“She thought, ‘I’ll go and rent a movie that fella did,’ and so she went and got ‘Gangs of New York,’ and was absolutely appalled at the thought she was releasing her dear child into the hands of this monster,” Day-Lewis told reporters in New York recently. “So, there was a flurry of phone calls and somebody sent a copy of ‘Age of Innocence’ to her and apparently that did the trick.”
The British-born Irish citizen seemed relieved everything worked out as he praised Dillon’s acting talent and strong character.
“I felt very close to Dillon and I’m very fond of him,” Day-Lewis said, recalling how he felt it necessary to sit the boy down and explain that the script required his character to treat him poorly and he hoped the child wouldn’t take it personally.
“I created this portentous atmosphere,” the 50-year-old Oscar winner said. “He looked at me like I was insane. (Like:) ‘Of course, I know that. What’s your problem?’ He was one step ahead of us pretty much most of the time.”
Sitting on a panel at New York’s Warldorf Astoria hotel with actors Ciaran Hinds and Paul Dano, Day-Lewis and the film’s writer-director, Paul Thomas Anderson, agreed Dillon was reluctant to physically struggle with Hinds and slap Day-Lewis in the critically acclaimed, award-winning movie.
“He developed a taste for it, though,” Hinds deadpanned.
The latest effort from Anderson, who also directed “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia,” was inspired by the 1920s muck-raking novel “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair. In the movie, Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a struggling silver miner and single father who becomes a self-made oil tycoon in early 1900s California.
Asked what the challenge is in playing a truly miserable character like Plainview, Day-Lewis replied with a laugh, “No challenge.”
Assuming a more serious tone, the actor went on: “I never saw him as a miserable (jerk.) The challenge is, I daresay, the same as it always is — which is just to try and discover a life that isn’t your own and Plainview, as he came to me, in Paul’s beautiful script, was a man whose life I didn’t understand at all. It was a life that was big and mysterious to me and that unleashed a fatal curiosity, which I had no choice but to pursue.”
The star of such Irish-themed films as “In the Name of the Father,” “My Left Foot” and “The Boxer” said he viewed his “There Will Be Blood” character as “a fella trying to make a living.”
As for whether Plainview descends into madness throughout the course of the film or was just always a hostile, angry individual, Day-Lewis observed: “I believe you see the seeds of the man you meet at the end in the man you meet at the beginning. … It never occurred to me his journey was a short one.”
Unlike many of his other roles, portraying Plainview didn’t require Day-Lewis to dedicate himself to learning a whole new set of skills as an actor the way he did when he played a man with cerebral palsy in “My Left Foot” or a butcher/mob boss in “Gangs of New York.”
“When you discover Plainview at the beginning, he’s almost learning himself how to do it and anyone that can swing an ax or a sledge or a pickaxe, which anyone can do, can dig a hole in the ground, so in terms of the physical preparation, there wasn’t really anything to do except to just stay fit and start digging holes. (Prospectors) kind of made it up as they went along,” he remarked.
Anderson said he decided to cast 23-year-old “Little Miss Sunshine” star Paul Dano in “Blood” after seeing him act with Day-Lewis in a film directed by the older actor’s wife, Rebecca Miller.
“The first time I’d seen Paul was in ‘The Ballad of Jack and Rose,’ and I called Rebecca Miller to tell her and Daniel how much I loved the film, but, really, the first question on my mind was, ‘Who the hell was that?’ Because I thought he was so terrific,” Anderson said. “He certainly got a good recommendation from Rebecca and Daniel.”
In an effort to give the film an authentic feel, Anderson shot part of the film in the famed Doheny mansion, once home to the wealthy Irish-American family that inspired Sinclair’s book.
“This huge, great, gloomy pile was the pyramid that he built to himself with the wealth he accumulated and it is overseen by the Doheny Trust and the Doheny Trust employs a very large army of people in extremely neat uniforms to watch every damn move that you make in the place,” Day-Lewis related. “I don’t know what they thought we were doing, but they seemed quite disturbed by the whole thing.”
“There Will Be Blood” opens in New York and Los Angeles Dec. 26 and nationwide in January.