Daniel Day Lewis tells his Florence
The art of the shops of Oltrarno are the good nets of the great Hollywood star
He is now in theaters with a masterful performance by President Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg, in a role that earned him his fifth Oscar nomination for Best Leading Actor.
Firenze made in Tuscany met him in Berlin, first on the occasion of The Ballad of Jack and Rose, a film made together with his wife Rebecca Miller. At the time he had a huge beard, an earring, long hair, old-fashioned brown pants and a red T-shirt. He would have mistaken himself for one of the slow walkers on Hollywood Boulevard, with their shopping cart full of junk. Instead, what we were looking at was already one of the greatest actors of his generation. One who inhabits his characters, who lives in their skin. Able to throw punches for six months, to play a film about boxing and not even see his own wife while playing a reclusive character.
There Will Be Blood
Then for his second Oscar, for There Will Be Blood, in Italy, Il petroliere, a film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson that owes a great deal to his perfect, ferocious interpretation of a wild, beastly, wounded man, incapable of finding peace with himself and others. But not everyone remembers when, to find himself again, dazed by a job too full of tensions and opportunities to lose his head and size, he chose to take refuge in Florence.
"Perhaps it's not unusual for an actor to be strangely antisocial," he told us in Berlin, I instinctively feel when I have to get away from all that frenzy. So after The Boxer, in 1997, Daniel retires from the film world and begins a five-year period away from the set.
"There was a period, a few years ago, when I simply felt I wanted to do other things. It often happened to me over the years to take breaks from acting". And for this break, which could not just be a break but the end of his career, he chose Florence.
In Florence, Daniel Day-Lewis had been there for several weeks at the time of his first major film, Camera con vista, directed by James Ivory, in 1985. Florence transformed into a nineteenth-century set, girls walking with sun umbrellas in Piazza Signoria. It was not only the characters who fell in love with Florence, it also happened to the actors.
That love must have burst out overbearingly fifteen years later. His trusted shoemaker sent Daniel to Florence for a shoe fitting. There, Daniel meets Stefano Bemer, not just any old shoemaker but an artisan who makes custom-made shoes, who uses only precious materials, each foot a design, with all the calm and all the time necessary (the master craftsman Stefano Bemer, soul of San Frediano, passed away prematurely last July, ed).
Something clicks in Daniel's mind. The understanding that the care in doing one's work becomes something similar to an art, almost an exercise of a spiritual practice. Something that ennobles. A work to be dedicated to with the skill, the attention, the competence of an artist. Something that probably in Hollywood, where business is God, is no longer found. So Daniel asks Stefano Bemer to teach him how to do it. Probably not how to make a shoe. But how to dedicate yourself patiently, with care, with obstinacy to your work. I think he entered Bemer's workshop the same way you enter a Buddhist monastery. And like a Buddhist monk, he stayed there. Without seeing people. In a secret room, a sorcerer's apprentice, away from newspapers, photographers, televisions.
"I've always been good at using my hands for work," he says with some pride. He also knows how to work wood, like his colleague Harrison Ford. And he begins his apprenticeship with his hands. The shop is in San Frediano, in the heart of the oldest and truest Florence, the artisan Florence, the Florence of the small framers, silversmiths, leatherworkers, dealers, antique dealers: the shops.
He takes home in Santo Spirito, on the Florentine rive gauche of artists and the less wealthy. He lives in Florence with his wife Rebecca and his one year old son. Then comes the time of kindergarten, and he will bring him to us.
There are those who see him in a sports shop, wrapped in coats and sweaters that are everything but a star. Some people see him taking tempura and sashimi in a Japanese restaurant nearby. But few people see him. Hollywood brings him the most interesting proposals. He's called for Lord of the Rings and the Solaris by the genius Soderbergh. He gives up, in those cases and in others.
One day Martin Scorsese arrives in Florence. He talks to him. He asks him to participate in his next film. It's about Gangs of New York and he, Daniel, will be The Butcher, the butcher. A very violent role. To which, then, it will give an intensity, a ferocity never seen before. And goodbye to Florence, to the shoemaker's shop where perhaps he learned more than anything else, he learned to find himself again.
"The actor's work is strange: first you spend your time learning. Then you make a film, another one, another one, and in the end you're dog food. You feel exhausted, you feel you've given everything without having learned anything," he told us. But it's hard to understand it. Because stopping means giving up a lot of money and giving up success. It takes a lot of strength to stop. To somehow make others forget us.
Gangs of New York
I wonder if it had something to do with the fact that Bemer's shoes were practically eternal. "I have a pair of boots that belonged to my father. - says Daniel - With those boots, he traveled the United States for six to eight months when I was a kid. He came back with a record, The Freewhelin, by Bob Dylan and those boots, which looked just like the boots Dylan has on the album cover. My dad was in his 60s then. And yet he said, "Listen to that guy. He's a real poet.
"When my father died," continues Daniel, "I started wearing those boots, until I wore them out. And when they couldn't be mended, it broke my heart." Maybe that's also why he learned, in Florence, to make eternal shoes.