Lesley Manville on working with Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread

Social media is the last on my list of priorities, says the actor who earned an Oscar nomination for Phantom Thread

  • Published 15.03.19, 11:39 PM
  • Updated 15.03.19, 11:39 PM
  • 3 mins read
Lesley Manville with Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread A still from Phantom Thread

Over the last 30-odd years, Lesley Manville has had a prolific career across stage and screen, but the crowning moment undoubtedly came in 2017 when she was nominated for an Oscar for her turn as Cyril Woodcock, the spunky sister to Daniel Day-Lewis’s Reynolds Woodcock, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (premieres on March 31 at 1pm on Sony PIX). We chatted with Manville on being Cyril and her big Oscar moment.

What are your abiding memories from working on Phantom Thread?

Just how an enormous privilege it was to be directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, a filmmaker whom I have admired for many years. He’s a lovely gentleman, and really very funny. Just going to the sets of this film every day was exciting for me. And then, of course, was to share screen space with one of the world’s greatest actors — Daniel Day-Lewis. In some sense, it was also very overwhelming being in the same frame as him, but I had to put that to one side. He was fabulous in the film and I knew I had to deliver as best as I could as well.

While you were making this film with Daniel Day-Lewis, did it ever play on your mind that this was going to be his final film as an actor?

He didn’t announce his retirement after he made the film. So that wasn’t an issue at all.

Daniel Day-Lewis is the actor he is because he takes method acting to a whole new level. Did you watch some of that unfold in front of your eyes on set?

Yes, quite a bit of it. He has his own way of approaching a role and you have to give a co-actor a lot of space when you are on stage or set with them. Even though he would be quite withdrawn as he got into the skin of his character and looked deeply inwards into how to play him best, he was very accommodating as a co-actor and allowed me to follow my own method and my own process.

The part of Cyril Woodcock, of course, earned you an Oscar nomination. What was so compelling about her that made you want to sign on?

The script was very compelling. I don’t think there is a single actress in England who would get a Paul Thomas Anderson script, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and say ‘no’ to it, irrespective of the role. When you take on any role, you don’t know how it’s actually going to unfold; you have to trust your instinct. I got lucky that these are two highly talented men and I had a great role to boot, so there was not even the remotest consideration that I wouldn’t be doing this film.

Do you remember the exact moment when you were told that you had earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the film?

Yes! (Laughs) I was rehearsing a play and we were coming to the end of our lunch break. I knew the nominations were being decided that day, but I didn’t really pay any attention to it. I did have a BAFTA nomination and had won some other awards for the role, but I didn’t get a Golden Globe or a SAG (Screen Actors’ Guild) nomination and I was quite certain I wasn’t going to get an Oscar nod either. My phone rang and a friend of mine started screaming hysterically, ‘You’ve got an Oscar nomination!’ I just couldn’t believe it. I guess I was just destined for the big one (laughs).

You’ve been prolific across film, stage and TV. Are you partial to any or does the medium not matter?

They all require different disciplines as an actor and I love them all. My career, fortunately, has been a good mixture of all three. I do like theatre a lot and I try and do one major play every two years or so. What I always look for in a script, irrespective of medium, is the script, the director and who my co-actors will be. Great collaborations always bring out the best in me.

You’ve always been vocal about how you don’t want to be on social media. Don’t you think it’s a necessary part of the business you are in or do you think you are fine not being on it?

I don’t think it’s necessary at all! My job as an actor is to convince people I can be a particular character; it’s not necessary that everyone should know about my private life or what I eat for lunch. Being on social media is the last on my list of priorities and I don’t think any actor with any kind of integrity would want to be on social media. They should allow their work to speak, nothing else.