Check out my piece in Backstage’s “Standing Ovation” column, which is a series dedicated to illuminating underappreciated performances in film, television, or theater. This article appeared in the March 6 issue of Backstage magazine. Read it over at Backstage.com!!
Daniel Day-Lewis earned his second of three Oscars as Daniel Plainview, the zealous oil tycoon at the center of There Will Be Blood. As an intensely committed Method actor, Day-Lewis studied Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!, researched working conditions of turn-of-the-century miners, and perfected a fastidiously distinct drawl. He spent over a year preparing for the role.
Paul Dano, a 22-year-old indie actor, was originally cast by director Paul Thomas Anderson in a minor role. Two weeks into filming, the actor playing Eli Sunday, Daniel’s evangelical adversary, dropped out. (Allegedly, the actor was intimidated by his scene partner’s immersive methods.) In desperation, Anderson turned to Dano and offered him the part on a Thursday. He began the following Monday.
Dano’s performance in There Will Be Blood does not look like the result of only four days of work. Despite Day-Lewis’ significant head start, Dano keeps up with his co-star throughout the epic marathon that is this film, giving a visceral, surprising performance. It is thanks to both these men’s acting that the film sticks so stubbornly in one’s memory. Daniel Plainview’s meta-filmic final line—“I’m finished!”—is declared matter-of-factly by Day-Lewis, as if he has just completed some staggering feat. And he has. Day-Lewis puts on the kind of mind-bogglingly immersive show we’ve come to expect from him, a master class in vocal and physical transformation. More surprising, however, is the idea that the mute kid from Little Miss Sunshine could go toe-to-toe with such a terrifyingly Brando-esque figure.