Every year at Telluride, they do three Tributes. In recent years, at least, they've tended to have one film person who's well-known in his or her own country, but not widely known and appreciated, one film person who is well-known pretty much everywhere, and one person who's made a significant contribution to film, even though you may not recognize their name. This year's tributes are Indian filmmaker Shyam Benegal (first category), French composer Michel Legrand, and actor Daniel Day-Lewis, whose tribute was held tonight at the Sheridan Opera House.
Thankfully, I had a Patron Pass to get into it, because the venue only holds 250, and between the patrons and priority line (for the Sheridan, every pass has two numbers shaded in that correspond to the film's program numbers -- a shaded number means you get priority seating there for that particular show) the house was packed. I doubt very much that any passholders who weren't lucky enough to have the number "1" shaded on their passes made it into this event.
Daniel Day-Lewis doesn't do a lot of interviews, so the chance to see him in person and hear him speak was too good to resist. I lucked out and got a perfect seat on the floor, thanks to a fellow journalist who had an extra seat next to him that he very kindly offered to me. The evening kicked off (after an intro by fest co-director Gary Meyer -- who, like all the staff at this fest, is so nice and engaging, you just want to sit down and hang out with him over coffee) with a one-hour compilation of clips from Day-Lewis' impressive filmography, from his uncredited role as a child vandal in Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) to The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005), which his wife, Rebecca Miller, wrote and directed. The clips were nicely edited, showing Day-Lewis' range as an actor and the wide variety of roles he's chosen throughout his career.
More on the tribute, plus some pics, after the jump ...
Following the clips, Day-Lewis was presented his silver medallion by director Paul Thomas Anderson, who helms Day-Lewis' current film, There Will Be Blood, which premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival, and then Day-Lewis sat down for a chat with Annette Insdorf, Columbia University film studies professor and author of numerous books. Day-Lewis came out dressed casually in flannel shirt (sleeves rolled up to reveal his wicked tattoos) and black hat, and proceeded to floor the audience with his wit and intelligence for the next 20 minutes or so. Insdorf, an expert in her field, quite obviously knows subject and came well prepared to interview Day-Lewis in front of the packed house. Her first couple questions were rather lengthy as she tried to delve deep into the choices Day-Lewis makes as an actor; she seemed a bit thrown when his response to the first was a chuckle and "You know, I don't know," but she kept her cool and before long she had the actor waxing on about working with Martin Scorsese (Gangs of New York, The Age of Innocence), Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette) and Jim Sheridan (The Boxer, In the Name of the Father, My Left Foot).
Day-Lewis did open up a bit about his acting method, admitting that the doesn't like to rehearse (which he said he worries bothers his fellow actors who like to rehearse, more than it bothers the directors he works with), and that he enjoys improvisation. He got a chuckle from the crowd when he related how Stephen Frears, before shooting a scene in My Beautiful Laundrette where he and Gordon Warnecke had to kiss, told the actors, "I'm going to go get a Mars bar, when I get back, you tell me where we should set up," then left his actors to ponder that they'd have to be "snogging" on camera. Day-Lewis also talked a bit about his admiration for actor Charles Laughton, to whom he himself has been compared, saying that he thinks Laughton is the finest actor ever to come out of the British Isles.
Insdorf asked Day-Lewis how he chooses a script, something that I (and no doubt most of the people there tonight) was very interested in, given how relatively few films Day-Lewis has made (after winning the Best Actor Oscar for My Left Foot in 1989, he took three years off before making The Last of the Mohicans, then took five years off between The Boxer in 1997 and Gangs of New York in 2002). His answer, though, was pretty simple -- there's no real formula to how he decides what roles to accept: he reads the script and it either feels right, like he absolutely HAS to do it -- or it doesn't. He said that he often likes scripts that he turns down because it just doesn't feel "right" to him. With his latest film, for instance, he read Anderson's script, they met, and he took the role -- end of discussion.
Toward the end of the talk, Insdorf got Day-Lewis to talk a bit about the morality of some of his characters -- Gerry Conlon in In the Name of the Father and John Proctor in The Crucible, in particular, and he said that he doesn't know if he personally would have the courage to take the actions those characters take if he was in the same circumstances. But that, he said, is part of the value of playing those characters -- to step in the shoes of another person, immerse yourself in who they are, and convince the audience -- and yourself -- that you would. Insdorf asked Day-Lewis about his role in There Will Be Blood, and whether he'd prepared for the role by watching Giant; he said he'd watched it only once before filming, but a couple dozen times since then, because his five-year-old son is obsessed with the film's breakfast scene.
After the conversation wrapped, we got a real treat -- a sneak preview of 20 minutes of There Will Be Blood (based on the 1927 Upton Sinclair novel Oil!), from the third reel of the film. What we saw was this: the film is about Plainview (Day-Lewis), a turn-of-the-century Texas oil prospector who sets out to buy most of the land in and around a small town, and his relationship with his young son. Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) plays Eli Sunday, a young preacher who goes toe-to-toe with Plainview. What we saw of the film looked gorgeous, and both Day-Lewis and Dano appears to give powerful performances. Be on the lookout for our review of the full film from Toronto; the The film opens in limited release December 26 (presumably for Oscar consideration); I wouldn't be surprised if Day-Lewis ends up with an Oscar nod for it, but let's see how the Toronto buzz plays out.**
All-in-all, the Daniel Day-Lewis Tribute will end up being one of the highlights of the fest for me. It was so delightful to see and hear Day-Lewis talk about his films in his own words, and to see how he lights up when he gets going talking about film. He has that passion and intelligence in real life that translate so remarkably to the big screen, and I can't wait to see all of There Will Be Blood. After that, I suppose we'll have to wait a few years for his next film He didn't rule out another collaboration with his wife, and that would be great to see -- though another Scorsese or Frears collaboration would be cool, too, yes?
**Editor's Note: Thanks to commenter nusair for correcting me on that -- There Will Be Blood is NOT, repeat NOT, playing at TIFF (though a lot of people sure wish it was). I'll blame my error on a combination of the altitude, sleep deprivation, and close proximity to Daniel Day-Lewis' very excellent tattoos. When it DOES come out, we will most assuredly be reviewing it; James Rocchi and I may just have to have a death match over who gets that one.