“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
William Shakespeare’s wisdom, expressed in Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3, stands as a recipe for integrity. We find quotes relevant to our lives scattered among his plays – about love, life, power and the abuse of power, betrayal, honesty, humor, fun and trust. Shakespeare wrote for everyone, not any one specific audience; and I would speculate that he also wrote for himself, the stories that most interested him. He was true to himself and his creative process, and his words have endured. Oh, yeah, he also wrote for money! Well, writers must eat, right?
I’ve been thinking a lot about integrity lately, honesty, truth, inclusiveness and the kind of caring for others that the corporate mindset leaves out of everyday work life. As a writer, I work hard to create with honesty, to dig into stories for the human truth that will make my work inclusive. In other words, I work to meet my own high standards of creative integrity. I do not steal from other writers. My imagination gives me enough stories to keep me busy for the rest of my life. For each story, I work hard to remain true to each character’s voice and personality, and to the realities of life, i.e. scientific laws, for example. When I feel my creative determination and momentum flagging, I turn for inspiration from my hero of creative integrity: actor Daniel Day-Lewis.
True, I admire and respect other actors, men and women, for their talent and artistic achievements. I admire and respect other writers, also. And there are musicians I admire and respect, both composers and performers, for their artistic integrity. But Day-Lewis and I have a history that goes back to the early 1990’s when I suffered a particularly long and stubborn writer’s block. Seeing Day-Lewis’ work as Hawkeye/Nathaniel in Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans, reading about how he prepared for this role, helped me focus as a writer on character as the most important element of my work. I finally got it. I would learn much more in the years following, especially about narrative structure from other writers, but for me Day-Lewis’ artistic and creative integrity as an actor was the light that illuminated my path.
Day-Lewis has portrayed an astonishing range of characters on film. With each one, he seems to have burrowed his way into the character’s core, his soul, by studying every aspect of the character and his life. For Hawkeye, he took an outdoor survival course to learn how to live like a Mohawk Indian in the 18th Century. He learned how to move in a forest, to listen to the sounds, and to track animals and people, to shoot with the kind of rifle used during that time. He added physical appearance to Hawkeye: lean, tanned, graceful, with long hair, tattoos, and other decorations (I’m certain the hair, make-up and costume departments were also involved, as well as the director). Then you have Bill “The Butcher” Cutter in Gangs of New York, an arrogant, powerful man, a villain, who Day-Lewis gave a human dimension by the way he moved, talked, and dressed. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
I anticipate seeing Day-Lewis’ latest creation, President Abraham Lincoln, with excitement and confidence in his creative integrity. His Lincoln will be not surface recreation of the man, but a full-bodied character whose energy and soul will be consistent with those of that conflicted leader. I wonder what an actor with such high standards of creative integrity thinks of an American President like Lincoln? I can’t wait to find out.
My gratitude and appreciation to Daniel Day-Lewis for being the actor he is so that I can look to him as my creative integrity hero. Who’s your creative integrity hero?