Take that, all other performers in the history of the medium
Method man: Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis backstage during the Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, on Sunday night. photograph: christopher polk/getty
The 85th Academy Awards will be remembered as the ceremony that propelled Daniel Day-Lewis towards a notable Oscar superlative. To the surprise of nobody who’d been even momentarily awake over the past three months, the Anglo-Irish method man, nominated for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, became the first person to win three Oscars for Best Actor. Take that, all other performers in the history of the medium.
Day-Lewis’s victory went some way towards dismantling the notion that you have to campaign vigorously to secure an Oscar win in the big races. While lesser talents were chewing their way through every fifth-rate chat show, Day-Lewis, as ever, kept interviews to a minimum and spoke only when he was spoken to.
Long resident in Wicklow and an Irish citizen, Day-Lewis has now secured his standing as the greatest actor of his generation and solidified his reputation for choosing roles wisely. Famed for immersing himself in performances, he faltered briefly a few years back when he appeared in the unloved musical Nine, but his turn as Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg’s film was immediately praised for its quiet elegance.
Day-Lewis is not the first actor to win three Oscars. Walter Brennan and Jack Nicholson both managed that feat. But each had to settle for the odd Best Supporting Actor statuette. Day-Lewis has accumulated his three Best Actor wins at the relatively young age of 55.
“I’m definitely out of character at this moment,” he said backstage afterwards. “If I slip back into it by mistake, you can do an intervention of some kind, Heimlich manoeuvre or whatever, if I get stuck in character. No, I’m definitely out of character now.”
It was also the year that a fine populist director was snubbed. Never mind. The late Michael Winner famously turned down an OBE because that “is what you get if you clean the toilets well at King’s Cross station”. He probably wouldn’t have wanted to be lauded among the other plebs in the Academy Awards’ “in memoriam” section. (More seriously, Nagisa Oshima, a genuinely great director, was also left out.) Ha ha! We are, of course, alluding to the exclusion of Ben Affleck from the Best Director shortlist. He showed them. Picking up the award for Best Film for Argo – Affleck was also a producer on that film – he noted that one “can’t hold grudges”.
From one angle, Argo’s victory looked like a surprise. No movie has won the top prize without a nod to the best director since Driving Miss Daisy, in 1989. However, by the time Michelle Obama (pardon?) opened the last envelope, the fast-moving thriller had long been established as runaway favourite. Lincoln had topped the nomination charts with 12 mentions, but won virtually nothing in the preseason bouts. Argo had triumphed with the Directors’ Guild, the Writers’ Guild, the Golden Globes and the best-kept pony category at the North Dakota state gymkhana.