Kel O’Neill was an up-and-coming but largely still unknown actor when he received amazing news: He’d landed the role of Eli Sunday opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. This feel-good story didn’t have happy ending, though, as he was fired from the film after a few weeks of filming.
If you dig around the internet, you will likely see people claim O’Neill lost the job because he was intimidated acting opposite a powerhouse like Day-Lewis. But that’s a claim that has been denied by Day-Lewis, Anderson, and O’Neill himself. According to O’Neill, he could tell after a couple days of filming that something wasn’t working. “You know,” he told Vulture. “You just know.” He wasn’t jibing with Anderson, which he took responsibility for, saying, “An actor should, with every ounce of their humanity, be attempting to give the director what he or she wants.” Being fired put O’Neill off acting and he soon transitioned into a successful career as a documentarian.
As for recasting the role of Eli Sunday, Anderson found his replacement right there on set. He asked Paul Dano, who was already playing Eli Sunday’s brother Paul, to play Eli as well. To facilitate this, slight tweaks were made to the script to make it clear the brothers were identical twins.