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Famous Half Jews: The Unbearable Lightness of Being Daniel Day Lewis

Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis (born 29 April 1957) is an English actor with British and Irish citizenship. He is known as one of the most selective actors in the film industry, having starred in only four films since 1997, with as many as five years between roles. He is a method actor, known for his constant devotion to and research of his roles. Often, he will remain completely in character for the duration of the shooting schedule of his films.

His portrayals of Christy Brown in My Left Foot (1989) and Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007) won Academy and BAFTA Awards for Best Actor, and Screen Actors Guild as well as Golden Globe Awards for There Will Be Blood. His role as Bill "The Butcher" Cutting in Gangs of New York earned him the BAFTA Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

Day-Lewis was born in London, the son of actress Jill Balcon and the Irish born Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis. His mother was of Baltic Jewish descent, the daughter of Sir Michael Balcon, who was the former head of Ealing Studios. Two years after his birth in London, the Day-Lewis family moved to Croom's Hill, Greenwich, where Daniel grew up along with his older sister, Tamasin Day-Lewis, who later became a documentary filmmaker and television chef. Cecil Day-Lewis was already 53 years old at the time of his son's birth, and seemed to take little interest in his children. Following frequent health problems, he died when Day-Lewis was 15, leaving him feeling unsettled about his lack of emotion, and regretting not having been closer to his father.

Living in Greenwich, Day-Lewis found himself among tough South London kids and being Jewish and "posh", he was often bullied. He mastered the local accent and mannerisms and credits that with being his first convincing performances. Later in life, he was known to speak of himself as very much a disorderly character in his younger years, often in trouble for shoplifting and other petty crimes.

In 1968, Day-Lewis's parents, finding him to be too wild, sent him to Sevenoaks School in Kent, as a boarder. Though he detested the school, he was introduced to his two most prominent interests, woodworking and acting. His disdain for the school grew, and after two years at Sevenoaks, he was transferred to the Bedales School in Petersfield, which his sister attended. This transfer led to his film debut at the age of 14 in Sunday Bloody Sunday in which he played a vandal in an uncredited role. He described the experience as "heaven", for getting paid £2 to vandalize expensive cars parked outside his local church.

Leaving Bedales in 1975, his unruly attitude had faded and he needed to make a career choice. Although he had excelled onstage at the National Youth Theatre, he decided to become a cabinet-maker, applying for a five-year apprenticeship. However, because of a lack of experience, he was not accepted. He then applied (and was accepted) at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, which he attended for three years, eventually performing at the Bristol Old Vic itself. (At one point he played understudy to Pete Postlethwaite, whom he would later play opposite in In the Name of the Father, and with whom he shares a brief scene in Last of the Mohicans where Postlethwaite is a British officer).

During the early '80s, Day-Lewis worked in theatre and television including Frost in May (where he played an impotent man-child) and How Many Miles to Babylon? (as a World War I officer torn between allegiances to Britain and Ireland) for the BBC. Eleven years after his film debut, Day-Lewis continued his film career with a small part in Gandhi (1982) as Colin, a street thug who bullies the title character, only to be immediately chastised by his high-strung mother. Initially rejected for the part because he was told he looked too much like "the son of a poet laureate", he approached director Richard Attenborough in person to ask for the part. In 1983, he had his big theatre break when he took over the lead in Another Country. The following year, he had a supporting role as the conflicted, but ultimately loyal first mate in The Bounty, after which he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, playing Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and Flute in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Day-Lewis encountered several problems on tour, including a "disagreement" with Romeo's director, and was the only actor not to renew his contract for the upcoming year, where he would have been featured in the regular theatres.

Next he played half of a gay, bi-racial couple in the film My Beautiful Laundrette. Day-Lewis gained further public notice when the film was released simultaneously with A Room with a View (1986), in which he played an entirely different character: the effete upper-class fiancé of the main character (played by Helena Bonham Carter).

In 1987, Day-Lewis assumed leading man status by starring in Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, co-starring Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche, as a Czech doctor whose hyperactive and purely physical sex life is thrown into disarray when he allows himself to become emotionally involved with a woman. During the eight-month shoot he learned Czech and first began to refuse to break character on or off the set for the entire shooting schedule.

Day-Lewis put his personal version of "method acting" into full use in 1989 with his performance as Christy Brown in Jim Sheridan's My Left Foot which won him numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actor. During filming, his eccentricities came to the fore, due to his refusal to break character. Playing a severely paralyzed character on screen, off screen Day-Lewis had to be wheeled around the set in his wheelchair, and crew members would curse at having to lift him over camera and lighting wires, all so that he might gain insight into all aspects of Brown's life, including the embarrassments. He broke two ribs during filming from assuming a hunched-over position in his wheelchair for so many weeks.

Day-Lewis returned to the stage in 1989 to work with Richard Eyre, in Hamlet at the National Theatre, but collapsed in the middle of a scene where the ghost of Hamlet's father first appears to his son. He began sobbing uncontrollably and refused to go back on stage; he was replaced by Ian Charleson before a then-unknown Jeremy Northam finished what little was left of the production's run. One rumour following the incident was that Day-Lewis had seen the ghost of his own father, although the incident was officially attributed to exhaustion. He confirmed on the British celebrity chat show Parkinson, that this rumour was true. He has not appeared on stage since.

In 1992, three years after his Oscar win, The Last of the Mohicans was released. Day-Lewis's character research for this film was well-publicized; he reportedly underwent rigorous weight training and learned to live off the land and forest where his character lived, camping, hunting and fishing. He even carried a long rifle at all times during filming in order to remain in character and learned how to skin animals.

Day-Lewis returned in 1993, playing Newland Archer in Martin Scorsese's adaptation of the Edith Wharton novel The Age of Innocence, opposite Winona Ryder and Michelle Pfeiffer. To prepare for the film, set in America's Gilded Age, he wore 1870s-period aristocratic clothing around New York City for two months, including top hat, cane and cape during colder periods.

He returned to work with Jim Sheridan on In the Name of the Father, in which he played Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four who were wrongfully convicted of a bombing carried out by the Provisional IRA. He lost a substantial amount of weight for the part, kept his Northern Irish accent on and off the set for the entire shooting schedule, and spent stretches of time in a prison cell. He also insisted that crew members throw cold water at him and verbally abuse him. The film earned him his second Academy Award nomination, his third BAFTA nomination, and his second Golden Globe nomination.

In 1996, Day-Lewis starred in a film version of The Crucible, the play by Arthur Miller, again opposite Winona Ryder. He followed that with Jim Sheridan's The Boxer as a former boxer and IRA member recently released from prison. His preparation included training for two years with former boxing world champion Barry McGuigan.

Following The Boxer, Day-Lewis took a leave of absence from acting by putting himself into "semi-retirement" and returning to his old passion of woodworking. He moved to Florence, Italy, where he became intrigued by the craft of shoemaking, eventually apprenticing as a shoemaker. For a time his exact whereabouts and actions were not made publicly known. Day-Lewis has declined to discuss this period of his life, stating that "it was a period of my life that I had a right to without any intervention of that kind."

After a five-year absence from filming, Day-Lewis returned to act in multiple Academy Award nominated films such as Gangs of New York, a film directed by Martin Scorsese (with whom he had worked on The Age of Innocence) and produced by Harvey Weinstein. In his role as the villain gang leader "Bill the Butcher", he starred along with Leonardo DiCaprio, who played Bill's young protegé. He began his lengthy, self-disciplined process by taking lessons as an apprentice butcher, and while filming, he was never out of character between takes (including keeping his character's New York accent). At one point during filming, he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He refused to wear a warmer coat or to take treatment because it was not in keeping with the period. However, he was eventually persuaded to seek medical treatment. His performance in Gangs of New York earned him his third Academy Award nomination and won him the BAFTA Award for Best Actor.

After Gangs of New York, Day-Lewis's wife, director Rebecca Miller (daughter of playwright Arthur Miller), offered him the lead role in her film The Ballad of Jack and Rose, in which he played a dying man with regrets over how his life had evolved and over how he had raised his teenage daughter. During filming he arranged to live separately from his wife in order to achieve the "isolation" needed to focus on his own character's reality. The film received mixed reviews.

In 2007, Day-Lewis appeared in director Paul Thomas Anderson's loose adaptation of the Upton Sinclair novel Oil!, titled There Will Be Blood. Day-Lewis received BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild (which he dedicated to Heath Ledger), Critic's Choice, Golden Globe, and his second Academy Award for Best Actor (2008) for his performance in the film, making him the only non-American to receive two Best Actor awards.

Day-Lewis will next be seen in the lead role of Rob Marshall's musical adaptation of Nine.

Day-Lewis currently holds dual British and Irish citizenship; he became an Irish citizen in 1993.

He rarely talks publicly about his personal life. He had a relationship with French actress Isabelle Adjani, which lasted six years and eventually ended after a split and reconciliation. Gabriel-Kane Day-Lewis was born on 9 April 1995 in New York, months after the relationship between the two actors had ended.

In 1996, while working on the film version of the stage-play The Crucible, he visited the home of playwright Arthur Miller where he was introduced to the writer's daughter, Rebecca Miller. They married later that year. The couple have two sons, Ronan Cal Day-Lewis (born 14 June 1998) and Cashel Blake Day-Lewis (born in May 2002) and divide their time between their homes in the U.S. and Ireland.

He is a supporter of Millwall Football Club.

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