapped inside his stuffy 19th century clothes and a heartbreaking fake-smile for all eternity.
On the plus side, Day-Lewis has said he’d be doing press for “Phantom Thread.” Perhaps every journalist can take a turn pleading with him to change his mind. Ask nicely.