Daniel Day-Lewis: staying in character, being in flow
Posted Jan 11 2010 4:47pm
“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Daniel Day-Lewis describes being intensely immersed in his character when he is working on a movie.
He was asked in an interview what he loves about acting: “Without meaning to imply that the impulse is essentially to get away from oneself, I think it is about losing yourself in time,” he says.
“I suppose it’s like when painters talk about when they begin to make marks on a canvas and then 24 hours later they’re still working and there’s no sense of the ticking clock and no sense of the self.
“The self takes care of itself through the work, through the impulse. And I find that intoxicating.”
[Photo: as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood.]
Immersing in a character
He also thinks staying inside a character is a helpful strategy. Other artists have talked about isolating themselves, even shutting off normal social interactions, in order to create a symphony, a painting or other project.
“If you go to inordinate length to explore and discover and bring a world to life, it makes better sense to stay in that world rather than jump in and out of it, which I find exhausting and difficult.
“That way there isn’t the sense of rupture every time the camera stops; every time you become aware of the cables and the anoraks and hear the sound of the walkie-talkies. Maybe it’s complete self-delusion. But it works for me.”
He adds, “When people ask me about acting, I’ve often wondered whether the reason I work the way I do is an instinctual response to my sense of absurdity. And in order to eclipse that, I have to immerse myself more than most people.
“And of course that only risks making me look all the more daft.” He throws up his hands. “People always ask me: ‘Isn’t it strange that you have to do this or that to prepare for the work?’ But really: what could be stranger than the work itself?”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced me-high chick-sent-me-high) is author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and a number of related books, and says we can facilitate the conditions for this quality of optimal functioning, and that it may be found in a wide range of careers and activities.
In my interview with Susan K. Perry, PhD, she notes: “What I found in my studies of flow are that two things you need to do to get to this place where time stops and you can be most creative, are to loosen up, and focus in. It’s a paradox, obviously, to be loose and focused at the same time. And they overlap…”