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Imagining Daniel Day-Lewis In A Life Without Acting

Daniel Day-Lewis, the three-time Oscar winner and incomparable film chameleon announced his retirement from acting.
Jason Merritt
Getty Images
Daniel Day-Lewis, the three-time Oscar winner and incomparable film chameleon announced his retirement from acting.

He brooded, as Lincoln.

He seduced in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. And he murdered, in There Will Be Blood.

This week, Daniel Day-Lewis — a three-time Oscar winner, and incomparable film chameleon — announced he is retiring from acting at 60.

A statement released by his spokeswoman gave no explanation, saying this is a private decision, and that Day-Lewis will have no further comment.

The actor has often taken lengthy sabbaticals between films, but this time it's apparently permanent.

So what will he be doing?

Well, we know that Day-Lewis has a number of deep passions outside of acting. Woodworking for one, dating back to when he was in boarding school.

Back then, he imagined a life making furniture and even applied for an apprenticeship with a cabinetmaker — before drama drew him in.

Years later, he apprenticed with a master cobbler — learning the craft of shoe-making, in Florence.

I asked Day-Lewis about these pursuits in 2012, when I interviewed him about his role as Abraham Lincoln. He demurred, politely. As a private person, he said, he didn't like to cast attention on his life off the screen.

But eventually, he opened up — just a little bit.

"Yeah, I'm handy. You give me a tool belt, I know what to do with it," Day-Lewis said.

He told me he fell in love with arts and crafts woodworking at his boarding school — the posts and beams, benches and chairs.

"And it was something I felt immediately drawn towards and I discovered that my hands were good, that I could make things and I've always loved to do that," he said. "I just remember that my middle son ... overheard on the radio somebody saying, 'Yeah, I think he makes chairs in his spare time,' which he thought was one of the funniest things he ever heard and ... he imagined me setting up a shop somewhere with 'Dan's Chairs' as the shingle outside."

But about shoe-making? Day-Lewis was mum.

I even played my "I'm the daughter of a sandal-maker" card.

No dice.

"I tell you what," he said. "If we meet one of these days then we can talk about it. I'd happily talk about it to you in private."

Now, I'm picturing Daniel Day-Lewis in retirement — on his farm in Ireland, cobbling away. Or maybe — just maybe — he'll finally get to hang that shingle for "Dan's Chairs."

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As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.