Daniel Day-Lewis Wasn't All Doom And Gloom During The Last Of The Mohicans

Daniel Day-Lewis' name has become nearly synonymous with the concept of Method acting, a concept that has a myriad of definitions. Essentially, it's a derivation of Konstantin Stanislavsky's idea of "The System," a way of performing that encourages emotions and reactions in the actor to be "real" as opposed to performed.

While the Method actor label has been applied to behavior ranging from an actor never breaking their accent while off-camera to Jared Leto sending his castmates disgusting packages during the making of "Suicide Squad," Day-Lewis' brand of Method acting has typically been held up as the ideal version of the concept, one where he immerses himself fully in his character while not becoming dangerous or a nuisance to his co-workers.

Still, it's easy to assume Day-Lewis' demeanor on set tends to be serious, strictly professional, and, given the nature of most of his characters, moody or morose. Which is why it's a joy to discover that, at least in the instance of making 1992's "The Last of the Mohicans," this was not at all the case. While working on the film, Day-Lewis engaged in a series of jokes and pranks with his costars that culminated in, of all things, a staged road accident.

Shooting 'The Last of the Mohicans' was no picnic for Day-Lewis

Director Michael Mann's adaptation of author James Fenimore Cooper's 19th-century historical adventure-romance is typical of the auteur's commitment to achieving excellence through hardship. Shooting in a number of naturally gorgeous but treacherous and difficult locations, including the DuPont State Recreational Forest in North Carolina, "The Last of the Mohicans" was a grueling shoot in tough conditions.

Daniel Day-Lewis' Method-infused commitment to playing the lead role of Nathaniel "Hawkeye" Poe meant the actor put himself through a rigorous training regimen that built his skill level up to that of his character's, with Day-Lewis learning "to track and skin animals, build canoes, fight with tomahawks, [and] fire and reload a 12-pound flintlock on the run," as a 1992 profile in the New York Times explained.

In addition to the pressure put on him physically, Day-Lewis also did his Method thing of staying in character at all times. This meant he didn't even allow himself simple pleasures in between takes, such as when other cast and crew members smoked store-bought cigarettes, he rolled his own. His removal of himself from present-day reality meant when not on camera, he "tended to go off by himself and sit under a tree in the sun."

Day-Lewis gets into a joke war with costar Madeleine Stowe

Yet despite Daniel Day-Lewis' insistence on immersing himself in the role and the time period of the story, he was far from an antisocial bore to be around. Never mind that "The Last of the Mohicans" was a hard shoot on everybody, regardless of their acting technique; according to costar Madeleine Stowe, the movie "was a difficult film on everyone, especially on Daniel. And he never once — not once — complained."

Given the hardships while making the film, Day-Lewis and Stowe needed to find a way to let off steam. They began to play a series of jokes and pranks on one another, usually during their rides back to their hotel in separate cars after a day's shoot.

While the "jokes" took the form of such things as a food fight while speeding down the road, one prank in particular illustrates Day-Lewis' level of commitment to whatever creative endeavor he embarks upon: a fully staged road accident that included fake blood and a moaning victim Stowe and her driver happened upon. By way of explanation-cum-apology for such a ghoulish prank, Day-Lewis said simply: "The location drove us to it."

Despite his Method acting, Day-Lewis remained professional

While there have been numerous instances of actors dabbling in Method acting and becoming more of a hassle to work with, Daniel Day-Lewis' brand of The Method on "The Last of the Mohicans" only affected his performance, not his environment. For her part, Madeleine Stowe greatly enjoyed her prank war with her co-star:

"I can't tell you how happy I was to see that wild streak in Daniel. I tried to goad him into getting angry and he wouldn't. It drove me crazy ... You never feel him engaging in a battle of wills. He doesn't have an intrusive bone in his body."

While Day-Lewis' method drove him to extremes over the course of his career, most stories involving his chosen style of researching and inhabiting a role describe any ill effects happening to just the actor himself. While the debate rages on about the effectiveness of Method acting, the least actors wishing to follow in Day-Lewis' footsteps could do would be to take a page from him and keep it strictly about themselves — and maybe find a way to have a bit of fun while they're at it.