With five Best Actor Oscar nominations under his belt (and three wins), Daniel Day-Lewis is now seeking a sixth nod as writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson gets set to debut their second on-screen collaboration together, Phantom Thread. It’ll likely be the last go-round for the duo, too, since Day-Lewis has announced that he is officially retiring from acting, making his role as a self-centered fashion designer in London, circa 1950s, his final bow.
When Fandango sat down with Phantom Thread writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson recently, we began by asking whether he knew Day-Lewis was going to retire when they first began working on the film together.
"You mean, did he come to me and say… “One last job!”" Anderson joked, referring to the movie and TV trope where a character takes on “one last job” before retirement. “No, thankfully, he didn't say that,” he added. “It was after the fact that he made his decision that he didn't want to do it anymore, so of course everybody's sort-of joking around, being like, "What'd you do? What'd you do?" And then I'll think, "Did we do something?" No, we didn't.”
The truth is Anderson and Day-Lewis had been itching to work together again since they teamed on 2008’s There Will Be Blood, which netted eight Oscar nods and two wins, one of which went to Day-Lewis.
“The idea to work together was in both of us, and I think that I was really kind-of cheerleading, saying like, "Right, we have to ... If we don't ... If we keep daydreaming about this, we're going to daydream ourselves into nothing.”
Anderson shared with Day-Lewis a rough idea he had – a “shadowy thing,” he called it – about a strong man with a job that likely had to be in the creative world. It wasn’t until Anderson stumbled across a picture of designer Cristóbal Balenciaga in an airport and then it hit him. “I was like, “That’s it. That’s our guy.” It was just one of those “good idea” moments, and it was literally right in front of my face.”
From there the two developed a character loosely based on a number of fashion designers; a man so devoted to his craft that when a woman enters his life and exposes the man’s long-buried desire to share his life with another, it throws his meticulous persona into disarray.
It’s that quality – the act of being meticulous – that Anderson mentions first when we asked what he’s learned from Day-Lewis that’s helped him become a better filmmaker.
“You know, a lot has been made of his meticulousness and all that kind of stuff, and I think it matches up well with my desire to understand everything going into film as best you can in the time that you have,” he said. “I love the way that he works, and the temperature that there is on the set.”
Anderson continued, “It's very focused. It's very quiet. It's all about the work. There's no chit-chat about anything else. People aren't on their phones. There's no f**king around, you know?”
The writer-director credits Day-Lewis’s commitment to the art of his craft as being the main driver of their professional relationship, citing the actor’s ability to create on the page, as well as on screen.
“He's got a great mind as a writer,” Anderson said. “His father was a writer, and people think of Daniel Day-Lewis as, "Daniel Day-Lewis: world's greatest actor," kind of thing, but it's seriously overlooking his skill as a writer.”
Whether Day-Lewis will spend part of his retirement entertaining the world of the written word is something we’ll have to wait on… and for those wondering whether Paul Thomas Anderson is considering retirement anytime soon, we have some good news.
“I don't have any plans to announce my retirement. I love what I do. I want to keep doing what I do. I couldn't afford to not do what I do ... Not only financially but emotionally. Those things are tied together, you know? So ... no retirement plans.”
Phantom Thread hits theaters in limited release on December 25 before expanding wider in early January. We’ll have more with Paul Thomas Anderson at that time – stay tuned.