how teens reclaimed daniel day lewis as a gen z heartthrob

"Thirst is 100% a part of Daniel Day-Lewis stan Twitter."

by Iana Murray
29 August 2019, 7:00am

When you think of a heartthrob in 2019, who would you think of? The usual suspects are names like Timothée Chalamet and Harry Styles: skinny boys with soft faces and sharp cheekbones who look like they haven’t seen sunlight in two years. Suffice to say, when we think of heartthrobs, the mind doesn’t immediately wander to 62-year-old, three-time Academy Award-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis, but a tight-knit community of young, dedicated stans would beg to differ.

A single search unveils countless thirst tweets in which fans confess their endless love for him. Stan accounts – predominantly run by young women – reveal a longing to settle down for a quiet life on the actor’s Irish farm as much as they want to get in his pants. There are very few people in the world who can say they actively don’t like Daniel Day-Lewis, but where most people claim to admire his work and stop there, his stans go above and beyond. They circulate and dissect paparazzi photos and interviews (both are rare occurrences) and meme him endlessly.

The hysteria around Daniel Day-Lewis hit its peak during the release of 2017’s Phantom Thread, in which he plays a hot-headed dressmaker who becomes infatuated with his muse. A dichotomy of reasons behind this sudden ignition of thirst: his portrayal of the sensitive Reynolds Woodcock is a far departure from the actor’s most recognisable characters, hardened and hyper-masculine. Oxford student Alice says she can’t rewatch Phantom Thread because its tenderness “stirs things too deep” in her. On the flip side, Phantom Thread is the sexiest film that doesn’t have any sex. The shifting power dynamics between Reynolds and his lover, Alma, are blatantly kinky – how else to explain a man who gets off on being poisoned?

19-year-old Paige joined DDL stan Twitter just before the 2018 Oscars, when Day-Lewis was nominated. “Everyone just seemed really taken with him.” she says. “I don’t know if it’s because his films are obviously great but few in number. He’s not a very public person so he’s not your average tabloid celebrity, which I think makes him more interesting.”

The actor exists on a realm above the A-list, ubiquitous but unknowable. You’ll never find him on a press junket, and he’s rarely spotted in public. What is known for certain is his over-the-top dedication to method acting. Only Daniel Day-Lewis could get away with living as his characters for months, going to restaurants in a wheelchair while making My Left Foot and supposedly never bathing during the filming of The Crucible. At a time when complete transparency on social media is the norm, there is something to behold in the impenetrable enigma of Daniel Day-Lewis, the guy who probably doesn’t even know what a tweet is.

Group chats began to emerge on Twitter where young fans could collectively indulge in their obsession, though activity has been slow since Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting. “Usually they’re sporadically revived any time we get pap photos of DDL every few months,” says 18-year-old Ava, who started paying attention to the actor when she developed an interest in film, via Twitter DM. “That's when I finally decided to just dive into his filmography; I think I recognised the quality of the work I was witnessing but hadn't understood or grasped it just yet.”

Ava is also the proud owner of a Google Drive folder shared with several other stans containing only pictures of Day-Lewis. “Thirst is 100 per cent a part of Daniel Day-Lewis stan Twitter,” she says. Indeed, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that young Daniel Day-Lewis is hot, but his stans believe he’s attractive at any age. Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t dress like his age, opting instead for Harrington-style jackets, beanies and combat boots like the boy who leaves you on read.

Prior to Phantom Thread, no one on social media would talk about Daniel Day-Lewis in the same way young fans would talk about actors closer to their age, that is apart from 19-year-old Claudia. “I was literally one of the first,” she says. “I remember when I first started talking about DDL on Twitter, and it wasn’t a thing. It was just me venting about how hot he was.” Eventually, she noticed a fandom beginning to take shape. “It was just so crazy how everyone became suddenly obsessed with him, like, he’s literally a 60-year-old man living on a farm but he’s so valid and unproblematic and so good at what he does.”

She did, however, feel a sense of ownership as the initial lone stan, believing it to be a passing trend. “But I have met so many of my mutuals thanks to DDL, and it just became fun to talk about him 24/7,” she adds. Daniel Day-Lewis stan Twitter is a small community, but like the devout fans of other celebrities, they’re just as dedicated and vocal.

The public’s perception of stan culture purports the idea that young fans deify their idols, as if to put them on some godly, untouchable pedestal. But that is how Daniel Day-Lewis has always been treated. He has his own personal mythology and urban legends, like the fact that he hasn’t returned to the stage since he claimed to see his father’s ghost during a performance of Hamlet.

But the stan culture around Day-Lewis has done precisely the opposite. There are qualities to him that are ripe for memes beyond just Phantom Thread . Joking about Day Lewis’s flip phone and trademark hoop earring take him down from that pedestal – his stans talk about him like he’s human.

Daniel Day-Lewis is the ‘film bro’ actor, idolised by the types of men who pin Pulp Fiction posters on their bedroom walls and worship at the feet of Paul Thomas Anderson. Known for playing aggressive anti-heroes or powerful figures like Daniel Plainview and Abraham Lincoln, he’s typically associated with a masculine mode of cinema – brooding, sometimes violent, prestige dramas about damaged men – but young women have shaped Daniel Day-Lewis as an object of, not only adulation, but desire. Day-Lewis is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest actors ever, but now he’s also that cute guy whose sleeve tattoos only make him more endearing.

The way Day-Lewis is talked about on the internet has noticeably changed, and it wouldn’t be far-fetched to thank his stans for that. Young women are shifting the cultural conversation around not only Daniel Day-Lewis, but film itself. Four out of the five most popular users on Letterboxd, the film-focused social media platform, are women. The reign of the male, cishet film canon is over. The supposed film essentials aren’t just The Dark Knight and The Godfather trilogy anymore, they’re also Moonlight and the films of Greta Gerwig. With Daniel Day-Lewis, stans focus on his sensitivity and humility in his work and personal life, as opposed to his intimidating reputation.

Daniel Day-Lewis is exemplary of how teens are forming cultural tastes, both in the here and now and retrospectively. He found fame before the internet, and yet he is completely entrenched in film stan culture. Social media and stan culture, as well as a shifting cinematic language, has opened up a new dominant perspective on Daniel Day-Lewis. His fans see him as more than just his talent or his famed work ethic – they see him as a person. Albeit a very hot one. Young women have reclaimed Daniel Day-Lewis, and more than that, they've changed his public image in the process, through the simple act of loving him like a celebrity.

no country for old men
Daniel Day Lewis
Gen Z
Stan Culture
phantom thread