The sudden, and unexpected, announcement that Daniel Day-Lewis is to retire from acting has definitely come as a shock, and though there will be many who will hope he changes his mind at some point in the future, it’s unlikely that will be the case. Day-Lewis has always maintained a strict control over his career, and it’s also unlikely that he will have made this decision lightly. Whatever his reasons (which at the moment remain personal), the loss of such a highly talented actor at such a relatively young age – he’s 60 – will no doubt be heavily discussed and analysed over the coming days and weeks. But what we can rely on, and indisputably so, is the body of work he’s left us with.
With Paul Thomas Anderson’s 50’s-set fashion drama, Phantom Thread, still to come at the end of 2017, the only person to win the Best Actor Oscar three times – for My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007), and Lincoln (2012) – will have made just twenty-one movie appearances, from his first, uncredited role as a child vandal in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), all the way to Anderson’s latest. It’s an incredibly impressive body of work, and one that highlights Day-Lewis’s versatility and commitment to his craft. Famed for staying in character for the duration of shooting a movie, his approach to inhabiting a character was to immerse himself as much as possible into the world that character was a part of, whether his role was that of an adopted Indian tracker called Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans (1992), the wrongly imprisoned Gerry Conlon in In the Name of the Father (1993), or the vicious gang leader Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York (2002).
Arguably the finest actor of his generation, Day-Lewis’s absence from our screens – albeit something that we’ve become used to over the last thirty years as he’s pursued other interests between projects – may potentially rob us of even greater performances. But the movies and the appearances he does leave us with will remain exceptional examples of his skills as an actor, and his willingness to give everything of himself to a role.