"There Will Be Blood" not only is an epic showcase for its Oscar-winning actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, it also features a career stand-out performance by actor Kevin J. O'Connor, whose character Henry Brands (Plainview) balances the misanthropic Plainview with a quiet, desperate calm in hopes to change the course of his fate.
"I had heard somewhere that most actors want to work with Daniel Day-Lewis at some point, and to be on this film, working with him really was one of the finest moments in my career," shared O'Connor, speaking to me in Los Angeles.
O'Connor's scenes with Day-Lewis are portentous, powerful and portray his grasp of Brand's meager intentions with Plainview.
"I wanted to play him small, like the men you saw in old photos working and riding the rails, living in those times." O'Connor said. "I lost fifteen pounds for the role; I wanted to look like a desperate man of that time, to keep the realistic feel and visual of Henry's exhaustion of keeping up a lie."
O'Connor's Henry is a brief respite for Plainview - acting as a confident and business partner after Plainview's "son" H.W.'s is sent away. O'Connor plays Brand as if he was hanging on by his nails, and senses the brittle psychological state Plainview is being consumed with: Obsession to isolated madness, ultimately.
Brand's fate is visually foreshadowed as the deeply suspicious Plainview subtly trips him up in casual conversation over details of their supposed shared hometown of the distant Fond du Lac.
"I needed to play Henry smaller than Daniel's character, I saw myself to be the weaker of the two brothers. It was what I wanted to present, also to speak in a higher register.
That perfect moment for O'Connor as Brand came as he and Day-Lewis were shot in profile by "Blood" Academy award-winner DP, Robert Elswit, side-by-side in a haunting scene, swimming in the Ocean then relaxing after the two rode all day surveying and staking out an oil pipeline around the property of a California holdout.
The scene shows Brand quietly slumping over onto his knees, physically collapsing on himself from the day's work and the weight and worry of the false pretenses he used to connect with Plainview.
"Daniel (Day-Lewis) has said in some interviews that the beach scene was so good, just Henry's keeping up was exhausting, you know, I'm 'in' now, and have to still keep up the lie for Henry to be accepted."
"There Will Be Blood" was filmed for two months in the same area of Texas used by the epic film "Giant" and other great West Texas locale film of the year, "No Country for Old Men." The wardrobe was authentic using the fabrics of the day in the sweltering Marfa heat.
"(Costume designer) Mark Bridges had amazing attention to the details of all the character's costumes. We were wearing wool, heavy cottons and scratchy linen in Marfa and it was uncomfortable. But Mark and Paul (Thomas Anderson, director) were involved in every nuance of the garments, and we talked about how well would Henry be dressed when he meets Daniel (Plainview) at the station. The suit, how it was dated for the time, the pants not quite clean. I loved wearing those clothes. Despite the heat, the authenticity Mark (Bridges) gave us in the costumes only made my acting for that character easier; it completes you as an actor to have the best wardrobe for your character. Hair and makeup too, for me these are essential tools for absorbing the character fully."
Like many actors, O'Connor had to pick up a new skill for the role of Brand. He had to learn to ride a horse. "It took me about one month to be comfortable, and I was happy to accomplish it. I wanted to get on that horse and not worry, with the right body posture, and attitude."
O'Connor was gracious and very quick to offer praise for his fellow actors and crew, and along with Day-Lewis - in particular he had kind words for Ciarán Hinds, who played Fletcher Hamilton in "Blood."
"Ciarán Hinds is a consummate actor; he's also such a warm, nice guy. I was incredibly fortunate to work with him on this film. His talent is beyond belief, and I loved talking to him. Just a great actor."
A son of Chicago, O'Connor trained as an actor at the DePaul/Goodman School of Drama, then worked his way east and made his New York, off-Broadway debut in "The Colorado Catechism" by Vincent J. Cardinal at the Circle Repertory Company.
It was the break-out screen role of Michael Fitzsimmons, in Francis Ford Coppola's "Peggy Sue Got Married" that put him on the Hollywood map.
"That was a great experience, I loved working with everyone on that film," notes O'Connor. His dreamy and sexually charged high school anti-hero was one of the high points of the sentimental film.
Recent films of O'Connor's include action-adventure films, "The Mummy" and "Van Helsing." I asked him what other kinds of films he would like to add to his impressive resume.
"I'm not interested in genres; I'm interested in the roles. 'The Mummy' was fun and a comedy and adventure, and horror interests me, but not the kind of horror films they have today, more along the lines of 'Alien' where you just loved the characters like Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, and the others in their ensemble scenes, Today's horror films are just boring in comparison. They're just grossly pandering to the audiences."
There Will Be Blood (Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition) is now available for pre-order at Amazon for an April 8th release. As of yet, there is not a release date for the UK. Visit the DVD database for more information.