The Way He Lives Now

As his fourth film in a decade arrives in theaters, the movies' most enigmatic leading man reveals the method behind his onscreen madness

Far from building a career, he now sees himself starting all over each time he determines he can be sufficiently useful to a director and accepts a role. "It's absolutely new each and every time," he says. "For all that you carry with you as you get older — and if you've had the good fortune to work in films that people have seen and in some cases liked, you carry with you the burden of expectation — all that went before is meaningless. Absolutely meaningless. Because you're a baby. From the moment you decide to go to work again, you're a baby. You have to empty yourself if you're going to be any kind of vessel at all.

"I suppose that's the salvation of all of us. With all the kind of grandiosity that surrounds the way of life that actors lead, there's an insistent humility to the work itself, because you cannot do it unless you begin with nothing each time."

The beginner's mind: Some people meditate for a lifetime to find it.

Day-Lewis laughs. "I don't think I've achieved separation from the material world just yet," he says. "The loss of myself happens in a place that's very concrete." Right: in the movies.

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