An actor's dedication is often measured by his awards. For Daniel Day-Lewis, however, the creative manscaping applied to his facial hair speaks volumes about the creative ways he approaches roles (and, often, those roles' Oscar-worthiness). So in the wake of a leaked photo showing Day-Lewis sporting a monstrous chin-strap to play Abe Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's forthcoming biopic, we asked Beard Team USA founder Phil Olsen to help us further determine the correlation between the actor's beardcraft and his stagecraft.
You can usually tell the quality of an actor’s performance by the awards on their mantel. With Daniel Day-Lewis, however, it’s the hairs on his chin. Throughout his career, his follicular fortitude has almost always resulted in epic performances—the kind that win over audiences, and the Academy. (His clean-shaven work, on the other hand, is more mixed: In the Name of the Father
was great, Nine
was not.) So when a photo leaked of Day-Lewis sporting a monstrous chin-strap as our 16th President for the upcoming Steven Spielberg Lincoln biopic, it guaranteed the movie would contend to sweep next year’s Oscars. (Not so obvious: how an obsessive Method Actor mentally justified Honest Abe walking around in stone-washed jeans.) To look a little deeper into Day-Lewis’s beard/flick association, we enlisted the help of Phil Olsen
, founder of Beard Team USA (and cultivator of his own show-stopping whiskers).
Cecil Vyse, A Room with a View (1985)
The Look: While on the surface it seems similar to his previous attempt at sprouting ‘stache, this one’s subtly a bit thicker and well-contained on his face.
Significant Awards: Two Best Supporting Actor wins (National Board of Review, NY Film Critics Circle).
Expert Opinion: “Reminds me of Movember, the month when men try to grow mustaches only to shave them off well before they establish themselves. A mustache needs more than 30 days to develop,” Olsen says.
Grade: Nothing lives in a vacuum, even mustaches. The upper-crust Church Lady-esque lip pucker Day-Lewis utilizes throughout his performance puts his ‘stache in extreme focus. The result makes the whiskers come off as regal rather than a meager attempt by a newb to be taken seriously. It adds greatly to his sublime snobby performance. (B-)
Christy Brown, My Left Foot (1989)
The Look: And here we go. Day-Lewis simply lets nature take its wild and erratic course, laughing at our species’ hubristic attempts to control it. The look of a mountain man with no use for the conventions of your society.
Significant Awards: Best Actor win at the Oscars, BAFTAs and eight other major awards; a Golden Globe nomination.
Expert Opinion: “Great beard. Good length and solid shape.”
Grade: While set reports of his Method Acting took the headlines--in which Day-Lewis forced the crew to carry him around the set while he stayed in the character’s state of paralysis--what really should’ve made news was his Method Beard. The added bonus for American viewers watching this tremendous performance was the knowledge that Castro was no longer the sole person atop Mt. Beardmore. Now, he had company. (A-)
John Proctor, The Crucible (1996)
The Look: Like someone took a number-2 trimmer to his My Left Foot goliath. Plenty of coverage, sure. But a bit too manicured, as if a mad scientist time-transported a metrosexual runway model to 1690s Salem.
Significant Awards: For the year, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Day-Lewis combined for a single nomination: Best Action Sequence at the MTV Movie Awards. You do the math.
Expert Opinion: “His long hair distracts too much from his beard.”
Grade: While a mainstay in high school American Lit classes for teachers who need an in-class mental vacation, this movie’s most notable for acting as a time capsule, reminding us that, yes, once we were all obsessed with Winona Ryder. (C-)
Bill the Butcher, Gangs of New York (2002)
The Look: While the eyes go to the perfectly curled mustache ends, dual daggers ready to strike, his hearty sideburns deserve praise as well. But what’s even more important is what’s not there: The hairless gulf between the two is symbolical of Bill the Butcher’s “keep your kind out of my yard” philosophy of race relations in the melting pot of 19th century New York City. Ok, fine. That may be reading a bit too much into it.
Significant Awards: Best Actor at BAFTAs, NY Film Circle, SAG Awards and 14 others; nominated for Oscar, Golden Globe, and three others.
Expert Opinion: “Daniel’s best moustache by far. It is fully developed and demonstrates commitment, flair, and attention to detail.”
Grade: His performance in this film is the epitome of a one-man show, best exemplified whenever Day-Lewis and his paradigm of facial production share the screen with that ratty mess on Leo’s face. (A)
Daniel Plainview, There Will Be Blood (2007)
The Look: Nothing flashy or manicured about the mustache. It is strong, immoveable, sturdy as steel. It is ruthless, savage, bold and, at times, charismatic enough to seduce you into doing whatever it wants. If it promises to find you, wherever you’re sleeping, and slit your throat, you can count on it. It will drink your milkshake. It is, in short, the greatest cinematic mustache of all time.
Significant Awards: No reason to talk about nominations here: Day-Lewis had 25 total wins for Best Actor during awards season.
Expert Opinion: “Unlike the previous Movember-like ‘stache in A Room with a View, this one’s a mustache that has been allowed to establish itself. It shows great style.”
Grade: Oh, just one of the most realized performances in one of the greatest movies of all time. (A+)
Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln (2012)
The Look: Just as former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa knew it was best to hang up his cleats after last season’s World Series victory, Day-Lewis knows there’s no point to follow his previous ‘stache at all. Instead, he opted for the one script lying around where the main character has facial hair everywhere except above the lip.
Significant Awards (Prediction): Spielberg, Day-Lewis’s beard, an All Star team of character actors--the tangible critical acclaim that comes with this one (i.e. awards) should fall somewhere between Gangs and Blood.
Expert Opinion: “I like Honest Abe’s beard the best, not because of the quality but because of what President Lincoln did for bearding. Hopefully the new flick will raise respectability for beards as Lincoln did in his time.”
Grade: We're predicting Oscar sweep--and a new trend: "bearding" as a verb.