Daniel Day-Lewis will make one of his rare public appearances on Sunday when he presents the Best Actress Oscar at the Academy Awards, as the prior year’s Best Actor winners are tradition-bound to do. (DD-L won his third statue last year for "Lincoln.")
The reclusive Irish-English star, who maintains homes in Co. Wicklow and New York, had to be seriously talked into taking one of his better known roles, Bill “The Butcher” Cutting, in the 1860s New York immigrant drama "Gangs of New York." The persuader was none other than his eventual co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, who recalled their initial meetings during a Screen Actors Guild event last week.
“I went to his brownstone and sort of knocked on the door and he opened the door. He goes, ‘Shall we walk?’ And I go, ‘Okay.’ We started walking through Central Park and he didn’t say anything to me for the first couple of minutes, so I said, ‘All right, I’m not gonna say anything to him either,’” DiCaprio said of their meeting in the early naughties. Day-Lewis was retired, and "Gangs of New York" director Martin Scorsese wanted to pull out all the stops to get the gifted actor in front of a camera.
“So we kind of walked in silence for about 10 minutes through Central Park. It was incredibly surreal and I just said to myself, ‘I’m gonna wait until he’s ready to speak to speak.’ Finally, in the middle of Central Park, he finds a bench and he goes, ‘That looks good; would you like to sit?’” DiCaprio recalled.
“We sat down and we started talking about acting. I immediately asked him, I said, ‘Look, there’s a role of a gangster in turn-of-the-century New York, who’s a butcher, who carries butcher knives with a top hat and a moustache in a Martin Scorsese movie. Who in their right mind wouldn’t do this?’”
Day-Lewis wasn’t convinced, though, and DiCaprio needed an assist from "Gangs" co-star Tobey Maguire to seal the deal.
“We went out to dinner and it was actually Tobey who said to him, ‘Y’know, when somebody has a talent like yours, it’s almost their responsibility to do it, to get back in the saddle.’ I think he slightly disagreed with him at first, but eventually, thank God, he said yes,” DiCaprio said.
"Gangs of New York," released in 2002, went on to earn a ton of money at the box office and 10 Oscar nominations, including one for DD-L which he didn’t win. And DiCaprio will never forget the experience.
“There’s commitment and then there’s Daniel Day-Lewis. It was, like, two days before we started shooting and I kind of walked by and I said, ‘Morning Daniel...’ and he kinda went (grunt). And I said, ‘Oh s***, game on.’ I don’t think I said another word to him for the nine months we were there,” said the now 39-year-old Leo, who’s up for a Best Actor Oscar this year for "The Wolf of Wall Street."