Day-Lewis gives his very best

WHAT to expect of Daniel Day-Lewis? At the very least, surely nothing less than another brilliant and diverse performance. That he delivers can be seen in The Last of the Mohicans, a recent chart-topper at the US box-office.

The Oscar-winner (for My Left Foot ) has proved capable of transforming himself completely from the crippled Christy Brown which brought him his well-deserved Best Actor statuette in the former film to the virile, bare-chested native American hero, Hawkeye, of the James Fenimore Cooper literary classic.

Before then, his athletic portrayal of Hamlet at London's Royal National Theatre had brought him to the point of exhaustion.

Day-Lewis needed time to recuperate and build up his strength before committing himself to another leading role.

''I'd been indoors performing in the theatre for too long,'' he quips. ''I realised it was time for me to get outside and breathe some fresh air.'' The chance he'd been seeking came when the script for The Last of the Mohicans landed in his lap.

''I was attracted to the fact that the screenplay was dealing with a time and physicality of a frontier that was relatively untouched by man,'' the Oscar-winning actor said.

Cooper's novel was set in 1757, when the British and French were in conflict, each aided by its own group of native American allies.

Day-Lewis knew early on that he would quickly have to get into physical shape if he was to play Hawkeye.

Every role undertaken by the actor involves long periods of concentrated research, and The Last of the Mohicans was no exception to this self-made rule.

Apart from the initial research period, Day-Lewis spent eight months readying himself for the physical feats he would have to perform on camera by honing his body to perfection.

''In a movie of this scope, you never know from day to day what would be required of you in terms of energy. The Last of the Mohicans was very demanding in this way. I really had to set my mind on avoiding little inconveniences, such as people offering me cups of tea.'' By the end of the filming, Day-Lewis conceded he had probably never been so healthy before in all his past 36 years.

From the great outdoors, it was back to city life (and the confines of civilised clothing!) for his next film, in which Day-Lewis' ''method'' was again put to the test.

But this time it was for a story of a very different nature, based on Edith Wharton's novel The Age of Innocence, which Martin Scorsese has brought to the screen with Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder as Day-Lewis' leading ladies, representing temptation and youthful innocence.