What are the main differences between the acting methods of Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis, both award winners?

Leo tries to stay very much in character. Daniel Day-Lewis stays in character for most of the filming. Check out this behind-the-scenes photo from Martin Scorsese ‘s Gangs of New York to see the difference in his methods.

Between takes, Leo is sitting in a very ordinary and contemporary “director’s chair.” Five feet away from him is Daniel Day-Lewis, who is sitting in a period chair that his character would have been sitting in.

This is a physical manifestation of the differences between their operating methods.

During the production of Gangs of New York, Daniel insisted on only wearing clothes that his character, Bill “the Butcher” Cutting, would have access to during the Civil War period. He always stayed in character and insisted that people refer to him by his character’s name (something he did in most of his films, including Lincoln, where everyone called him Mr. President). He would stay in character and speak with his character’s accent between takes and filming. He even walked around Rome (where the New York City singing set was built) fighting with strangers in character.

Because Daniel decided to wear a period-authentic coat made from materials only available in 1862, he actually got pneumonia and became very ill. He even refused to take modern medicine for it and reportedly came very close to seeing his life at risk. Daniel learned that the real-life person his character was based on – William Poole – suffered from a severe case of pneumonia that nearly killed him. Daniel decided to deal with his symptoms and refuse the necessary contemporary medication.

Once filming begins, Daniel focuses on his character.

Leonardo DiCaprio told Daniel’s method:

“It was like two days before we started filming, and you know, we were saying, ‘Hi Daniel,’ ‘Hi Marty,’ ‘Good morning,’ stuff like that… I said, ‘Good morning Daniel,’ and he was , [grunts]. I said, ‘Oh s-‘, the game started. “I don’t think I said anything else to him in the nine months we were there. It was just – he was ‘Bill the Butcher’, and that was it. It was only until the last day of reshoots that we kind of looked at each other and laughed, you know, and cracked a smile.”

“I’ve done it myself to some extent, but I think, ‘To each his own.’ And I think his level of commitment is so absolute, and he goes home as a character… To some extent, I’m sure he you have to kiss your son and your wife and go to bed, but that kind of commitment was inspiring again for me. I think as an actor, being able to witness that and see the kind of commitment like that was another learning stage for me.

Leo is known for staying in character on set – but not to Daniel’s level. Leo has that great intensity, but he seems to prefer to turn it on and off.

Whereas Daniel always tried his best to stay in any of his characters’ mindsets, accents, mannerisms and everything.

And hey, he’s got three Oscars to show for it.

As Léo said: “to each his own”.

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