Daniel Day-Lewis is a lucky man. Not because he’s won three Oscars, and will never need to work again. Quite the contrary. He’s lucky because he has another job to go to, a job which doesn’t involve the hoopla of the Hollywood dream circus. The most gong-worthy actor in Academy history has announced that, for the next five years, he will devote himself to carpentry. He wanted to be one before he was a star, he is going to be one now. Apparently, until quite recently, one of his three children thought his famous father worked on a building site.
Good for him. After quite a few encounters with what I quaintly call “showbiz folk”, I am convinced that, in order to stay sane, it’s a good plan to have a bit of carpentry up your sleeve. You need options. Otherwise, you will end up believing Hollywood adulation is the only goal and, if that happens, you will go mad.
The career of Tippi Hedren, star of Hitchcock’s The Birds and Marnie, was derailed when she refused to bed her director. That was enough to stop any further parts. The saga was memorably played out recently in the BBC film The Girl, for which I interviewed Hedren. I was keen to talk to her about regret. Was she tormented by what might have been? Not a jot. Guided by what she calls a “strong moral basis for living”, she marched off to do something else with her life, namely saving the plight of big cats in captivity, and enabling Vietnamese refugees to retrain as nail bar entrepreneurs, a mission for which she received an award from the White House. Not an Oscar, but probably as fulfilling. More, actually.
“Yes, I wish I had gone on to do all those other films,” she told me. “But I replaced them by all the other things I do. I know people who are eaten up by ‘what ifs’. They go slightly mad, or get horrendously fat, or they are just horribly depressed.”
Although she enjoys talking about the glamorous times, Hedren, now 82, doesn’t do looking back. She gets on with what’s on offer. In this, she shares a mindset with Sixto Rodriguez, the “rock star who never was”, whose music bombed in the States and who for 30 years lived close to poverty before learning that he was a star in South Africa.
His extraordinary story, told in the film Searching for Sugar Man, won this year’s Oscar for Best Documentary. In it, Rodriguez is asked whether he cares about the money and the glory he could have had. Again and again, he says no. He is fine, living in his modest home in Detroit, doing deeply unglamorous work. He is content. “God bless you, Rodriguez,” says a friend, and it’s true. He is blessed, and so are Hedren and Day-Lewis. They just don’t believe in fame, the religion of our era. Anyone who has an Academy statuette this morning should think about following them.