Daniel Day-Lewis on His “Final” Role in ‘Phantom Thread’: “The impulse to quit took root in me, and that became a compulsion”

“All my life, I’ve mouthed off about how I should stop acting, and I don’t know why it was different this time” – Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis — the only actor to win three Best Actor Oscars — rarely takes roles. In fact, he has repeatedly claimed that his role in the new film Phantom Thread will be his last. Even more rare than a Day-Lewis appearance on screen is an interview from him. But perhaps the rarest of all is an interview in which Day-Lewis reveals what is truly on his mind. In an interview with W, Day-Lewis was asked about his decision to retire from acting — and the actor gave a typically non-revealing answer.

Curiously, Day-Lewis claims that he did not decide to retire from acting until after he wrapped filming Phantom Thread with director Paul Thomas Anderson. He reveals, “Before making the film, I didn’t know I was going to stop acting. I do know that Paul and I laughed a lot before we made the movie. And then we stopped laughing because we were both overwhelmed by a sense of sadness. That took us by surprise: We didn’t realize what we had given birth to. It was hard to live with. And still is.”

Furthermore, Day-Lewis admits he doesn’t exactly know why he is retiring from a job that many consider him to be one of the best in the world at doing — and that he doesn’t plan on watching the performance he says will be his last. He says, “I haven’t figured it out. But it’s settled on me, and it’s just there. Not wanting to see the film is connected to the decision I’ve made to stop working as an actor. But it’s not why the sadness came to stay. That happened during the telling of the story, and I don’t really know why.”

Was it a sign of hubris that Day-Lewis made a big announcement that Phantom Thread would be his final movie? In his view, he did it so he would not be tempted to star in another film. He explains, “I knew it was uncharacteristic to put out a statement, But I did want to draw a line. I didn’t want to get sucked back into another project. All my life, I’ve mouthed off about how I should stop acting, and I don’t know why it was different this time, but the impulse to quit took root in me, and that became a compulsion. It was something I had to do.”

Nonetheless, Day-Lewis isn’t feeling a sense of relief that he believes that his career as he knows it is over. He confesses, “I have great sadness. And that’s the right way to feel. How strange would it be if this was just a gleeful step into a brand-new life. I’ve been interested in acting since I was 12 years old, and back then, everything other than the theater—that box of light—was cast in shadow. When I began, it was a question of salvation. Now, I want to explore the world in a different way.” In fact, Day-Lewis says he won’t disappear from public life totally. He adds, “I won’t know which way to go for a while. But I’m not going to stay idle. I don’t fear the stony silence.”