By SANDY COHEN
AP ENTERTAINMENT WRITER
LOS ANGELES — Daniel Day-Lewis never shows up in gossip mags, hardly ever appears on talk shows and rarely grants interviews. The elusive actor can only be seen on screen — and that’s infrequent, too.
He’s made just four films in the past decade. Each time, he steeps himself in research and often remains in character throughout months of shooting. His performances win awards and critical praise.
Then Day-Lewis disappears.
The enigmatic 50-year-old actor is back in the spotlight with “There Will Be Blood,” a film that follows oil prospector Daniel Plainview as he grows his business and loses his mind in turn-of-the-20th-century California. The performance is generating awards buzz, earning Day-Lewis a Golden Globe nomination and accolades from Los Angeles and New York critics groups.
With a thick mustache, a stiffened gait and a gruff, authoritative voice, the character bears no resemblance to the lanky, handsome hipster sitting in a suite at the swanky Bel Air Hotel talking about the film. Day-Lewis spent two years preparing for the part, but when asked how he did it, he seems sincerely at a loss.
“I’m not trying to be coy, but I really don’t know,” he said, adding that he pored over scores of letters and photographs from the period. “The rest is the long, slow simmering of an untold mixture of influences until they begin to reveal some kind of life to you.”
Once he gets inside a character, he stays there and is reluctant to leave.
“It’s a testament to his willpower and his perseverance and level of commitment to be able to do that,” said co-star Paul Dano.
But when filming wraps, it can be difficult for Day-Lewis to extract himself from such deep immersion, perhaps one reason for his intervals between films.
“There’s no part of you, really, that possibly wishes to let go of it,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to make sense to have so elaborately constructed this illusion for yourself to then dispel it in a moment.”
He found it toughest to shed the characters he played in “The Ballad of Jack and Rose,” “My Left Foot” and “The Name of the Father” — a dying dad, a palsy-stricken Christy Brown (for which he won an Academy Award) and falsely accused Irishman Gerry Conlon, respectively — as well as his latest part.
“As alarming as it might seem to say it, Plainview, he was in no hurry to go home,” Day-Lewis said.
Another reason for his absences from the screen has to do with his personal creative rhythm, which he playfully described as “a slothful one.” From the time he decided on an acting career — a pursuit he first fell for at age 12 — he knew he’d have to proceed at a slower pace than most.
“I feel as if the periods when I’m not working are very closely related to the periods when I am working. There is no division between those two lives,” he said. “And I feel misrepresented because I keep quiet when I’m not working, [and] on the occasions when I once again step into a public arena, some people tend to see that there’s almost a kind of bipolar existence going on. But of course for me they’re both essential to each other.”