The Iconic Role That Made Daniel Day-Lewis Physically Ill

The movie in question is the exceptional “Gangs of New York.” Directed by Martin Scorsese, “Gangs of New York” starred Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, and Brendan Gleeson. The movie was based in New York City in the mid-1860s, during both an influx of Irish immigrants and the American Civil War. Day-Lewis played the central antagonist William “Bill The Butcher” Cutting, a ruthless gang lord that controlled a section of New York City known as “The Five Points.” The character is loosely based on the historical Bill the Butcher, whose real name was William Poole.

Day-Lewis engaged in his typical style of method acting to take on Bill the Butcher. This involved him picking fights with strangers, speaking with his character’s accent at all times, wearing period-specific clothing, and even training as an actual butcher. Unfortunately for Day-Lewis, wearing historically accurate garments all the time isn’t the best of ideas, and the actor came down with pneumonia for refusing to upgrade his coat to a warmer one because it didn’t exist in the 1860s (via The Independent). Never one to easily flinch on commitment, it was reported that Lewis initially refused modern-day medicine to fight it (via the BBC).

In a conversation with The Independent, Day-Lewis said of the experience, “I will admit that I went mad, totally mad,” and that the role was, “not so good for my physical or mental health.” But his committed performance helped earn “Gangs of New York” an impressive 50 awards (via IMDb), including a BAFTA for Best Actor for Day-Lewis, adding to his legendary status as an actor.

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