For an actor known for his intensity and physicality, Daniel Day-Lewis seems modest and shy in real life, even when taking time to chat with fans gathered Saturday night outside the Arlington Theatre.
The evening was the long-awaited arrival of the Oscar-winning actor to Santa Barbara and SBIFF’s second tribute, the Montecito Award, in its 28th annual fest.
Introduced by director Michael Mann, who worked with the actors on 1992’s “The Last of the Mohicans,” and presented the award by his “Lincoln” co-star, Sally Field, Mr. Day-Lewis sat down with the Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg for a career-spanning, introspective interview.
An infrequent participant in interviews, Mr. Day-Lewis was forthcoming but guarded, prone to laughter but often pausing in thought. Mr. Feinberg took him through his career slowly, with a large part of the evening based on Mr. Day-Lewis’ formative years.
He comes from artistic stock. His grandfather Sir Michael Balcon founded Britain’s famous Ealing Studios. His father, Cecil Day-Lewis, was poet laureate of England. His mother was an actress.
Growing up surrounded by the arts, he said, was a bit difficult to remember, in a way. It took him until his teens to appreciate his grandfather’s work. He rebelled a bit.
“It was very much a literary household,” he said. “And I think I went ‘on strike’ with literature for a period of time. I was out on the street. I grew up in Southeast London, and as much as I came from fairly middle class household, I was spending most of my time on the front line of London street life.
“It was the duality of those worlds that influenced me more than anything else.”
Indeed, as Mr. Feinberg pointed out, in 1986, two films premiered in the New York in the same week that couldn’t be more different.
In “My Beautiful Launderette,” Mr. Day-Lewis played a rough and edgy gay punk. In “A Room With a View,” he played the snobby Cecil Vyse.
Those were two breakthrough roles and since then Mr. Day-Lewis has chosen his films carefully.
Judging from his Oscar nominations (for “In the Name of the Father” and “Gangs of New York”) and two wins (for “My Left Foot” and “There Will Be Blood”), he has chosen wisely as well.
His “Lincoln” Best Actor nomination may turn into a third Oscar win in a few weeks. If so, he will be the first to win the Best Actor award three times.
Mr. Day-Lewis also talked about his schooling, which, like his youth, was divided. He went to a British public (state) school where he “played a lot of soccer and … fighting. I might have learned some English.”
But his father then sent him off to boarding school, where he rebelled against an upper-class system that produced bureaucrats and military officers.
Entering into theater was his salvation.
“Things were dark and grim everywhere else,” he said. “But the illumination of that proscenium arch was enormously important to me.”
The evening ended with Mr. Day-Lewis being awarded the Montecito Award by Sally Field.
SBIFF continues today with more films.