Entertainment & Arts

The secret of Daniel Day-Lewis' success

Daniel Day-Lewis in 1990, 2008 and 2013
Image caption Daniel Day-Lewis picked up Oscars in 1990, 2008 and now in 2013

Daniel Day-Lewis has made Oscars history by becoming the first man to win the best actor prize three times. What is the secret to his success?

Day-Lewis won his first Academy Award in 1990 for My Left Foot, his second in 2008 for There Will Be Blood and has now made it three for Lincoln.

That tally is bettered only by the inimitable Katharine Hepburn, who secured four best actress Oscars.

Having starred in just six films over the past 15 years, Day-Lewis is famous for being choosy with his roles and for the huge amount of preparation he puts into his characters.

He told the BBC last month that his immersive acting method made "complete sense" to him. "All you're trying to do is lay the groundwork, which might allow the imagination to free itself," he said.

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Media captionDaniel-Day Lewis speaks to the Andrew Marr Show

"When the imagination frees itself, you have no goddamn idea what's going to happen. So it's not a constrictive or restrictive way of working - quite the opposite."

He added that he found it far easier to stay in character during the filming process, saying: "What would drain me much more, in my case, is jumping in and out of that world that we've gone to such an inordinate length to create for ourselves."

The actor's sister, Tamasin, told the BBC her brother had been "amazingly lucky in his career... and he's made incredible choices."

So is it the combination of his acting method and canny role choice that have led to him bagging so many Oscars?

Here, a selection of film experts give their opinion:

Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

"His unique selling point, as far as the hype around his films is concerned, is the enormous amount of preparation he puts into every role and his commitment to staying in that role when filming begins.

"There's a mystique around his craftsmanship - there are anecdotes of him being addressed as Mr President on the set of Lincoln, and he got an apprenticeship in butchery after he was cast as a butcher in Gangs of New York.

"But what matters is how that intensity and preparation translates onto the big screen. He is a presence that's totally cinematic and the sheer size of his character is impressive. When you think of There Will Be Blood, there was an enormous, empty landscape, but he filled it with his personality.

"He's done something similar with Lincoln - in preparing and inhabiting it, he's not just giving a performance as president, he embodies Lincoln and pushes through the iconic quality of the role."

Nick James, Sight and Sound

"The seriousness in which he takes his profession is beyond imagining - we know how dedicated he is. He's the perfect mix of English classical acting and American method acting, he merges the two perfectly.

Image caption Daniel Day-Lewis reportedly prepared for a year for his role in Lincoln

"His dilemma is - how do you become somebody who observes nature when you're as famous as he is? He's notorious for finding reasons not to do films and combs every project for reasons not to do it.

"He has an extraordinary ability to mimic people and his chameleon ability is staggering. There's an extreme contrast between his role in There Will Be Blood and the role in Lincoln - you couldn't get two more different characters.

"There are lengthy gaps in between his films, so when you see him, you're not bored because you've not seen him for a while.

"He's got a perfect 'mid-Atlanticness', which makes it easy for him to be trans-Atlantic than someone like Hugh Grant, who's very much English."

Michael Rosser - Screen International

"The choice of who he works with is clearly a significant factor when it comes to recognition that those roles get.

"He's very discerning - for Lincoln, it was Steven Spielberg trying to convince him as he had turned it down. So just because Spielberg comes knocking, it doesn't mean he'll take the role. It has to be pretty special.

"As a result, after six months of research and method work, he delivers the goods. A role like this is the kind Oscar voters respond to because they're a bit older and this kind of prestige project is something that speaks to them.

"He takes it to a level that others aren't prepared to do, where it's a much larger-than-life performance that would be corny if done by lesser actors. But he brings a truth to these roles through that method and that makes them convincing and worthy of awards.

"In terms of other roles, [2009 film] Nine was a rare misfire. I think that's a case of him pushing himself in a different direction to bring a certain prestige to a musical role that hadn't been attempted before and it's association with a great film-maker like Fellini. But he's got a pretty strong hit rate and he certainly back on top with Lincoln."

Stephen Frears, director, My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

"He can play heroic characters. Even when he was starring in My Beautiful Laundrette, he turned it into a heroic character and that's not a very English quality.

"Dan was always known as being top of the 'crumpet list' - he was very good looking and very sexy. He was also a good actor, but he was a dazzling fellow.

"If you ask me to analyse what it is about him, about his character, I have no idea. We didn't think 'this bloke is about to become a huge star', just as we didn't think this film was going to be successful and change our lives. He was just Dan."