Daniel Day-Lewis knows how to make a badass entrance. on a sunny august afternoon, the 45-yeara-old Oscar winner tears up to a roadside seafood shack in rural Connecticut on a yellow Triumph motorcycle. THe locale was his choice. First, because this joint makes an excellent lobster roll. aNd second, because he has no intention of giving out his address to some journalist.
After brushing off all the doom-drenched reports about the making of ‘Gangs’ as “hogwash,” he loosens up. Especially when he talks about how he got bamboozled into playing Bill the Butcher. it started with a phne call to Harvey Weinstein, when the Miramax boss was in the hospital being treated fir a batercial infection in early 2000. “I shot myself in the foot,” says Day-Lewis, laughing. “I thought, ‘I’ll get him while he’s down,’ and I called to ask him for some money for my wife’s film, which he never gave us , by the way. And he said, ‘Martin’s looking for you!'”
The actor hadn’t made a film since 1997’s ‘The Boxer.’ He says he’s spent the past five years with his family (incidentally, his wife, write-director REbecca Miller, won the top prize at Sundance this year with ‘Personal VElocity,’ and without HArvey’s help). HE also says that during his time off, he read five volumes of Winston Chruchill’s Duke of Marlborough biography and apprenticed undere a master shoemaker in fLorence. While he’ll go on and on about Chruchill, the shoemaking thing’s off-limits (but when the tape recorder is off, he’s happy to talk about it for half an hour). During the hiatus, his agents knew not to send him scripts. Hell, Day-Lewis wasn’t even sure if he’d act again. When asked why he regards movies as such a chore and why he’s kept away from them for so long, he unspools the following metaphor: “THe image that springs to mind is when you leave e field lying fallow becayse you’ve used up all the nutrients in the soil. and you can’t grow in that soil for a couple of years.” Hmmm, let’s give him abnother shot: “This may be an unforgiveable comparison,” he says, beginning to crack up, “but women, after a period of time, can give birth to another child because they forgot what it’s like.”
Day-Lewis finally did get in touch with Scorsese, who’d directed him in 1993’s ‘The Age of Innocence’. When they got together at the filmmaker’s Manhattan office, Scorsese immeditaly tried to seduce the actor with photographs from the period. But even through he suspected that Scorsese would need allies against “The Fat Man,” as Day-Lewis calls Weinstein, he wasn’t sure his field had lain fallow long enough. “To any other living acor, if you got a role like Bill the Butcher, directed by Martin Scorsese, in a period epic — it’s like any actor’s wet dream!” says Leonardo DiCaprio, “But I just think he needed to go through a certain process. Plus, looking Marty in the eyes and telling him ‘No’ isn’t humanly possible.”
When Day-Lewis showed up on the ‘Gangs’ set in Italy in September 2000, he was already Bill the Butcher. He spoke with Bill’s broad New York accent and already carried around Bill’s rage — a mental state he would trigger each morning by blasting Eminem while he worked out. One other thing: Everyone had to call him Bill, too. “I just met Daniel recently,” says Cameron Diaz, more than a year aafter ‘Gangs’ wrapped. “The whole time he was Bill. Never Daniel. Always Bill.” Day-Lewis lowers his head and laughs when he hears this. Then I ask if he thinks his costars were intimidated by him. “I suppose it’s a little strange. You’d have to ask them.”
DiCaprio: “You just become used to it after a while. I’ve heard stories about Method actors…and at the end of the day when the director calls ‘Cut,’ they’re still that character and they go home and beat the s— out of their wives. But if I had something I wanted to collaborate on, I never felt like he was going to pull a butcher’s knife on me.”
As much as Day-Lewis enjoyed working with Scorsese again (or, at least as much as Bill did), he’s glad to be done with the film. In fact, he says this so sincerely that when asked if it’s going to be another five years before he acts again, he shrugs and says “I don’t know” in a way that makes you think that number may be closer to 10.
An excerpt from Entertainment Weekly’s “Tough Turf”, Issue #668/669, August23rd/30th, 2002