Back in June Daniel Day-Lewis announced that Phantom Thread would be his final film as an actor.
Considering that Day-Lewis is just 60-years-old and is widely regarded as one of the finest actors of his generation, as he is the only thespian in history to have won three Best Actor Academy Awards, this news was met with shock and disappointment.
We’ve perhaps learned why Day-Lewis decided to bring his tenure in the profession to an end, though. Because in a Q&A after Sunday night’s first New York screening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” Day-Lewis admitted that shooting parts of the film inside the tight, cramped conditions of a London townhouse were “awful.” In fact, he even went as far as to call it a “nightmare.”
“It was awful,” Day-Lewis said of filming those scenes for “Phantom Thread.””We got away with it [early on], because we were up in the north-east of England, in Whitby. And it was beautiful. And then we were in the Cotswolds, which was very beautiful. [In London] we hoped to find that way of working again that was self-contained, and being beholden to no-one and uninterrupted. We would be in a world that we could create and then just stay in it and no-one could get into it.”
That didn’t happen, though.
“Then we were in London, and in this townhouse that on the face of it was very beautiful. And it was very beautiful. But it was a nightmare because we were living on top of each other, and it was an enormous unit. And there was no space.”
“The way it works, if it is helpful, is that these rooms belong to [the character]. And if you go into these rooms you know what they are. They are a part of your life. Of course for us these rooms just became storage spaces. You’d work in a room, and then you’d have to move all of that sh** into another room. And then that became a storage space, and you’d move it into another room. That entire house was like a termite nest.”
“We are not that stupid. But we must be fairly stupid because we didn’t realize that it was going to be like that. And that’s what it was like.”
Vicky Krieps, Daniel-Day Lewis’ co-star in “Phantom Thread,” was so traumatized that she actually had her first ever panic attack during production in these cramped surroundings.
“I had my first panic attack [on set]. Afterwards I understand [why]. Because suddenly, [when] it was Yorkshire and the Cotswolds, I was so in the world of telling the story, but then we are in London. And I had to take an elevator somewhere up and it was small and people were talking and the radio [was on], and suddenly I couldn’t breathe.”
“What Daniel said was true, because in every room, there was a cable. Even if you could overlook the cable it had an energy to it that took away the breath of your character.”
“The paraphernalia of filmmaking is normal,” Day-Lewis continued. “That’s what everyone who works in film is used to. But we rashly believed that we could create a space that was a living world, and in that instant, in that place in London, it proved to not be that thing, it proved to be something else.”
Even director Paul Thomas Anderson admitted it was a huge challenge to overcome, but still insists he wouldn’t have changed his approach.
“We are all OK now. But it was hard, it was really hard. What you’re supposed to do is you’re supposed to build a set on a sound stage, where you don’t have to block off Fitzroy Square. But I wouldn’t do that either. That doesn’t sound like fun. That sounds even worse. Whatever the struggles were, and there were struggles, I think it was worth it.”
In order to make things a little easier Anderson admitted that they tried to shoot the film in sequence, especially because they didn’t have an elevator so everyone had to keep carrying the film equipment up the rather perilous steps.
“We just kept on putting off those scenes in the upper floor,” Anderson remarked, before joking, “We got to the upper floor and just got those scenes done in an afternoon.”
Day-Lewis then chimed in with his own quip of, “It is hard to work with a crew that really hates you,” before detailing specifically why they had every reason to be so peeved. “There were so many people just planted on this spiral stairway. And we had to pretend they didn’t exist as they backed into it. We pretended they weren’t there.”
Still, despite these issues, Day-Lewis did insist, “It was beautiful. This house. It was a beautiful house. The square was beautiful. We were lucky, because there were other places that we looked at that would have been worse.”
You can learn more from the Q&A for “Phantom Thread,” which involved writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville by clicking through the gallery above.
“Phantom Thread” is set in London in 1955, and revolves around a renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis), who runs his prestigious company that dresses royal families, socialites and films stars with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). Reynolds finds inspiration from various muses, the latest of which is Alma (Vicky Krieps), who looks to become a permanent fixture in his life.
“Phantom Thread” is released on December 25.