Monday, July 20, 2015

Justifiable immodesty

In researching a piece I'm writing for another blog, I learned just now that Daniel Day-Lewis is officially on an acting hiatus.

It's hard to know with someone like Day-Lewis, who might go five years between projects just because he's spending those five years trying to learn his next character. He cares about it that much and is that good at it. (If he's that good at it, he should be able to do it in three, har har.)

But wikipedia ensures me that this is a scheduled break. Not a permanent one, you'd hope -- but after winning three Oscars, what more does Day-Lewis have to prove?

Officially, nothing. And I say "officially" because he appears to have said so himself.

I was a bit alarmed to read that Day-Lewis -- who, despite his greatness, strikes me as a modest person -- gave the reason for his hiatus as the fact that it would be difficult to top his last performance as Abraham Lincoln.

Not only does that make it seem like he's in love with his own performance -- any truly humble actor should say something like "Aw shucks, was I really that good?" -- but also that the only reason to keep working is to improve on what you've done before.

Certainly, a failure to heed at least the logic of that second notion has led some great public personalities to continue doing what they do long past the point that it remained dignified. Your average professional athlete will typically need to be a shell of his former self for a good three to five seasons before the idea of hanging it up even occurs to him. And with actors, you have greats who become laughingstocks as they try to extend their careers into questionable roles after their 70th birthday. (I'm looking at you, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.)

But by going in the opposite direction -- by going into a short-term retirement of sorts at only age 56 (the age he was during the 2013 Oscars) -- Day-Lewis has seemed to commit an opposite sort of sin. It may be more dignified, but it's also less gracious. He may not be craving the spotlight, but it's almost as though the spotlight is beneath him. He's mastered acting.

Justified or not, I'd be lying if I said it didn't annoy me a little bit. It's not exactly biting the hand that feeds him, but it is saying that he doesn't care if the hand stops feeding him. Since his audience is kind of that hand, and since I'm a member of that audience, I kind of care that he doesn't care.

But maybe it's more that I just don't think the world should be deprived of someone of Day-Lewis' staggering talents for long periods of time. Who does he think he is to deny us?

Oh yeah -- he's the guy who understands the phrase "leave them wanting more." That phrase is completely foreign to most public figures.

And even if he isn't officially working right now, I'm half inclined to believe he's applying method acting to whatever it is he's doing, so he'll be in the best possible shape to play an acclaimed actor coming out of semi-retirement for his next role.

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