A Minute With: Daniel Day Lewis on "Nine"

Updated: 2009-12-25 09:08
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A Minute With: Daniel Day Lewis on

NEW YORK - Daniel Day-Lewis has not appeared on a live theater's stage in decades, but he takes on a uniquely theatrical role for new movie musical, "Nine," which begins its broad U.S. release Christmas day.

The two-time Oscar winner more often than not plays driven men in movie dramas, as with Bill "The Butcher" Cutting for director Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" and oil baron Daniel Plainview in "There Will be Blood."

But for "Nine," he shook off all that drama and tuned up his voice to play Italian film director Guido Contini, who is struggling to find his creativity. The movie is loosely based on director Federico Fellini's 1963 film "8-1/2."

Day-Lewis, 52, sat down with Reuters to talk his love of movies and acting, why he takes so few roles and whether, after "Nine," he might return to the stage.

Q. Was singing in a film anything like going back to the start of your career where, perhaps, you didn't really know what you were doing?

A: You need to find some way of expressing something through music that you can't do with the spoken word, and I just wasn't sure how you did that. So yes, it became hard all over again ... and then you record it in a studio which is a completely sterile environment. You don't have any of the stimuli that you normally draw on to help you.

Q: What could you possibly do next after a role like this?

A: I do not think about it in finite terms like that. Yeah, I am not working now and I have no plans to. But I don't feel that's a conflict. To me, it seems more of a positive thing rather than a negative thing of not knowing what I am going to do, not being able to find anything, not having the energy.

I just feel sad that sometimes, a person can feel impelled out of habit more than anything else, to keep offering some form of creative work purely because of what they do, rather than that's what they need to do. And it all feels, as any endeavor, that creative work is absolutely imperative, that you do that because you need to, not because it is your job. It probably sounds a bit arrogant to say that.

Q: You are known for taking on very few film roles -- only five since 1997 -- was there a time when you were unable to balance your work, family life or other passions as much?

A: As a younger man I worked very, very hard consistently. I was lucky enough to get work but I had unemployment too. I found that extremely difficult because I had so much energy and didn't know what to do with it.

I found myself at the time, quite early on, where I had worked beyond the point of actually having anything to offer. Rather in the way that when you are really hungry you just sit down and eat and eat and eat and eat. If you actually stopped an hour for a few minutes, you would realize that are full. But instead, you just keep eating. The memory of hunger keeps you going. It is an awful feeling, and I thought I can't do this.

Q: Yes, you were dogged by questions about fatigue playing Hamlet in 1989 and you have not returned to the stage since.

A: I have never consciously made a decision not to work on the stage, but my interest has been over the years to work in film because I have had the opportunity to. As a young man, I really wanted to work in and I loved movies. And it didn't really occur to me as a young actor in the theater that I would ever have a chance to make movies. The theater is not a dark place for me, it's just that I tend to prefer to work in film.

Q: Does it matter to you, being labeled the great actor of your generation?

A: When people appreciate your work, that is a wonderful thing. But there are contemporaries of mine that I admire so hugely -- Sean (Penn) obviously being one of them, Benicio (Del Toro) who I could watch all day long, Philip Seymour Hoffman. I could go on and on. They are all extraordinary actors. They do work that is inconceivably beautiful to me. It is unlike a horse race. I don't think to order things into a top 10."