A gay punk in My Beautiful Laundrette— an Edwardian wimp in A Room with a View— a yuppie abroad in Stars and Bars — a lecherous brain surgeon in The Unbearable Lightness of Being: Daniel Day-Lewis at 32 has played many contrasting film parts. to say nothing ofa wiry, energetic Hamlet on the huge Olivier stage at the National Theatre. But his most challenging role on the screen was to twist his six-foot one-and-a-half-inch body into the wheel-chair of a cerebral palsy victim and play the talented Christy Brown, the son ofa Dublin bricklayer. who with the help of his mother and a family doctor won fame for his paintings and writings. all achieved with the only part of his body he could fully control: his left foot. The resultant film. directed by Jim Sheridan. is Daniel Day-Lewis‘s favourite of all his movies so far.
‘Each one of them means something quite different to me: but I suppose I would have to say. in terms of its completeness, My Left Foot, because I arrived at that at a much earlier stage than with other films, and I feel that I‘m still part of it. One tends to arrive on a film set when the film is very much under way — it‘s had its pre-production time. And I was tremendoust happy to be a part of My Left Foot before a penny had been obtained to film it, and when it existed only as a series of pieces of paper. There wasn‘t a director, even, at that time; there was a producer and the script. And so it means that much more to me for that reason alone.‘
Unusually. he had found the script
With the release ofhis
favourite film to date, My Left Foot, Daniel Day Lewis is at the pinnacle of his profession. He talked to Richard Mayne about his painstaking portrayal ofparalysed painter/writer Christy Brown.
Left Daniel Day Lewis as Christy Brown learning to control his speech.
Right Mrs Brown (Brenda Frlcker) with Hugh O‘Conor as the young Christy.
waiting for him — ‘glowing‘. as he put it — on the doormat, and was immediately drawn towards it by the title. Then he began to read it.
“The first page of that script was one of the most extraordinary first pages ofanything I‘ve ever read.‘ It described the actions ofa foot — typing, then putting a record on the record player. ‘And I was shaken by it. I was intrigued. I was excited, and I was very moved by it.‘
The film of My Left Foot is all those things— shaking. intriguing. exciting and moving. It‘s also savagely funny. Day-Lewis conveys the ribaldry. the impatience. the frustration. and the angry wit ofa highly intelligent man whom some treat as an imbecile because of his tortured body. He based his performance on three or four months of regular visits to the Sandymount Clinic in Dublin. and saw the handicaps that cerebral palsy patients face.
‘I have absolute admiration for the work that goes on in that clinic and for the people who work there and supervise there. Ofcourse it‘s a good thing that an opportunity‘s there for people suffering from cerebral palsy to make some kind of living. But many of the people I saw were grotesquely under-challenged. There was a girl who became a close friend of mine who suffered very badly from cerebral palsy; and I was deeply shocked by the degree to which her extraordinary intelligence was underchallenged by the work that was available to her. She'd wanted to become a social worker. But the barriers were just insurmountable.‘
Daniel Day-Lewis had serious
\‘ﬁaf 5Q} -\ \ s .
‘V ‘_ A \i X?“
.\ ‘1‘. is e \V . J‘qu \s‘ 3‘“ ‘ “ §\ .s\,‘ § § s‘.» \ V; X §s*§‘ \ \\ ‘A .* V. s §§.\ N \ ‘3. . s ‘> ‘M‘
s o 9‘, x. s.
doubts about whether he — ‘supposedly able-bodied‘ — should accept the part ofChristy Brown. ‘There‘s every good reason why I shouldn‘t have done that film. And. having decided that I wanted to do it very much, I also made it very clear to the producer that I‘wasn’t the best person to do it. and asked why it wasn‘t possible to find a disabled actor. But in the end it appeared to be true that the film wouldn't be made unless someone with a price on his head agreed to take it on.‘
‘When I arrived in Dublin, the thing more than anything else which made me believe that I had a right to go ahead was the welcome which I was given by Christy‘s family. In their position I would have been deeply suspicious. But they just took me in and seemed totally happy. So that in itselfwas a monumental responsibility. but it was one which they gave to me with extraordinary generosity.‘
He responded by living as closely as possible the life ofChristy Brown. He stayed in the wheelchair throughout the daily shooting. looking and talking like Christy. writing and painting with his own left foot. the paintings in the film are his own work. All day. he had to be carried about. cared for. and fed. ‘The crew could quite easily have made the experience more difficult than it was. But they entered totally into the spirit ofthe work. I don‘t think anyone once complained about having to lug me upland down flights ofsteps. and they never once questioned what I was doing. Some
visitors to the set even thought that I was disabled.‘
2 The List 15 — 28 September—i989