Daniel Day-Lewis was born on April 29, 1957, into a well-to-do and creative family in London, England. His father, Cecil Day-Lewis, was a writer who was England's poet laureate for the last four years of his life. His mother, Jill Balcon, was a Jewish actress.
Day-Lewis's poor behavior at his South London public school prompted his parents to send him to a private school in Kent, called Sevenoaks, but Day-Lewis did not fare much better there. At his new school, he was made fun of by his classmates for being Jewish. Despite his lack of success in school, Day-Lewis had plenty of other talents. He shared the Balcon family inclination to act, but he was initially more drawn to working-class pursuits than to the stage. Enamored with woodworking and craftsmanship as a teenager, he focused for a time on these pursuits rather than on acting. Eventually, he applied to a theater program. He was accepted to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and threw himself fully into the craft of drama. In 1972 his father died of pancreatic cancer.
After his years at the Bristol Old Vic and several stage appearances, Day-Lewis landed a film role in Gandhi (1982). He continued to appear in films and plays for several years, during which time he developed into one of the most skilled actors in the profession. Applying the same ethos to drama as he did to woodworking, Day-Lewis became a method actor, devoting himself physically, psychologically, and emotionally to getting in character for each of his roles. Day-Lewis explained his preparations for roles this way: "I don't rehearse at all in film if I can help it. In talking a character through, you define it. And if you define it, you kill it dead."
Daniel Day-Lewis shifted between theater and film for most of the early 1980s, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company and appearing alongside stars Anthony Hopkins and Sir Laurence Olivier in the 1984 film The Bounty. In 1986, Day-Lewis' career started to take off with his acclaimed role in A Room with a View (1986). His first leading role came shortly after, in 1987, when he starred opposite Juliette Binoche in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. To prepare for the role, Day-Lewis learned Czech, and he subsequently stayed in character for the entire eight-month shoot.
Day-Lewis also dove deep into his next role, playing Christy Brown in My Left Foot (1989). To get into character, the actor stayed in a wheelchair, even off-camera, requiring the crew to move him around and injuring two ribs embodying his character's paralysis. His hard work paid off when he took home an Oscar and a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Best Actor Award, among a slew of other accolades.
Following this success, Day-Lewis took a break from Hollywood and returned to the stage for several years. In 1992, he returned to film with a starring role in Last of the Mohicans. Day-Lewis carried a long-rifle with him for the entire duration of filming, and learned how to
live off the land, make canoes, and hunt and skin animals. His second Academy Award nomination was for his performance in the popular In the Name of the Father (1993). Day-Lewis' next two movies were commercially successful period pieces, The Age of Innocence (1993) and The Crucible (1996).
After shooting the film The Boxer in 1997, Day-Lewis unexpectedly moved to Italy to become an apprentice to a shoemaker, effectively cutting himself off from celebrity life. Day-Lewis has been reluctant to talk about his time out of the public eye, saying,
it was a period of my life that I had a right to without any intervention of that kind. In 2002, though, he was back in front of the camera for a much-lauded performance as Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. Day-Lewis rounded up another Oscar nomination for his role as the knife-wielding gangster and won another BAFTA for best actor.
Day-Lewis gave another stunning performance in the 2007 film There Will Be Blood. An extended period of time was needed to raise funds for the film, which gave the actor two whole years in which to prepare for his role playing an 1880s prospector, which earned him another Academy Award for Best Actor.
I like to learn about things, Day-Lewis said of his preparation.
It was just a great time trying to conceive of the impossibility of that thing. I didn't know anything about mining at the turn of the century in America. My boarding school in Kent didn't exactly teach that.
Day-Lewis landed a starring role in the 2009 film Nine, by director Rob Marshall. Once again, his performance was met with critical acclaim and award nominations.
In 2012, Day-Lewis took on another challenging part, playing Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, in the Steven Spielberg-directed biopic Lincoln, which was based on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The cast also included Sally Field as his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as his son Robert. Day-Lewis' portrayal of Lincoln earned him his third Academy Award for Best Actor.
In 2014, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, knighted Day-Lewis for his services to drama at Buckingham Palace. Three years later in June 2017, the acclaimed actor shocked the world when he announced his retirement. A spokeswoman said in a statement: “Daniel Day-Lewis will no longer be working as an actor. 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. ”
The Oscar winner's final film, Phantom Thread, is a period drama about the London fashion world. The feature was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and released on December 25, 2017.
It was on the set of The Crucible that Day-Lewis met Rebecca Miller, the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller. The two began a romance and eventually married on November 13, 1996. The couple has two children, Ronan Cal Day-Lewis and Cashel Blake Day-Lewis. The actor has one older son, Gabriel Cane Adjani, from a previous relationship with French actress Isabelle Adjani.