Emmanuel Itier: How did you feel at the end? Were you exhausted?
Daniel Day Lewis: No I wasn´t, which is part of the problem. In a sense you are… Everyone is begging somebody to kind of hit a gong and say they can go home, but at the same time, there is a great reluctance to move away from all those things that are so familiar to you. You´ve lived an accelerated lifetime in those few months, with very intense working relationships. And in terms of the life of the character too, having one´s unleashed curiosity which will carry you through an experience like that, you don´t cease to be curious. You don´t cease, so it´s quite unsettling just to go out of that life altogether.
EI: How do you decompress? Do you go to nature?
DDL: In a way, I do, necessarily, because I live in a very quiet, rural place, and that´s one of the reasons I live there, because both for the period leading up to any piece of work, I need the kind of silence I can have there at the setting of that place, but also for the decompression time. It´s absolutely the best place to be, so that´s just lucky that I can go straight to that. But I wrestled with that part of the game for a long time, thinking there are probably things I should do–there should be some sort of debriefing that goes on, but I then realized that very much part of that whole experience, it was important to allow oneself to feel conflicted and just lie fallow for a while like a field and not try to plant anything, just let it lie, not expect anything. I can still function as a human being and as a parent, I hope, but in any creative sense, I feel pretty much played out.
EI: How do you get these projects? Are they presented to you?
DDL: I don´t know. Yes, but that still doesn´t account for why one thing seems to engage my particular kind of madness as opposed to another which doesn´t. I´m often able to recognize the quality of a piece of work–the possibility of something for somebody else. I can imagine it from a distance, as a spectator almost. But that moment of being drawn in to the orbit of a world that´s calling to you is something that´s unaccountable. In this case, it came in the form or Paul Thomas Anderson.
EI: Your personal religion?
DDL: I´m a Pagan.
EI: Did you ever question yourself on that?
DDL: No, because necessarily the work that I had to do within that story, I was not a man that was preoccupied with questions of faith except as far as I could see through Eli, as if he was a glass window. I knew that he was made of the same stuff that I was, which would have just compounded my belief that behind most religion is hypocrisy. I tend to believe that the most truly ethical human beings are not people that stand on boxes and shout about it. I can´t help thinking that when somebody pontificates from a pulpit, chances are there is something going on behind that. And I´ve met some truly moral people in the good sense of the word, in my life, and I really can tell the difference.
EI: What drew you to work with PTA?
DDL: Him, him, him–just him. All questions related to this kind of a thing where one is encouraged to view an aspect of a character, an aspect of a working colleague, an aspect of a story–I have to say that, for me, it´s things in their entirety which have appealed to me. It´s Paul in his entirety as himself that appeals to me. It´s not one piece of him. Certainly he first came to me in the form of a script, apart from my understanding of his work, and Paul is a writer, and by that I mean a real writer. And his love of language and his use of language is unique and rich and luscious and very appealing to me, but the reason why it´s appealing to me that goes beyond that is that his language is at the service of an investigation he´s in–a genuine investigation of himself, of things he probably isn´t even conscious of, but you feel there is some truth at work there, trying to work itself out, as opposed to a piece of writing where the sentences are glorious but it seems to be more for affect than… A lot of people can make words beautiful, but to me they are only truly beautiful when there is some real investigation going on there.
EI: You understand your son in the film without communicating…
DDL: Yes, absolutely.
EI: What was your earlier comment on the importance of communication?
DDL: I was just trying to make a distinction, not a generalization, because that´s just–why bother? I was just trying to make a distinction between the people that make strong moral pronouncements as opposed to people who are, in themselves, beings of great ethical purity. It´s an entirely different thing and, I would say, a balance that most people who have a very strong moral structure in their lives are not people who go around shouting about it. I don´t think I was trying to say anything more than that. My son in the film and my character understand each other.
EI: Did you know Paul´s movies?
DDL: What I meant is, in connection with this film, I met him through the script, but obviously I already knew and had great feeling for his films, all of them, and most particularly Punch Drunk Love. I admired all his films hugely, but there is something I found very personal about that which really appealed to me. I love going to the movies.
EI: What films do you really appreciate?
DDL: The truth is I end up having to see a lot of films on DVD because I live in a place where there are no cinemas. The nearest one is over half an hour away, and we just very rarely get a chance to go to it. But the last film that I went to see, which had a huge impact on me, was La Vie En Rose, and that was entirely because of the performance of Marion Cotillard.
EI: Does your voice come from your theater experience?
DDL: As far as possible, I try to allow it to be as unconscious as it can be. There is a certain amount of trickery involved in that. You have to kid yourself a bit about things to create out of yourself a vehicle through which a character might emerge in all its different aspects. There is trickery in that because, obviously, you have to do a certain amount of technical work, but I abhor doing that specific work to the exclusion of other things, which lead you to kind of grow in the same way. So in terms of a voice, I don´t know if it´s got anything to do with theater training or whatever, but just, for a voice, I really try not to force things. I try to grow into an internal understanding of this elusive character that I´m pursuing, and at a given moment, if I´m lucky, a voice will resonate in my mind. I will hear the voice, in other words, and once heard, I will then have the problem of trying to vocalize it, because it´s a very different thing to hear a voice in your mind to actually making the sound. So I work on it and I kind of allow it to work on itself as well.
EI: Is this film about your own repulsion towards America as a European?
DDL: I wouldn´t describe the film as that, honestly–about right and wrong in America. I suppose there are all kinds of ways in which it might be interpreted. Individual freedom, that´s always the problem, isn´t it? Balancing individual freedom with responsibility in society doesn´t lead towards isolationism and megalomania.
EI: What´s right and what´s wrong about America?
DDL: Don´t ask me that. Ask somebody else that question. I´m a stranger in this country. I come from Europe. I come from essentially a cynical society which takes great pleasure in deconstructing America, and it´s not such a hard thing to do. I personally prefer to dwell on what I like about this country because I feel that it far outweighs what I don´t like. And quite honestly, I don´t feel like I have any right to talk about it. I like the exuberance of this country. I like a country for whom enthusiasm is not a sign of imbecility, whereas in other European countries, everyone is too busy looking at each other and wondering who´s going to make the next move. Here people just kind of get up and act on things they believe in, for better or worse, but mostly, I think, for better.
EI: What about your son Ronan´s name?
DDL: That´s family stuff.
EI: Did PTA give you much freedom on the set?
DDL: Like all truly great directors, he gives you all the freedom you need, and each individual might need a different degree of freedom. Some actors, I think, are probably quite nervous in the face of too much freedom. I personally thrive on it, and I thrive on working with somebody who was so unthreatened by the creativity of people around them that he can create the field upon which you can try anything that you feel you need to try in search of the elusive moment, and he creates that. He relates that feel for you. But in terms of the connection with him on a daily basis, we had very little need to talk throughout the shooting–very little need. I think we more or less said everything we needed to say to each other.
EI: Do you have plans to go to Italy?
DDL: No actual plan, but we often talk about going to Italy because we´ve had such happy times there. So if it wasn´t for school schedules or the demands of that kind of a thing, we would just uproot ourselves and go back there, but it´s not so easy now.
EI: What about a comedy?
DDL: I just did a comedy! [Laughs]