John Scally looks back on the making of Jim Sheridan’s hugely successful film, starring Oscar-winners Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker, about the life of the Dublin man born with cerebral palsy who could only control his left foot.


Thirty-five years ago Ireland had just come out of a deep economic recession. As the storm clouds lifted, two events gave the country a prominent place on the international stage and a huge confidence boost to the nation: the unprecedented success of the Irish soccer side under Jack Charlton, and the magnificent double triumph of an Irish film at the Oscars.

My Left Foot is a 1989 Irish biographical drama film co-written and directed by Jim Sheridan and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, and the cream of Irish acting talent including Brenda Fricker, Ray McAnally, Cyril Cusack and Fiona Shaw. It tells the story of Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy who could control only his left foot. It is a partly fictional biography, adapted by Shane Connaughton and Jim Sheridan from the book My Left Foot by Christy Brown.

The film made a global superstar of Daniel Day-Lewis. In 1980, he made his screen debut in My Beautiful Laundrette, directed by Stephen Frears. Throughout his career, he has mainly played leading roles in independent dramas. His big break came when he starred in My Left Foot and because of his portrayal of Brown, Day-Lewis won his first Oscar for Best Actor, becoming only the second person to win the award for his first nomination.

In addition to his first win for My Left Foot, Day-Lewis received his second Oscar for There Will Be Blood, in which he played oil tycoon Daniel Plainview. He went on to win his third Oscar for his portrayal of former U.S. president Abraham Lincoln in the biographical movie Lincoln.

He is renowned for immersing himself in his roles and putting a lot of preparation into each one. He claims his interpretation process is “a ritual to which I must submit myself”. He is famous for transforming his appearance and adopting unusual hobbies and diets to better identify with his characters.

To take some examples he grew his nails for My Left Foot, lived as a member of an indigenous tribe for The Last of the Mohicans and gained weight for his roles in In the Name of the Father and The Boxer.
The English-born actor opted for dual British-Irish nationality back in 1993, when he moved to County Wicklow.

Continue reading in this year’s Ireland’s Own Saint Patrick’s Day Annual