Bristol Old Vic teacher who taught Daniel Day-Lewis recalls stars early days
WHEN John Hartoch first started as an acting teacher at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 1979, it quickly became obvious to him that there was something rather exceptional about the tall, quiet but passionate third year student who "had something burning beneath the surface".
Move forward 34 years, and John's former student, Daniel Day-Lewis, is making history by picking up his third best actor Oscar at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles.
John meanwhile, who is now head of acting at the Clifton theatre school, is beaming with pride, as he re-watches a recording of the Lincoln star's acceptance speech.
When he arrived in Bristol in the Seventies, he had only come to the Old Vic because he had been turned down for a cabinet-making apprenticeship. But it was immediately clear to John that the school had a genuine craftsman on their hands.
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"There was something about him even then," John recalls. "He was quiet and polite, but he was clearly focused on his acting – he had a burning quality. He seemed to have something burning beneath the surface. There was a lot going on beneath that quiet appearance.
"There was one performance in particular, when the students put on a play called Class Energy, when he really seemed to shine – and it became obvious to us, the staff, that we had someone rather special on our hands.
"But he was in a very special year. He was in very good company, given that he was acting along fellow students Miranda Richardson and Jenny Seagrove."
When he first arrived in Bristol, he was probably best known among his fellow students as the son of poet laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, but John says that never seemed to be a problem for the young actor.
"If it was a problem, he certainly didn't let it show," he says. "But then, it wasn't unusual for us to have acting students who had famous parents, so we never made a big thing of it."
Sunday night's Hollywood triumph is the latest high-point in the star's extensive career.
After completing his training he joined the Bristol Old Vic company and later performed with the Bristol-based Little Theatre Company, in the Colston Hall.
Day-Lewis shifted between theatre and film for most of the early 1980s. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and appeared alongside stars Sir Anthony Hopkins and Sir Laurence Olivier in the 1984 film The Bounty.
In 1986 Day-Lewis featured in A Room with a View and his first leading role came the following year when he starred alongside Juliette Binoche in The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
In the following years he would go on to win best actor Oscars for My Left Foot (1990) and There Will Be Blood (2008).
The 55-year-old star is known for his method acting – he immerses himself in his roles physically and emotionally.
But John says this is an approach he developed later in his career.
"He is best known as a method actor, and we're not a method acting school," John says.
"But when we talk about method acting we tend to be specifically talking about the school of acting developed by Lee Strasberg, developing the theories of Stanislavski. What Danny does isn't quite that – he just completely immerses himself in a character, but that comes as a result of the incredible attention for detail he was already demonstrating when he was here in Bristol."
To prepare for his role in The Unbearable Lightness of Being Day-Lewis learned Czech, and he stayed in character for the entire eight-month shoot.
He spent months making friends with and learning about the experiences of disabled people at the Sanymount School Clinic ahead of playing paralysed poet Christy Brown in My Left Foot, and killed all his own food for Last Of The Mohicans in 1992.
He also refused to wash for the duration of The Crucible shoot in 1996 in order to better understand what it was like to live with 17th century hygiene standards.
During filming of his latest award-winner, Lincoln, he is said to have stayed in character as the 16th president for weeks at a time.
Speaking as he collected his award, he said: "Since we got married, 16 years ago, my wife Rebecca has lived with some very strange men. I mean they were strange as individuals and probably even stranger if taken as a group. But luckily she's the versatile one in the family, and she's been the perfect companion to all of them."
John says Day-Lewis has "remained a great friend of the theatre school" and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre – where his professional acting career began after his graduation.
"He's come back to visit us on many occasions," John says. "Not to lead workshops with students, just to chat to his old teachers.
"He just turns up – a tall figure in leathers, on an enormous motorcycle. He never takes his helmet off until he's inside and he's certain he's not been seen by members of the public or students."
He has been more hands-on with his support for the restoration of the Old Vic's Theatre Royal in King Street.
Alan Wright, director of development at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre, said: "We're delighted for Daniel that he's the first person in the history of the Academy Awards to have been awarded Best Actor on three occasions.
"That he is such a committed supporter of all that we are doing at Bristol Old Vic while he is such an internationally recognised artist is typical of his character and passion for the arts at every level."
Back at the theatre school, John says Day-Lewis is now "probably the best known" actor to come out of the institution.
"Although we have quite an impressive alumni – everyone from Jeremy Irons to Patrick Stewart – I suppose he is now probably the best known, and we're very proud of all he's achieved.
"I certainly hold him up to current students of an example, particularly as an example of how to manage your career with great integrity. He's never courted fame, and as a result he's never had his private life impeached upon by the press. He's clearly not interested in celebrity as such – he's just interested in his acting. He is still a great craftsman."