The career of actor Daniel Day-Lewis is littered with myth and legend and barely-possible facts. Day-Lewis’ religious devotion to the Method – the full-immersion preparation for an acting role – has created a whole series of fantastical stories. When he played a painter with cerebral palsy in My Left Foot, he really never left his wheelchair. When he played a colonial adventurer in The Last of the Mohicans, he really lived in the wilderness and carved his own canoe. When he played a man working on a bad movie in Nine, he was really working on a bad movie. But one tale from early in Day-Lewis’ career crosses the line into pure mysticism. Back in 1989, Day-Lewis was performing the lead in Hamlet in London. He left in the middle of a performance – supposedly because he had actually seen the ghost of his dead father onstage.
It’s a great story, all the better because Day-Lewis has never really talked about the event before. But in his new interview with Time, Day-Lewis breaks his silence about Hamlet. “To some extent I probably saw my father’s ghost every night,” he said, “Because of course if you’re working in a play like Hamlet, you explore everything through your own experience.” He continues:
You think you’re traveling a vast distance to understand another life, but it may be that you’re bringing that life toward you at the same time. What allows that work to live is the common experience, the bond between the two of you. It’s utterly delusional to say you become some other person – you don’t. But you do get to know yourself in a different way, through the prism of that other life. That correspondence between father and son, or the son and the father who is no longer alive, played a huge part in that experience. So yes, of course, it was communication with my own dead father.
All that being said, Day-Lewis clarifies: “But I don’t remember seeing any ghosts of my father on that dreadful night!” So, to recap: Daniel Day-Lewis did not see his father’s ghost while performing Hamlet, but only because he sees his father’s ghost all of the time – for indeed, do we not all see our father’s ghost every time we look in the mirror, for are we not all diffuse reflections of those who came before us; indeed, is not every man just a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. Which reminds me: Day-Lewis pointedly does not address the rumor that, during a 1987 performance of Macbeth, he really killed everyone else in the cast.
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