Daniel Day-Lewis in surprise retirement from acting

Donald Clarke: Oscar-winner will likely honour commitment to silence on the matter

Sir Daniel Day-Lewis is to retire from acting, it has been announced. The surprising news came in a statement to Variety magazine from his representative, Leslee Dart.

“Daniel Day-Lewis will no longer be working as an actor,” the announcement read. “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.”

Famously discreet about his motivations and private life, Day-Lewis, who has long had a home in Co Wicklow, will almost certainly honour that commitment to continued silence on the matter.


If Day-Lewis does stay away from acting, as suggested, then his last film will be Paul Thomas Anderson's upcoming Phantom Thread. Set in the fashion world of 1950s London, the picture, set for release at Christmas, also stars Leslie Manville and Camilla Rutherford. Oscar nuts will be playing close watch.

Thrice best actor

Sir Daniel is famously the only man to have won three Academy Awards as best actor. Day-Lewis's second Oscar was for Anderson's There Will be Blood in 2007. One can hardly imagine a more dramatic way of leaving the limelight than by breaking his own record. (He would also pass out Walter Brennan and Jack Nicholson, who, with best supporting awards on their shelf, tie his record for most male acting Oscars.)

He has always had an uneasy relationship with the art. In 1989, he broke down on stage while playing Hamlet at the National Theatre in London. It was suggested that the pressure of playing opposite the title character’s ghost stirred up memories of his own father, the former Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis. He has yet to return to the stage.

Day-Lewis is, however, capable of laughing at his own reputation for dangerous commitment. “I’m loath to talk about it because I’m almost invariably misrepresented,” he said in 2006.

‘People think I’m mad’

“Perhaps it’s my own fault, though, because if I don’t talk about it, others do so on my behalf and Chinese whispers begin. People already think I’m mad because I blew a fuse in Hamlet, so maybe I should rectify that, or at least attempt to.”

When playing the disabled writer Christy Brown in My Left Foot - for which he won his first Oscar in 1989 - he talked repeatedly to people with cerebral palsy and stayed in character throughout the shoot. He learned to live off the land when shooting Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans.

By the time of There Will be Blood, he had become a little more relaxed in his approach. "In terms of the physical preparation, there wasn't really anything to do except just stay fit and then just start digging holes," he laughed when discussing his role as deranged prospector Daniel Plainview.

Day-Lewis won his most recent Oscar for playing Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln.

Holder of a British and an Irish passport (Cecil Day-Lewis was born in Co Laois), Sir Daniel has always been cautious in selecting his roles. Since breaking through with Stephen Frears's My Beautiful Laundrette in 1985, he has appeared in such films as Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence, Philip Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Nicholas Hytner's The Crucible.

It was while working on that last version of Arthur Miller's play that he became close to the author's daughter, Rebecca Miller. They married in 1996 and have been part of the Wicklow furniture ever since.

Speculation concerning the announcement will meander around the information that Sir Daniel had his 60th birthday in April. But that barely counts as middle-age for an actor these days. The news also coincides with confirmation that Mark Wahlberg will appear in no further Transformers films. There's a position open there for Sir Daniel.

We’re joking, of course.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist