Biography of Daniel Day-Lewis 2024

Daniel Day-Lewis is considered one of the greatest method actors of his generation and has won more Academy Awards for Best Actor than any other male actor. He is highly selective about his roles and known for his intense preparation and total immersion into his characters.

This article will provide a comprehensive biography of Daniel Day-Lewis, exploring his early life, acting career, famous roles, acting method, personal life, awards and impact on cinema.

Early Life and Education

Daniel Day-Lewis was born on April 29, 1957 in London, England. His father was the Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis and his mother was English actress Jill Balcon.

  • As a child, Daniel Day-Lewis had a very different upbringing from most. His parents were intellectuals and artists who frequently had other poets, writers and painters over to their home.
  • He grew up in Greenwich, London and had two older sisters, Tamasin and Natasha. His parents both came from Anglo-Irish families.
  • From a young age, Daniel was exposed to literature, poetry and the arts. However, his parents reportedly had a difficult marriage filled with affairs and tensions.

Boarding School

  • At age 14, Daniel Day-Lewis was sent to boarding school at Sevenoaks School in Kent. He despised the strict authoritarian environment and often got into trouble.
  • Classmates recall him being a rebel who questioned authority. However, he was very creative and active in school plays.
  • After getting expelled from one school, he transferred to another called Bedales School which had a more relaxed and creative atmosphere. This allowed his passion for acting to develop.

Early Acting Experiences

  • Daniel first acted in a school production of Cry, The Beloved Country when he was only 9 years old.
  • In his teenage years, he appeared in many school plays and became deeply interested in acting.
  • He also did some acting on television while still a student, appearing in the films Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971) and Gandhi (1982).

Acting Career

  • After finishing school, Daniel was accepted to prestigious acting school Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. However, he ended up dropping out after just 2 years.
  • In the early 1980s, he performed in various theatrical productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company and other troupes. His early stage work included:
    • Romeo and Juliet (1980)
    • A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1980)
    • Dracula (1980)
    • Futurists (1986)

Breakthrough Film Role

  • Daniel Day-Lewis had small parts in several films, but his major breakthrough came when he was cast as the lead in My Beautiful Laundrette (1985).
  • He played a street punk named Johnny who has a same-sex romance with a Pakistani businessman. The interracial gay love story, combined with a statement about Thatcher-era Britain, made the film highly acclaimed.
  • Daniel’s raw energy and talent was widely noticed. The role showcased his versatility and ability to fully inhabit complex characters.

Method Acting in Film

  • After this breakthrough, Daniel went on to star in a series of acclaimed films in the late 1980s and early 1990s that established him as one of the most talented method actors of his generation. Some highlights include:

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) – Daniel played a womanizing Czech surgeon and gave a sensual performance. To prepare, he learned Czech and stayed in character throughout filming.

My Left Foot (1989) – Daniel’s portrayal of Christy Brown, an artist with cerebral palsy who can only control his left foot, was hugely praised. He spent 8 weeks in a wheelchair prior to shooting.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992) – Daniel learned to live off the land for his role of Nathaniel Hawkeye. He was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance.

In the Name of the Father (1993) – Daniel was nominated for another Oscar for playing Gerry Conlon, who was wrongfully convicted by the British government for an IRA bombing.

First Oscar Win with Lincoln (2012)

  • After starring in The Age of Innocence (1993), Daniel took an extended break from acting and did not appear in another movie until Gangs of New York in 2002.
  • He continued to take very selective roles throughout the 2000s, earning his second Academy Award nomination for There Will Be Blood (2007).
  • In 2012, Daniel transformed into President Abraham Lincoln for Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed biopic Lincoln. His incredible performance won him the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Retirement from Acting (As of Now)

  • After winning the Oscar for Lincoln in 2013, Daniel Day-Lewis has not acted in another film.
  • He is very selective about roles and only acts when he feels truly compelled by the creative challenge.
  • In 2017, he reportedly retired from acting. However, given his sporadic career, there is still a possibility he may return to a role he feels passionate about in the future.

Acting Method and Craft

  • Daniel Day-Lewis is renowned for his total immersion into characters he portrays. He spends extensive time preparing for roles and loses himself entirely in the part.
  • For My Left Foot, he spent 8 weeks prior to filming living in Christy Brown’s actual house and going about in a wheelchair. He would have crew members lift him in and out of the wheelchair to truly experience Brown’s life.
  • For his role as Nathaniel Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, he lived off the land for days prior to shooting. He learned to skin animals, build canoes and shoot a flintlock rifle.

Staying in Character During Filming

  • During shooting, Daniel Day-Lewis stays fully in character and demands others treat him as the person he’s portraying.
  • For Lincoln, he kept the historical Lincoln accent on and off set. He would also text fellow cast members as Lincoln sharing thoughts he imagined Lincoln would have.
  • For My Left Foot, he had crew members wheel him around and feed him between takes.

Extensive Research

  • To accurately portray complex figures from history, Daniel conducts extensive research on every aspect of their lives.
  • For Lincoln, he pored over books, letters, photos and artifacts from the Lincoln archives and worked closely with historian James Swanson.
  • To play dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock in Phantom Thread, Daniel learned the meticulous skills of 1950s couture sewing and dressmaking.

Famous Roles and Performances

Lincoln (2012)

  • Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s biopic is considered one of the greatest acting achievements in cinema history.
  • He captures Lincoln’s qualities as a decisive leader, mournful father grieving lost sons, and overall compassionate human being.
  • He stunningly recreates Lincoln’s iconic voice and mannerisms. The performance required years of preparation and research.

Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007)

  • As oil prospector turned tyrant Daniel Plainview, Daniel Day-Lewis gives an explosive performance burning with intensity.
  • To develop Plainview’s distinct voice and persona, he studied letters from 19th century miners and pioneered the voiceover by speaking into a tape recorder for hours each day.
  • The iconic “milkshake” monologue scene demonstrates Daniel’s ability to command the screen through sheer presence.

Christy Brown in My Left Foot (1989)

  • Daniel’s sensitive portrayal of Irish artist Christy Brown who has cerebral palsy is magnificent and won him his first Academy Award.
  • To simulate Brown’s physical handicap, Daniel masterfully controls his own body, only allowing movement in his left foot on camera.
  • He also captures Christy’s artistic passion, defiance, wit and deep yearning for love. The performance inspired many who saw disabilities could not dampen the human spirit.

Personal Life

  • Daniel had a few romantic relationships early in his career, including Juliette Binoche, Julia Roberts and Winona Ryder. However, most were short-lived.
  • He is known for being very private about his personal life and has given very few interviews over the years.

Marriage to Rebecca Miller

  • While filming The Crucible in 1996, Daniel reconnected with writer Rebecca Miller, daughter of playwright Arthur Miller.
  • The two had originally met briefly when Daniel was a teenager, but started a relationship and eventually married in 1996.
  • Rebecca and Daniel have maintained an extremely private life together and have two sons – Ronan Cal Day-Lewis and Cashel Blake Day-Lewis. They split time living in Ireland and the United States.

Semi-Retirement from Acting

  • Daniel is known for being very selective about acting roles, only working when he truly feels compelled by an artistic challenge.
  • After filming Lincoln, Daniel announced he would be taking an extended break from film and did not make another movie for many years.
  • In 2017, his wife Rebecca stated in an interview that Daniel had decided to retire from acting. However, Daniel himself has never officially confirmed retirement.

Accolades and Awards

  • Best Actor – My Left Foot (1989)
  • Best Actor – There Will Be Blood (2007)
  • Best Actor – Lincoln (2012)

Additional Oscar Nominations

  • Best Supporting Actor – In the Name of the Father (1993)
  • Best Actor – Gangs of New York (2002)

Other Awards

  • 3 BAFTA Awards for Best Actor
  • 2 Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor
  • 2 Screen Actors Guild Awards
  • 3 New York Film Critics Circle Awards
  • Honorary Cesar Award in France

Academy Award Records

  • Only male actor to win 3 Best Actor Oscars
  • One of only 3 male actors with 5 total acting Oscar nominations
  • Youngest person to receive 2 Best Actor Oscar wins (age 39 and 45)

Impact and Legacy

  • Daniel Day-Lewis’ intense commitment to his craft demonstrated the heights actors could aspire to with method acting techniques.
  • Many actors working today, such as Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, credit Day-Lewis as inspiring their own immersive acting processes.

Raising the Bar for Biopics

  • Biopics were often seen as superficial Oscar-bait before Daniel Day-Lewis’ anatomically accurate portrayals of figures like Christy Brown and Abraham Lincoln.
  • His diligent historical research and physical transformations demonstrated the artistic potential of the biopic genre.

Selective Filmography of Risks

  • Daniel took very few roles over his career and selected projects he found intellectually challenging.
  • His risky choices expanded audiences’ ideas of a leading man. For example, playing a gay punk in My Beautiful Laundrette in the 1980s broke many barriers.

Master of His Craft

  • Very few artists in any discipline achieve the consummate mastery of their form that Daniel Day-Lewis has achieved in acting.
  • His meticulous craft, research, and ability to immerse himself is unparalleled in cinema. Audiences are transported by his performances.


Daniel Day-Lewis is a towering figure in cinema history thanks to his total commitment to method acting and his selective, brilliant filmography. No actor has ever dedicated themselves so fully to every role or achieved such mastery of character transformation and historical recreation.

His intense preparation and immersion into characters is legendary, often living the lives of figures like Christy Brown and Lincoln prior to filming. Daniel elevated the biopic genre through his disciplined attention to detail in recreating real lives. His award record speaks for itself, as he is the only man with 3 Best Actor Oscars.

Daniel Day-Lewis has inspired generations of actors with his unwavering dedication to his craft. Even in supposed retirement, his legacy lives on through the unforgettable characters he brought to life onscreen.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where was Daniel Day-Lewis born?

Daniel Day-Lewis was born on April 29, 1957 in London, England. His father was the Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis and his mother was English actress Jill Balcon.

What was Daniel Day-Lewis’ big breakthrough role?

Daniel Day-Lewis had his major breakthrough playing the punk rocker Johnny in the 1985 film My Beautiful Laundrette. His raw energy in the role brought him widespread critical acclaim.

How does Daniel Day-Lewis prepare for his roles?

Daniel Day-Lewis is renowned for his intensive preparation and total immersion into the characters he plays. For example, he spent 8 weeks in a wheelchair prior to filming My Left Foot to gain understanding of Christy Brown’s life.

What films has Daniel Day-Lewis won Oscars for?

Daniel Day-Lewis has won Best Actor Academy Awards for My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007), and Lincoln (2012). He is the only male actor in history with 3 Best Actor Oscar wins.

Is Daniel Day-Lewis completely retired from acting?

In 2017, Daniel Day-Lewis’ wife stated in an interview that he had decided to retire from acting. However, Day-Lewis himself has never officially confirmed he is permanently retired. Given his selective career, he could potentially return to a role he is passionate about.

What actors has Daniel Day-Lewis influenced?

Daniel Day-Lewis has inspired many actors of the next generation with his meticulous method acting techniques. Actors like Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal have all praised Day-Lewis and emulated his intensive preparation for roles.

What was Daniel Day-Lewis’ father’s profession?

Daniel Day-Lewis’ father was the famous Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis. He served as the UK Poet Laureate from 1968 until his death in 1972. Daniel was very close to his father and was profoundly influenced by poetry and literature from a young age.

Where does Daniel Day-Lewis live now?

Daniel Day-Lewis is highly private about his personal life. It is believed he primarily lives in Ireland with wife Rebecca Miller, but also has a home in the United States. They split time between their properties in Ireland and the U.S.

How selective is Daniel Day-Lewis in choosing roles?

Daniel Day-Lewis is legendary for being highly selective about his acting roles. There are often 5+ year gaps between his films, and he only acts when he feels compelled by an artistic challenge. He is not at all prolific – after a 30+ year career, he’s only been in around 20 films.