Tag Archives: Nicholas Hytner

Are all actors barking mad? The case of Daniel Day-Lewis even before “Lincoln”

(This piece was also published on Indian news site WSN)

US poster for Spielberg’s movie Lincoln

Across the Atlantic, Daniel Day-Lewis is getting rave reviews for his performance in the title role of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln – which does not open here in the UK until January.

Nicholas Hytner is Director of the National Theatre in London, but he also occasionally directs films. In 1996, he directed a movie of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Scofield.

Yesterday, Nicholas Hytner gave the annual Directors’ Guild Peter Brook Lecture in London and said this about the filming of The Crucible:

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Nicholas Hytner’s movie of The Crucible

Daniel was looking forward to working with Scofield more than I think any actor has ever looked forward to working with any other actor. I think he assumed that, because Paul was so mysterious and seemed to have access to such a kind of vast inexplicable world – he seems to channel something from deep beyond what’s easily expressible – Daniel, I think, assumed he would be a kindred spirit.

And Daniel really does – though he’s much more genial and self-mocking about it than you would ever know from the way he’s written about – he really does all the stuff he’s reputed to do.

So he came and he helped build the house that John Proctor lived in and farmed the land that John Proctor was farming and tried to live the life of a Puritan farmer… though he still came out for dinner with us at the end of the day.

He did all that.

And Daniel was, at that stage, in a place where he could barely admit he was going to learn the lines. It was an enormous challenge for him. Because, on the one hand, he was doing it because of this extraordinary text, the extraordinary texture of the way Arthur Miller had written for this Puritan farmer. That’s why he was doing it. On the other hand, by learning the lines, he was admitting the artificiality of the proceedings.

It’s been just one of the most thrilling parts of film-going in the last thirty years – to see Daniel struggling with that conundrum in movie after movie and coming up with this incredible series of great, great, great performances.

He expected Paul to be the same.

He reluctantly agreed to quite a lot of rehearsals, which Paul wanted because Paul said I’m in my seventies. I need these rehearsals or I’m not going to learn the lines. 

So, at the first rehearsal, Daniel is holding the script behind him and as far away from him as he can as if to kind of deny that it’s even there… and mumbling, because he doesn’t want to commit himself to anything until he does it spontaneously on the day.

And Paul starts by rehearsing the vowel sounds.

We live in a new TIIIME… a new TYYMMME… a new TIYEMM…

That is how Paul got into his character, how he got there… through the vowels. And also through the costume. He was twitching his cloak. All that stuff.

So, initially, Daniel was phenomenally disappointed.

But you put them in front of the camera on the day and they’re doing exactly the same job. They’re both completely in the present. They’re both completely spontaneous. They’re surprising each other. They’re firing off each other.

The point is, as a director, you’re often in the middle of approaches as different as that.

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