When Paul Thomas Anderson cast Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood,” a loose adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil!”, the notion of our greatest living actor occupying the turn-of-the-20th-century Western expanse conjured images of everything from John Wayne in “The Searchers” to James Dean in “Giant.” We had no idea. As ruthless prospector Daniel Plainview, Day-Lewis drills down into the crudest of American crude. His antihero lives only to protect his considerable financial holdings.
And yet, from the start of his acting career, Day-Lewis had little interest in making his mark in American movies. He was trained to revere Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Chekhov: the old, durable masters. As he told The New York Times in 2007:
“Where I come from, it was a heresy to say you wanted to be in movies, leave alone American movies. We were all encouraged to believe that the classics of the theater were the fiery hoops through which you’d have to pass if you were going to have any self-esteem as a performer. It never occurred to me that that was the case.”
As for Westerns, they’re just not his thing. He told The New York Times in a separate interview:
“I don’t particularly like westerns as a genre, but I do love certain westerns. ‘High Noon’ means a lot to me — I love the purity and the honesty, I love Gary Cooper in that film, the idea of the last man standing. I do not like John Wayne: I find it hard to watch him. I just never took to him. And I don’t like Jimmy Stewart as a cowboy.”