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Thirty, Flirty, And Thriving: Remembering Daniel Day-Lewis's American Debut, 1986 To Now

On the 30th anniversary of his breakout roles, we celebrate the man, the myth, the Method.

Thirty years ago today, a mysterious man appeared on the cinematic horizons of New York City locked, loaded, and ready to conquer the town with nothing but a pair of red-hot indie films under his belt.

A Room With a View was a highly acclaimed Merchant Ivory adaptation of an E.M. Forster novel, a gentle period piece that saw baby Helena Bonham Carter choose between keeping her pride and marrying a prissy manchild or, more logically, marrying the hot man she loves. By contrast, My Beautiful Laundrette was about the trials and triumphs of a Pakistani family in modern-day Britain, including the son Omar’s romance with a sexy ex-punk named Johnny.

Besides being set and produced in Britain, these movies seemingly had nothing to do with each other — but for the eagle-eyed pre-IMDb credits watcher, there was one overlap. The prissy manchild and the sexy punk were one and the same.

America, meet Daniel Day-Lewis.

In a world where the year’s top-earning box-office stars included Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee) and Rodney Dangerfield, America didn’t stand a chance against the talent offensive of the young Day-Lewis. And yet, here he was, beautiful and so relentlessly devoted to the art of acting — to his Craft — that he could slip into disparate characters as easily as Daniel Plainview slipped down the oil well in the modern masterpiece There Will Be Blood. But if 1986 was soon to learn about the by-now-familiar depths of Day-Lewis’s devotion to his craft, we the people of 2016 would do well to remember the depths of Daniel Day-Lewis’s hotness, not always on display now that he’s playing beloved American presidents and not sexy, queer, reformed neo-Nazis.

Bless this man, bless this GIF. And Daniel Day-Lewis — the man, the myth, and the Method — would only grow from there.

So pure was he in his devotion to the craft that despite the universal acclaim of his performance that year in A Room With a View, Day-Lewis would refuse to turn art into politics, rejecting the opportunity to campaign for the Oscars. (He has since relented and generously granted the people their right to award him.)

So reckless was he in his pursuit of actorly truth that, just three years after that fateful New York debut, Day-Lewis would abandon the stage forever after his run as Hamlet in the British Royal National Theater Company resulted in a collapse. Not usually one to offer explanations, Danny Boy revealed that his departure was the result of visions of his own deceased father that had appeared to him during the performance. Sounds about right for the man of the iron Method.

So committed was he to the call of cinema that he spent the better part of the next decade romancing the best actresses (foreign and domestic) of the 1990s. Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Adjani, Winona Ryder, Julia Roberts — only the best, most Oscar-nominated artists of cinema and the stage would do. When he finally settled down, it was with screenwriter and director Rebecca Miller, herself the daughter of one of the 20th century’s great playwrights, Arthur Miller.

So let Daniel Day-Lewis be a lesson to us all. Keep an eye on your indie baes. The thirst traps of today may become the three-time Oscar winners of tomorrow.