Anyone who is a fan of movies knows that Daniel Day-Lewis has a reputation for completely immersing himself in his roles when making a movie. Luckily, no one can argue with the results, which include three Academy Awards for his starring roles in My Left Foot, There Will Be Blood, and Lincoln. His commitment to method acting isn’t merely a behavioral quirk. Day-Lewis has consistently delivered incredible performances playing a wide range of characters. Clearly, his habit of practically becoming those characters on set has major benefits for the films he appears in.
Such is definitely the case in Nine. Released in 2009, this cinematic adaptation of the play of the same name stars Day-Lewis as an Italian film director struggling with his various personal and professional relationships. The film is also particularly noteworthy for marking the first time the acclaimed actor appeared in a musical performance on screen.
Preparation for the role
Of course, Day-Lewis took the opportunity to once again flex his method acting muscles both before and during the film’s production.
Day-Lewis did prepare by learning some Italian for the role. However, in interviews, he explained that he simply didn’t have enough time to truly master the language. Although he did his research, Day-Lewis also readily admitted that reaching a truly authentic degree of fluency would have taken years. Still, this did not deter him from putting in the effort to do as much research as he had time for.
However, despite not having the time needed to thoroughly study the language, stories from the set indicate the research still informed his performance in a major way. Co-stars have claimed that he still maintained his Italian accent while on set, even when cameras were not rolling.
A commitment to his craft
This may sound excessive. Yet, to anyone who has followed Day-Lewis throughout his long career, it shouldn’t be surprising. The actor is famous for remaining in character as much as possible when making a movie — and this is true even when doing so is inconvenient and difficult. For example, for his role in My Left Foot, Day-Lewis portrayed the Irish artist Christy Brown, who had severe cerebral palsy and used a wheelchair. Day-Lewis insisted on staying in a wheelchair during the film’s production, even though this required others to push him around. The difficulty of living like this was simply worth the authenticity it lent to his performance.
This is all part of his approach to acting. For example, to prepare for Last of the Mohicans, Day-Lewis retreated to the wilderness and attempted to live like an 18th century Native American, limiting himself to the resources that his character would have had access to at that time. For a scene from In the Name of the Father in which his character undergoes an intense interrogation, he remained awake for three nights beforehand. Later in his career, while filming Lincoln, Day-Lewis would even send text messages to co-star Sally Field in character.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that maintaining an Italian accent between scenes is not the only way he embodied his character during the filming of Nine. Additionally, co-stars said that Day-Lewis would leave them love notes in their dressing rooms. The notes were written in character, and Day-Lewis even used the character’s stationery when writing the notes.
This degree of dedication to the role had a major impact on the other actors who appear in the film. In interviews, Sophia Loren indicated that his passion and intensity were so strong she almost felt intimidated by Day-Lewis when performing scenes with him.
Day-Lewis himself, however, has always been reluctant to discuss his approach to acting. In interviews, he admits this is partially because he believes discussing it too much will ruin the magic, and partially because he is simply afraid of coming across as pretentious.
On the set of Nine
Of course, when an actor is well known for playing his roles with such mastery that he practically becomes the part, it can be interesting (and somewhat refreshing) to find out that he did face certain difficulties during the production. Talking to NPR, Day-Lewis said that he and the director both quickly realized he was not a very skilled dancer. Although his singing voice was stronger, in reviews leading up to Nine’s release, he also admitted he wasn’t skilled enough yet to genuinely qualify as a singer. He simply worked with the film’s musical director to find a voice that worked reasonably well for the songs and the character.
Still, as always, the results speak for themselves. In Nine, Daniel Day-Lewis once again delivers a remarkable performance that elevates what was already strong material. Although he prefers not to say much about how exactly his method impacts his performances, it’s clear to anyone who has seen a Daniel Day-Lewis film that something he does simply works. Nine is yet another example of that immense talent on full display.