In June, Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting, saying his role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread would be his last. Two months later, he broke his arm in a motorcycle accident, if you’re wondering how the universe felt about that. Now, in a new interview with W Magazine, he reveals that, unlike most actors who decide to “retire,” he’s serious about it.
“I knew it was uncharacteristic to put out a statement,” he said. “But I did want to draw a line. I didn’t want to get sucked back into another project. All my life, I’ve mouthed off about how I should stop acting, and I don’t know why it was different this time, but the impulse to quit took root in me, and that became a compulsion. It was something I had to do.”
Saying the decision left him with “great sadness,” he continued, “And that’s the right way to feel. How strange would it be if this was just a gleeful step into a brand-new life. I’ve been interested in acting since I was 12 years old, and back then, everything other than the theater—that box of light—was cast in shadow. When I began, it was a question of salvation. Now, I want to explore the world in a different way.”
“I don’t know why, but suddenly I had a strong wish to tell an English story,” Day-Lewis told W of his decision to star in Phantom Thread. “England is deep in me. I’m made of that stuff. For a long time, a film set in England was too close to the world that I’d escaped from — drawing rooms, classic Shakespeare, Downton Abbey did not interest me. But I was fascinated by London after the war. My parents told stories about living through the Blitz, and I felt like I ingested that. I am sentimental about that world. And my dad was very much like Reynolds Woodcock. If a poet is not self-absorbed, what else is he?”
That sadness crept back, though. “Before making the film, I didn’t know I was going to stop acting,” he said. “I do know that Paul and I laughed a lot before we made the movie. And then we stopped laughing because we were both overwhelmed by a sense of sadness. That took us by surprise: We didn’t realize what we had given birth to. It was hard to live with. And still is.”
We’re sad to see him go, as the actor’s headlined some of modern cinema’s most unforgettable films, from My Left Foot and The Last of the Mohicans to The Crucible and his last collaboration with Anderson, There Will Be Blood.