The Mystery Of Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis has a knack for turning each new role into movie gold. And in the case of his latest film, make that black gold. Just last night, the National Society of Film Critics named "There Will Be Blood" as the best picture of 2007. For our Oscar preview series, "The Red Carpet," correspondent Lara Logan talks with the award-winning actor.

The quest for oil, and the pioneers who first discovered how to tap the land more than 100 years ago, serve as the backdrop for "There Will Be Blood," the new film starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

Day-Lewis told Logan that when he picked up the script and read it, the first thing that grabbed him was the title. "Yeah, that has to do something."

Despite the horror-movie title, the film is drenched in oil, not blood, and greed, more than violence, drives the action.

Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a dynamic, pathological force of nature who needs to win at any cost.

"I have a competition in me," Plainview tells one character. "I don't like anyone else to succeed."

It's another Oscar-caliber performance by an actor whose ability to transform himself into a character is legendary.

"Yeah, there's something appealing about that, for sure," he laughed.

What appeals to him, he says, is authenticity - getting every word, every gesture just right - as Logan says, down to the dirt in his fingernails.

"That's the ideal," Day-Lewis said. "That's the task, I suppose, that we set ourselves. That's the narcotic almost, as well. Certainly that illusion is a very intoxicating one, I think."

Just don't ask how he achieves that illusion - that, he says, is a secret.

He also won't say if he enjoys killing a man on camera.

"It's part of my job," he says. "I don't think I have a good answer for it."

The truth is, Day-Lewis has a good answer for just about everything; he just isn't comfortable analyzing himself, or his art.

"There's not really anything to say about it; you do it. You do it as well as you can. The proof is in the pudding. And I always feel when I talk about it, too, that it's falsifying the reality of that work, which finally, luckily for all of us, remains a total mystery."

What's not a mystery is that he became an artist in the first place. Born in London in 1957, Daniel's father, Cecil Day-Lewis, was a poet-laureate of England and a popular novelist. His mother, Jill Balcon, is a well-known British actress.

But he had doubts about pursuing acting as a profession. He wanted to do something useful, at one point studying to be a cabinetmaker.

"I was conflicted about this work for many years because I wasn't sure if there was real value in it," he said. "I was never unaware of the absurdity [of acting]. Maybe I have to take it that seriously to obliterate the sense of absurdity."

That at least partly explains his reputation for exhaustively preparing for often difficult roles: learning to handle a musket and tomahawk for "The Last of the Mohicans," training for months as a fighter for "The Boxer," and working at a butcher shop and learning to throw knives for his role as Bill the Butcher in "Gangs of New York."

But it was his performance as cerebral-palsy sufferer Christy Brown in 1989's "My Left Foot" that first earned him recognition as one of the greatest actors of his generation.

He won that year's Oscar for best actor, but true to form if you ask him about it, he was happy … for everyone else.

"I wished so much for people that wished for me, that they wouldn't be disappointed," he told Logan. "You know, because there are a lot of people in Ireland that ["My Left Foot"] really, really meant a lot to, because they felt it was their story."

Day-Lewis accepts very few roles, despite the Oscar and countless other awards. Family is one of the reasons.

While filming "The Crucible" in 1995, Day-Lewis met Rebecca Miller, daughter of Arthur Miller, the play's author. They married the following year, and now live in Ireland with their two young boys

What does it say about him that he's only done four films in the last 10 years?

"There's great joy in this work for me. But I couldn't find the joy in the work if I worked to somebody else's rhythm. And I just have a very, I suppose, very slothful rhythm!"

That rhythm was interrupted two years ago when director Paul Thomas Anderson sent him the script for "There Will Be Blood."

When asked why he chose Day-Lewis for the role, Anderson said, "Well, that's like saying, 'Why were you after the Holy Grail?' It's not the question of me choosing Daniel Day-Lewis, is it? It's more like Daniel chose to do the film.

"You can only fantasize about the possibility of working with him. He's so slippery, he's so elusive, isn't he?"

Anderson, the Oscar-nominated writer-director of "Magnolia" and "Boogie-Nights," quickly learned just how tough and dedicated an actor Daniel Day-Lewis really is.

"I remember everything going great for about 24 hours when we started shooting the movie," Anderson said. "I'm feeling really confident, and then at the beginning of the second day, Daniel fell down a 50-foot mine shaft, and broke two of his ribs. And I thought, 'That's just not good.' But I also thought, 'I really doubt that Daniel's ever made a movie without breaking something.' So it's got to be a good sign!"

Apparently it was. "There Will Be Blood" opened to rave reviews, and renewed best-actor Oscar buzz for Day-Lewis.

But all that talk is beside the point. Once the film, the work, is done, he has no stomach for the celebrity hype machine.

"I love what I do," Day-Lewis said. "And I'm very proud to be a part of a body of people that do this work. So it's with no wish to ridicule a profession, which I actually think is strangely a potentially noble one. It most often isn't noble. We're turned into clowns a lot of the time. But that's no bad thing, either."

"You seemed to have escaped that," Logan said.

"No, I feel like a clown," he laughed.

"Right now?"

"A little bit. A little bit."

What he wants more than anything else is to get back to Ireland, to the things that, for him, make up "real life":

"It could be six months of daydreaming. I live in a landscape, which every single day of my life is enriching. It's food and drink to me. And very happily, I'm allowed to be with my family, who don't get to see a lot of me when I'm working. So I wish to make up for that when I'm not. It's a gift. It's a great privilege."

Sooner or later, when the time is right, Daniel Day-Lewis will go back to work. Someone will send him a script he can't ignore, with a role, like all the others, he will feel compelled to get just right.

"I like things that make you grit your teeth. I like tucking my chin in and sort of leading into the storm. I like that feeling. I like it a lot."