Yes, we know Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors of his generation, or of any generation in the more than 100-year history of movies.
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He’s widely acclaimed for roles that have won him three Academy Awards and for his astonishing versatility and intense devotion to his art. But for a fair number of women and men, especially of my acquaintance, he’s also known for something else.
The actor, now 60, has always been damned sexy — and not in the usual movie hunk way. We all have stories of falling in love with him in the way you only fall in love with someone who doesn’t just appeal to you on a basic physical level but who moves your heart and intellect.
Sir Day-Lewis (he was knighted by Prince William in 2014) has proven himself to be physically impressive — dark, tall, lean, athletic — in an action-hero movie like “The Last of the Mohicans.” But he also displays an appealing intelligence, charm and charisma in movies where his character might be physically compromised — “My Left Foot” — not an overtly sexual — “Lincoln” — or not at all heroic or admirable — “There Will Be Blood.”
Last week, Day-Lewis announced he was retiring from acting, and howls of disbelief went up among thinking women and men around the world. We love Day-Lewis, and we’ve been in love with him for decades. How can he go away and not delight us with any more screen performances, save for his final in an unnamed Paul Thomas Anderson movie coming out in December?
Who knows if Day-Lewis really means to leave acting for good, or if he just wants to take a break from another job of marathon method preparation that must be intensely exhausting? We’ll just have to wait and see, probably for years. In the meantime, I couldn’t help but stay up late this week re-visisting some favorite Day-Lewis films and finding clips that not only show the actor at his most artistically brilliant, but also at his most attractive.
You might consider some of these clips NSFW, but hey, the do represent cinema — you know, great art, and stuff. So it’s up to you when and how to view, and how distracted you’ll get.
His wham-bam double-header 1985 introduction to international stardom:
In Stephen Frears’ early gem, “My Beautiful Laundrette,” Day-Lewis plays Johnny, a London street tough who also has a tender romantic side with his boyfriend, Omar, a Pakistani immigrant. Two decades before “Brokeback Mountain” made headlines for depicting straightforward and tender love scenes between two men, Day-Lewis was making out with a guy in this groundbreaking interracial love story.
Day-Lewis played Cecil, an Edwardian prig in “A Room With a View,” this Merchant-Ivory adaption of E.M. Forster’s classic novel. The movie includes lush, romantic scenery of both the Tuscan and English countrysides, and Day-Lewis manages to infuse his intolerable character with enough pathos and charisma to make him curiously charming.
A sex symbol is born: “Take off your clothes”
In “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” Phillip Kaufman’s film version of Milan Kundera’s classic novel, Day-Lewis plays Tomas, a womanizing Czech doctor who successfully seduces many partners with the playfully delivered command “Take off your clothes.” But he proves to be a fascinating and complicated seducer with his delicious talk of sex and metaphysics with his luminous up-and-coming co-stars Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin.
Day-Lewis won his first best actor Oscar in 1989’s “My Left Foot,” playing Christy Brown, the Irish writer and artist with cerebral palsy who could only produce work with, yes, his left foot. In this scene, Day-Lewis shows Brown’s witty, sexy side.
Bravely standing up to injustice
A female confessed that she fell madly in love with Day-Lewis watching him play falsely accused Irish fall guy Gerry Conlon in “In the Name of the Father” (1993). It may not be a characteristically romantic role, but Day-Lewis matches the film’s weighty subject matter and smart, taut direction with a performance that dazzles with passion, rage and electricity.
Repression, denial were never so sexy
In between the tough, physical roles of “The Last of the Mohicans” and “In the Name of the Father,” Day-Lewis delivered an understated but smoldering performance as a repressed New York aristocrat in Martin Scorsese’s elegant period drama “The Age of Innocence” (1993), based on Edith Wharton’s novel. With Michelle Pfeiffer, as the socially rebellious object of his desire, he shows how much passion can be conveyed through the simple act of unbuttoning a woman’s glove.
A real man’s Oscar acceptance speeches
For his acceptance speeches for 2007’s “There Will Be Blood” and 2012’s “Lincoln” Day-Lewis was gracious, humble, literate and funny. He jokes with his great leading lady presenters, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep, respectively about 1) Mirren getting knighted before him and 2) he and Streep, another famously versatile performer, originally being cast in opposite roles: he as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady” and she as Abraham Lincoln.
But what really makes you want to cry out “Marry me!” are his acceptance speeches. When picking up the award for what many critics regard as his greatest performance, as the colossally ambitious oil tycoon Daniel Plainview in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood.” Day-Lewis pays tribute to his three sons and, most of all, to his “enchantingly open-minded wife,” indie screenwriter and director wife Rebecca Miller.
Poster art for “The Last of the Mohicans”: Madeleine Stowe and Daniel Day-Lewis (Twentieth Century Fox).
Get out the smelling salts
I saved my favorite clip for last — one I, yes, have so far watched multiple times. It comes from “The Last of the Mohicans,” the action-adventure epic based on James Fenimore Cooper’s great American novel.
It may not be Day-Lewis’ top performance but this is maybe the sexiest clip I could find. In the film, Day-Lewis plays 18th century American frontiersman Hawkeye. For the role, he learned how to track and skin animals, build canoes and fire off two muskets at once while running (sometimes shirtless) through the forest. He also had riveting love scenes with Madeleine Stowe, playing the daughter of a British officer who is his match in beauty, principles and physical courage. Here is their first kiss: