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Daniel Day-Lewis - Biography

The Oscar-winner is known for roles in My Left Foot and Gangs of New York

Daniel Day-Lewis - Biography
Francesca Shillcock
Senior Features Writer
Updated: July 13, 2023
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When My Left Foot actor Daniel Day-Lewis disappeared from the Hollywood scene in 1997, rumours that he'd run off to Italy to become a cobbler led to pun-filled headlines such as "The Last Of The Moccasins". Daniel insists he never really turned his back on films, though. "I don't ever recall announcing my retirement," he said in 2002. "But as I haven't worked in four or five years, I guess it's not an unreasonable assumption." The break from the limelight was very much in character for the double Oscar-winner. 

Daniel Day-Lewis: early life and career

Born in London on April 29, 1957 to Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis and his actress wife, Daniel went to public school in Kent before studying acting in Bristol. Four years after his debut on the West End in 1982, his status as a rising star was confirmed when he landed the movie A Room With A View.

This screen breakthrough was followed by the powerful double whammy of The Unbearable Lightness Of Being and My Left Foot. In 1989, nearly 20 years after he first appeared on film as a child vandal in Sunday Bloody Sunday, Daniel received his first Oscar for My Left Foot, based on the real life story of Christy Brown, an Irish writer and painter who had cerebral palsy. After "nervous exhaustion" forced him to quit a National Theatre stint as Hamlet in London – he was replaced by understudy Jeremy Northam – Daniel took a few years out. When he returned it was with a trio of well-received films, The Last Of The Mohicans, The Age Of Innocence and In The Name Of The Father. At the top of his game Daniel retreated from Hollywood for a second time. 

During this time, he became a father after actress Isabelle Adjani bore him a son named Gabriel in 1995. His comeback projects this time around – The Boxer and a role alongside Winona Ryder in The Crucible – weren't so well-received. It was then he made his lengthiest retreat from the spotlight. Although not true, the shoemaker stories were rooted in fact. After buying custom-made footwear on a trip to Italy he became fascinated with the process, and often returned to watch the craftsmen at work. There was speculation that his new interest in cobbling was simply the obsessive actor's customary intense preparation for a film role. After all, he'd camped out in the wild before filming The Last Of The Mohicans, taken to the streets of the Big Apple in 19th-century costume for The Age Of Innocence, and learned to paint with his toes for My Left Foot. "I most enjoy the loss of self that can only be achieved through detailed understanding of another life – not by limping and growing a moustache," he says. His last departure from the limelight could have become permanent had Age Of Innocence director Martin Scorsese not asked Daniel to return to the Hollywood fold to make 2002 flick Gangs Of New York. 

Daniel Day-Lewis: later career

Since then, jobs have been few and far between with only The Ballad Of Jack And Rose making it onto his CV before 2008's BAFTA and Oscar-winning turn in There Will Be Blood. Three years later, Steven Spielberg had to pursue him doggedly before finally recruiting him for the title role in Lincoln, even at one point receiving a detailed rejection letter from the star. He spoke in the statesman's rural Kentucky accent for the duration of the shoot and asked the crew to refer to him as Mr. President even when cameras stopped rolling. 

Soon the film industry would call him by another title – the greatest actor of all time. Playing Honest Abe had secured him a third Academy Award, making him the first man in history to do so. Despite such accolades, the reluctant icon favours a quiet life. He lives in County Wicklow, Ireland with his wife, writer and director Rebecca Miller – daughter of famed playwright Arthur Miller – and their two sons, Ronan and Cashel Blake.

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