Editor in Chief
On Saturday, January 26, at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF), Daniel Day-Lewis received the Montecito Award.
The Montecito Award recognizes performers who have given a series of classic and standout performances throughout their careers. Past recipients have included Geoffrey Rush, Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet, Javier Bardem, Naomi Watts and Annette Bening, who was the very first recipient in 2005.
“Daniel Day-Lewis continues to inspire the industry and the public by his approach to tackling the most complex of characters and delivering brilliant performances time after time,” said Executive Director Roger Durling in a press release. “He is indicative of what the Montecito Award represents and we are thrilled to be presenting this to him this year.”
Opening the night was moderator Scott Fienberg:“There is the man who I would argue is the most versatile and transformative and awe inspiring and consistently great actors: Daniel Day -Lewis.”
Michael Mann, legendary producer of many films including Last of the Mohicans, spoke before a montage of Day-Lewis’ work.
“Daniel’s work is so extraordinary the term acting doesn’t really apply anymore; it’s something else on a whole different elevated plane. He inhabits himself with character body and soul and we find ourselves on another in an intimate proximity to another human being with dimensions of authenticity unlike that we’ve ever experienced,” said Mann. “The work for Daniel is an active passion and complete total commitment; the result is grace.”
Day-Lewis proved to be very frank, deliberate, and articulate. His English accent and deep voice gave him an air of wisdom and prestige; he was in charge of the interview, although Fienberg was as well prepared as possible.
The class system of London in the 1970s and his education there was tumultuous. “I didn’t feel as though I belonged there. But then again, why should you belong anywhere?”
He struggled with structure and ended up thriving in a co-educational, liberal-at-the-time school that encouraged arts.
“I suppose for most of us that end up in any creative field,” said Day-Lewis, “and particularly in the performing arts, there nearly always is a pivotal moment of recognition, in most cases, that it’s either this or there’s no place for me. And that’s how it felt.”
Theater, Day-Lewis found at that school, was his passion. “That’s what the theater is. It’s an alternative, I didn’t know what it could be, why it felt so liberating, but I understood immediately implicitly — and without trying to make too obviously a point — things were so dark and grim… the illumination of the little theater was of enormous importance to me.”
Clips from Day-Lewis’ expansive career played between interview segments. Feinberg asked about “the work” and “the business” — but when it comes to roles, most important to Day-Lewis is timing.
“No one’s ever had to sell me anything, anyone who’s ever had something of value and they know it’s of value doesn’t need to sell it. The trick for me is to sell it to myself. For whatever reason, there are moments in time where you have a very particular need to express a certain thing, to explore a certain part of your own life and your own experience. There is a need in that moment to both explore [a character’s] experience, their life, but of course to explore some part of my own life through them.
“The odds are stacked against you, always; I’m an actor, I’m not creating work for myself, I’m very much at the hands of other people, that doesn’t bother me at all. But the chances of somebody thinking that they really wish to do something with you, and you feeling the personal need to explore the same thing — it’s a rarity that that happens.
“I don’t begin with any kind of ambition other than a very selfish thing: to do that work for myself. When people take to it, it’s a wondrous thing to me, but the sad thing is I really feel as though it has nothing to do with me, although, how else could it be?”
It could be no other. the Montecito Award was presented by Sally Field, co-star of the new film Lincoln. It was the perfect retrospective for the most respected actor working today.
Since this article was written, Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Lincoln.