An Uncommon Thread — The Craftsmanship of Daniel Day-Lewis | SENATUS

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An Uncommon Thread — The Craftsmanship of Daniel Day-Lewis

7 March 2018

PHANTOM THREAD - Academy Award Nominations 
BEST PICTURE
JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison and Daniel Lupi
BEST ACTOR
Daniel Day-Lewis
BEST DIRECTOR
Paul Thomas Anderson
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Lesley Manville
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Jonny Greenwood
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Mark Bridges

By Christian Barker

The star of Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread, Daniel Day-Lewis is perhaps the greatest craftsman in acting today. Eschewing the mass-production approach of many Hollywood stars, the actor has made just 16 movies over the past 30 years.

His pace is slow, his manner particular, methodical, precise — just like the craftspeople whose work he so appreciates, and whose efforts are celebrated in Anderson's latest film.

In Phantom Thread, Day-Lewis plays a mid-century British couturier, Reynolds Woodcock, whose dressmaking is inspired by the likes of Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell, and whose personality is based in part on the great Cristobal Balenciaga.

The movie's costume designer Mark Bridges says Day-Lewis spent a year prior to filming getting into character. This involved studying with a New York dressmaker and learning how to create an ornate women’s garment, draping cloth as Balenciaga did, and even single-handedly sewing a copy of a Balenciaga gown. (The results were so successful that Day-Lewis's wife wears the dress in public.)

To create Woodcock's own wardrobe, Day-Lewis guided Bridges to legendary London tailor Anderson & Sheppard (where the actor's father, poet laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, had been outfitted), the two working together to bespeak a series of period-correct garments. For Woodcock's footwear, Day-Lewis went to his own bespoke shoemaker, George Cleverley in the Royal Arcade, Mayfair.

In the 1990s, during a hiatus from acting, Day-Lewis undertook an apprenticeship with the late, great Florentine shoemaker, Stefano Bemer. For Phantom Thread, he turned the tables, drafting in Cleverley's proprietor, master shoemaker George Glasgow Sr., to play a role in the movie: Nigel Cheddar-Goode.

Describing the character to Glasgow, Day-Lewis said, "You are my banker, you are my financial adviser, you are my friend, but you are a bit of a scallywag."

Master shoemaker George Glasgow Sr. seen in Phantom Thread, seated to the left of Daniel Day-Lewis

"Working with Daniel Day-Lewis is an absolute pleasure both because of his professionalism and his true dedication the the art," Glasgow tells us. "He is a very kind person and one I’m glad to call a friend. He is always very well prepared and a joy to be with. He has an appreciation for all things handmade and all forms of craftsmanship."

As Glasgow recalls, "The experience on the set of Phantom Thread was amazing. It’s something I’ll never forget. I was very nervous because more than anything, I didn't want to let Daniel down or not be able to deliver what he thought I could in my scenes."

Glasgow gained an enormous respect for the cinematic craft, he says. "The day is very long on set and requires a lot of concentration — to be honest, I don’t know how filmmakers and actors do it for months on end. It must be extremely tiring. Being on set with Daniel made me appreciate how focused the actors, director and so forth are. It's a very serious business and each scene requires a lot of attention to detail and concentration — just like our shoemakers in their craft."

Day-Lewis was always destined to be a craftsman of some sort.

Though he grew up in a privileged, literary household, after finishing a troublesome run at various private schools, rather than progress to studies at one of Britain's more prestigious universities, Day-Lewis gravitated toward working with his hands. As a young man, he took on jobs laboring at construction sites, working on the docks, and for a time, considered a career in carpentry.

However, when he realized that cabinetmaking wouldn't provide quite the sort of creative outlet he sought, Day-Lewis switched to acting, which he's first explored with a small role in the movie Sunday Bloody Sunday as a teen. After a stint honing his skills on the stage, Day-Lewis made his first major movie appearance in 1982's Gandhi, followed by lead roles in 1985's My Beautiful Laundrette and A Room with a View, and 1988's The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

During filming of 1989's My Left Foot, he immersed himself in the character of cerebral palsy afflicted writer Christy Brown to such an extent that he insisted on remaining wheelchair-bound and being spoonfed even off set — these method efforts paying off with the first of his three Best Actor Oscars.

Movie Tidbits
Day-Lewis won the Best Actor Oscar for his roles in My Left Foot (1990), There Will Be Blood (2008) and Lincoln (2013), and was nominated as well for In the Name of the Father (1994), Gangs of New York (2003) and Phantom Thread (2018).

Day-Lewis learnt to hunt and live off the land in the traditional Native American manner for 1992's The Last of the Mohicans. To channel Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four while filming In the Name of the Father, he ate only scant prison rations, slept in a cell, instructed crew to verbally abuse him, and stuck to an Irish accent whether or not cameras were rolling.

The same year, 1993, he prowled New York's streets in authentic 19th century costume preparing for Martin Scorsese's Age of Innocence. For that director's 2002 movie Gangs of New York, Day-Lewis thought it necessary to become adept at knife throwing and butchery.

Movie Tidbits
Besides Martin Scorsese, Day-Lewis also worked twice with director Paul Thomas Anderson in There Will Be Blood (2008) as well as Phantom Thread (2018).

Now, he's developed prowess in dressmaking to better walk a mile in the (bespoke George Cleverley) shoes of couturier Reynolds Woodcock.

Last year, Day-Lewis announced that the movie would be his last. We look forward to discovering which craft he'll turn his hand to next. 

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