Polished Performances

Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis
Character: Bill “The Butcher” Cutting
Film: Gangs Of New York

Throughout the years and numerous committed performances, Daniel Day-Lewis has become synonymous with method. His approach to acting and immersing himself in a role has become exemplary in the profession and his snarling and brutal portrayal of Bill The Butcher in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York is just one example of many. The character was based on Bill Poole – a notorious, mid-19th century, gang leader from lower Manhattan’s violent Five-Points district. He was a meat cutter and a known expert in knife throwing, champion fighting and an eye-gouger. 

To prepare for the character, Day-Lewis employed circus performers to teach him how to throw sharp, thin daggers and he also went to work in a Butcher’s shop to learn how to meticulously gut carcasses. To achieve the requisite aggressive mindset of Bill, he would get up every morning around 5am and listen to the vitriolic lyrics of Eminem. Even when he wasn’t on set, Day-Lewis talked with his film accent throughout the entire length of the film’s shoot and would wander around Rome (where Gangs was filmed) and fight strangers in the streets. He even had his own eyeball covered in prosthetic glass to simulate Bill’s fake eye and learned how to tap his eye with the tip of a knife without blinking. Added to which, he caught pneumonia during filming because he refused to change his threadbare coat for a warmer one because it hadn’t existed in the 19th century.These are just a few of Day-Lewis’ methods to capture realism and they echo the approach of a young Robert DeNiro – who, incidentally, the role was originally intended for before he had to pass on due to scheduling issues. That said, when you watch Day-Lewis in particular scenes, you can see him channeling DeNiro’s acting style – a performer Day-Lewis has claimed to be his “champion”. There’s an unsettling ferociousness to Day-Lewis’ Bill that maybe only DeNiro could have matched and on closer inspection you can see why. He is absolutely captivating and has an unpredictable intensity that has you on edge whenever he’s onscreen.

Oscars? – Although playing a supporting character, Day Lewis was bizarrely nominated for an Oscar in the leading actor category. He ultimately missed out to Adrien Brody in The Pianist.

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35 Responses to “Polished Performances”

  1. Nice post Mark. Personally I think Gangs of New York is one of Scorsese’s more middling efforts, but Daniel Day Lewis’ performance is amazing for sure. Even though De Niro’s my favorite actor, I honestly can’t imagine even him doing a better job here than DDL.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d agree on all three accounts, Charles. DeNiro is my favourite actor too. Gangs of New York isn’t Scorsese’s finest and Day-Lewis delivers a performance that’s untouchable. I’d love to have seen what DeNiro would have done with the role but I doubt it could have been better. That said, I definitely think Day-Lewis impersonates DeNiro in the film. It’s a joy to behold and he’s rather good at it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. DDL was spectacular in Gangs of New York. I’m a big DeNiro fan, but can’t imagine anyone else playing the Butcher after that. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed, Dell. He was something else wasn’t he? It’s hard to pick a favourite Day-Lewis performance but this could just shade it for me.

      I’m also a huge DeNiro fan but it’s very difficult to see how he could have bettered Day-Lewis here.

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  3. Nice post and very well written. I don’t think I’ve seen Daniel Day-Lewis give a bad performance, he is consistently watchable and so talented.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It was filmed in Rome? That’s random. Interesting post. I LOVE this film and DDL’s performance. He’s mesmerizing. When I think of Bill The Butcher and Lincoln, I am amazed once again how versatile he is. Any idea what he’s up to next? I miss him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • He pours his heart and soul into a role, Cindy and it pays off. He’s always so reliable. I haven’t a clue what he’s up to next. There has been no news whatsoever on his future work. He’s like that, though. You get a memorable performance from him and then he disappears.

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      • There’s something elegant about that. I bet actors cringe when it is announced he will star in a film. I imagine him in Ireland making a chair and I wish I could go for a stroll and have a chat.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha! Yeah, he probably will be turning his hand to bit of craftsmanship as we speak. Apparently he was working as a cobbler when Scorsese approached him for Gangs of New York.

        He has an integrity that most actors lack. If only more would put as much commitment into a role rather than chase the pay check all the time.

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      • On the 13th, we’ll be discussing Jeff Bridges. You bring up actors who have a prolific career and I’d say most actors are happy to get a part in something just to remain in the industry and will turn out 1 or 3 films a year regardless. I wonder if they fear a time will come and there won’t be any offers anymore. Jeff Bridges has been in more mediocre films than great ones yet he is as popular as ever. I think of other great actors, like Jeremy Irons or Anthony Hopkins or John Malkovich, who have played shitty roles most of their careers but I love their voices and acting anyway. Then there’s Robert DeNiro, who seems obsessed with undoing his greatness with a string of stinkers when the man doesn’t have to. I don’t know why I feel somewhat angry for him dethroning his greatness while other I just scratch my head and wonder what’s up.

        Daniel Day Lewis just goes with only the great roles. The only one who seems close to being that selective is Leonardo DiCaprio. I just can’t see Leo ever becoming a Marvel superhero.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Great comment, Cindy. I agree on so many things here. I’m looking forward to your Jeff Bridges post on the 13th. As I’ve said before, he’s one of my favourite actors. I actually rate him in my Top 5 along with DeNiro and Day-Lewis (of course), Nicholson and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

        Hoffman is sadly gone and Nicholson has seemingly retired. That only leaves me with an often absent Day-Lewis and an often woeful DeNiro. Like you say, Bridges has been in some mediocre material but he has such an appealing quality that he’s often treated more lightly and forgiven more for his choices.

        That’s a good point DiCaprio too. He hasn’t done a bad film for ages and even then that was when he wasn’t quite getting the scripts he is now. I have a lot of respect these days for three actors that are consistently good: Fassbender, Hardy and Oscar Isaac. That said, all three have been involved in superhero films and that’s a genre I don’t really have much respect. for. Basically, the quicker DeNiro gets back in tow with Scorsese, the better. 🙂

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      • Yes, your current favs are mine,too. Especially Isaac.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Isaac is a real class act. A performer that’s going from strength to strength. Although, I did recently watch Mojave. It’s an absolute stinker but through no fault of Isaac. He’s the only good thing about it.

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      • I believe you.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Really interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m not sure DD Lewis hasn’t given anything but polished performances in my book, but this is one of his biggest that’s for sure. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, Adrien Brody won over DDL? Bizarre.

    Great post mate. This is one of my fave movies and DDL is a big reason for that. So fucking convincing, and I love his methods… speaking with the accent constantly, learning to throw knives!! I also read he was constantly sharpening knives and cleavers in-between takes.

    If only he acted more often… His talent and passion for his roles is incredible. Makes Leo’s effort in The Revenant seem a bit tame really I think!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, man. As good as Brody is in The Pianist, Day-Lewis should still have won. That said, I did wonder why he was even in the Leading Actor category. It’s more of a supporting performance for me. One of my all-time favourite performances though. Powerful stuff!

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      • Yeah he is more supporting, I guess Leo would be the lead technically, but DDL’s performance is so monstrous it makes him seem like the lead character! Brody was good though, I love Polanski and The Pianist is a bloody good film

        Liked by 1 person

      • Agreed on all fronts here, Jordan. The Pianist is a great flick and Brody is very good. He’s just not Daniel Day Lewis good. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m fully obsessed with this movie and I can’t say enough about this performance.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Daniel Day-Lewis is always great. Even in lesser films, he stands out. Gangs Of New York isn’t my favorite but he makes this film a must see.

    Liked by 1 person

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