Months ago, I was listening in on a conversation about upcoming movies, and this one lady mentioned she was looking forward to Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. She was a lover of Spielberg and of Lincoln, but she was especially stoked to see multiple Academy Award-winner Daniel Day-Lewis, her favorite actor.
"I could watch that man read the phonebook," she said.
I knew she didn't mean it literally, but I felt it was an incredibly stupid thing to say. First of all, reading the phonebook is not acting, so a trained actor would not be necessarily more qualified to do a good job of it than anyone else. If what you're really wanting is a pleasing voice to listen to, then I could think of plenty of male celebrities that I would pick before Daniel Day-Lewis ever crossed my mind. Or if you just mean that a great actor should be able to take even the most banal material and make it compelling, then, again, Daniel Day-Lewis would not be my first choice. I actually think the man would be quite at a loss to make the phonebook interesting, the occasionally hilarious ethnic name notwithstanding.
Recognized as a method actor, and also known to be extremely selective in the roles he takes on, he's lauded for his devotion to researching and essentially becoming the men he plays. For The Last of the Mohicans, he was reported to have learned how to camp in the forest and hunt his own food. As a result, his work is praised for its often startling authenticity. But what if he were given work for which there were no standard for authenticity? What if the method actor were tasked with a role for which he couldn't do any hands-on research? I mean, honestly, could you even imagine how Daniel Day-Lewis would cope with being cast in a Star Wars? He would never do it, of course, probably because he knows, better than some of his fans, that he actually can't just act anything and make it gold.
When I think of actors who elevate their material–the most consummate professionals devoted to doing the job, no matter how ignominious, and doing it with the utmost class and pride–I tend to think of classically trained actors like Ben Kingsley, Alan Rickman, maybe Liam Neeson or Ralph Fiennes. And, in the moment of my reacting to this overheard conversation, the first actor that sprang to mind as being, in my opinion, preferable to Daniel Day-Lewis was none other than Ian McDiarmid (AKA Emperor/Senator/Chancellor Palpatine, AKA Darth Sidious, AKA the secret best part of the Star Wars prequels).
(In all seriousness, Daniel Day-Lewis probably has classical training too and could do a bang-up job of reading the phonebook. But Ian McDiarmid really is awesome as well, "unlimited power" notwithstanding. And don't even ask me where Christian Bale fits in this breakdown.)
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