If I had to choose someone to play me in a film– or to play any human– I would choose Daniel Day-Lewis. Words fail to articulate the depth and breadth of his talent. No one is more committed to preparing for his roles. He lives as the character does and by the time filming begins, he inhabits their mind. I understand and accept that Sir Daniel would need to spend copious amounts of time in my company, the better to understand his subject: me. I would show him how I rest on the couch whilst watching the telly. Together we would make my famous brownies. Before long, I would ask myself Is that me lounging on the couch or Sir Daniel? Whose hand reaches for another brownie; mine or his?
I need to talk to you about my two favorite DDL movies: The Last of the Mohicans and The Crucible. In the former, he stars as Nathaniel Poe, aka Hawkeye, the adopted son of a Mohican man. It takes place during colonial times in present day New York when the British and French are fighting for control of the continent. (It was filmed in North Carolina though and the inauthenticity made me kind of mad. When DDL sprinted past a rhododendron plant, I fumed: There are no rhododendrons in the Adirondacks!)
Every man and woman who sees this movies falls under Daniel’s spell. He is very fit and we get to see him display his smooth coppery chest whilst he marathons through the forest. Be mesmerized by his beautiful hair flowing in long dark waves over his shoulders as he ambles through the meadows. He’s thoroughly bi-cultural; he has all of the best attributes of the early American frontiersman and the Mohican Indians.
This allows him to converse easily with the settlers and to understand the more spiritual way of the Natives. And believe me he can rock a pouffy white cotton chemise or buckskin trousers. Legend has it that DDL prepared for his role by living off the land and mastering the loading and firing of era-authentic rifles so well that he could do so while running over hill and dale. No easy feat since the primitive firearms look to be about twelve feet long.
DDL will need all of his well-honed skills when he finds himself in the crosshairs of the French and Indian War, battling to survive with his kin and to win the heart of the spirited Cora, daughter of a British officer. She takes notice of him right away. When they reach the under-siege fort which her father commands, DDL quickly and thoroughly exhibits his integrity and bravery while being sensitive to and appreciative of Cora. Thankfully there is a pause in the French assault late one moonlit night so that this perfect specimen of manliness can romance his newfound soulmate. We can see that she is barely able to contain herself as they embrace; DDL gazing passionately into her eyes as she runs her fingers through his glorious mane. Before long, they are pursued through the mountains by a murderous Huron and his warriors. Cornered on a scenic overlook by a romantic waterfall comes a heart stopping scene…DDL realizes that he must slip away for more gunpowder, but first he bellows at his ladylove over the thunder of the crashing water : Stay alive! No matter what occurs! I will find you! (I love it when DDL gets all impassioned and yells at the top of his lungs.) And then — then! He runs off the path THROUGH the waterfall and drops about a hundred feet into the churning river below. Wow, I’m exhausted. This is what Sir Daniel does to a person.
Our hero plays another righteous and lusty man in The Crucible. (Fun fact: DDL is married to the playwright Arthur Miller’s daughter, the filmmaker, Rebecca Miller.) The famous tale of witch hunting in 1600s New England features DDL as John Proctor, a married farmer and pillar of the community. Reportedly, he built his character’s house and lived there while also planting the nearby fields, using archaic tools.
Sir Daniel is pretty chill at first, just manfully going about his business of farming and being a good neighbor. But before long he will be crying and hollering in the most overwrought fashion. You see, soon the young woman he had been hooking up with (Abby/Winona Ryder) will try and ruin his life after he spurns her. She tries to dispatch his wife by accusing her of witchcraft. And before long the audience is in for quite a fiery display of acting which includes lots of righteous yelling. Before the film is over he will bellow, holler and rage at: witchy Abby, judges, guards, nearly the whole town, in fact! But mostly, he yells at Abby, slut shaming her again and again: She is a whore!…I knew her for a harlot, etc…
When DDL ends up on trial himself, he basically seals his fate when he theatrically strides into a nearby pond, the townspeople in tow, hollering about the court tearing down heaven and raising up a whore. Then he really goes over the top and announces: God is dead! Not something that goes over well with the Puritans.
My fave non-screaming scene is when he is allowed to see his wife who has been convicted of witchery too. They are lead from their respective stone hut jails to the nearby ocean shore. Oh, his brilliant acting– the proud tears, the tender whispers. And finally, one last sobbing shout because he will not sign a confession, Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another!
And what a name it is. It echoes through the great cineplexes of our age and will continue to resonate, whether Sir Daniel Day-Lewis retires to cobble shoes, study hagiography or snowshoe through the Arctic.