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Daniel Day-Lewis is the antitesis of the attention-seeking Hollywood actor who basks in fame and laps up the trappings of success. This intense Irishman has shunned the limelight to such a degree that he's retired from movies twice - once training to be a cobbler in Florence - and has spent much of the last few years holed up in a rural Irish retreat.

Jim Sheridan, producer of The Boxer and In The Name Of The Father, says "He's already saying this is his last mvoie. That's what he tells me and I believe him." If this is the case - though it has been rumored he's signed up to do another film called In The Heart Of The Sea - it will come as no huge surprise to Daniel's fans. His profile has dropped dramatically since the late 80's and early 90's. Despite winning an Oscar for My Left Foot and receiving rave reviews for most of his screen performances, he has taken on fewer and fewer roles, and his lifestyle and looks have become more unusual by the year.

Judging by the photographs, the 43-year old actor, pictured with a mystery brunette in a Roman cafe, has decided to keep the droopy handle-bar moustache that he cultivated for his role in Gangs Of New York. Coupled with crumpled, peasant-style clothes, and his long, silver-grey hair tucked into a cap, Daniel lloks quite eccentric - far removed from his heart-throb image of old.

But, if Gangs Of New York is Daniel's swan-song, he's sure to go out with a bang. THe movie, set in the mid-1800's, is a Martin Scorcese epic and tipped to be a huge box office hit to rival Gladiator when it's released later this year. Daniel plays a gang leader, Bill "The Butcher" Poole, who likes nothing better than to hack people to death. His co-stars include Hollywood heavyweights Leonardo DiCaprio, Liam Neeson and Cameron Diaz.

One of Daniel's peculiarities is his meticulous commitment to "method acting". Many other actors would improvise the act of cutting meat, but Daniel undertook a training course on how to cut up meat in a top-notch London butchers, W. Head & Co.

Similarly, when he starred in the 1997 film, The Boxer, he trained to fight at a gym in Lambeth Road, East London, and achieved professional standard.

For his Oscar-winning performance as the quadriplegic Christy Brown in My Left Foot, he took to a wheelchair for weeks and for the Last Of The Mohicans in 1992, he undertook some serious body building to acquire rippling muscles.

Daniel has always shied away from the mainstream, blockbuster-style movies, preferring more arty productions. As the son of former Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis and grandson of Sir Michael Balcon, former head of Ealing Studios, it was perhaps inevitable he would choose such roles.

Daniel studied acting at the highly-respected Bristol Old Vic School, and shot to fame in the controversial movie My Beautiful Launderette in 1985, which featured gay relationships. In 1986 came A Room With A View adapted from the novel by EM Forster, then the intellectual The Unbearable Lightness Of Being in 1988. The pressures of his career have taken a toll over the years, and he's admitted he's not the most straightfoward man, once saying of acting: "if I weren't allowed this outlet, there wouldn't be a place for me in society." On another occasion he said: "I suppose I have a highly developed capacity for self-delusion, so it's no problem for me to believe that I'm somebody else."

His last theatre role was an adaption of Hamlet at London's National Theatre, but Daniel was forced to quit the show before the run came to an end due to "exhaustion." Whether the dark and difficult role caused him to have a nervous breakdown or not, Daniel has never again returned to the stage.

Daniel has twice taken a few years off to pursue other interests and escape the pressures of fame. He disappeared from the movie world in 1993 until The Crucible in 1996. Then in 1999 he surprised his fans by moving to Italy to learn cobbling.

In the early 90's came Last Of The Mohican's and In The Name Of The Father, but since then his movies have not had the same kind of impact and reception.

The English born actor, who assumed Irish citzenship in 1993, when he moved to County Wicklow, has had a love life as unusual as his professional life. He had been in a relationship with Isabelle Adjani for six years when she told him, reportedly by fax, that she was expecting his baby. He replied, also by fax, that he was leaving her, later explaining that it was "the most on-off relationship in the world."

Soon after Isabelle heard that Daniel had married his new girlfriend, Isabelle, rather generously, rang her to offer congratulations, only to be told he had married someone else entirely - playwright Arthur Miller's daughter, Rebecca. The couple have been married for five years now, and have a son, Ronan, half-brother to his love child with Isabelle, Gabriel Kane.

No on knows what's next for this unpredictable, unconventional man. But, whether it's making shoes, directing films or returning to the big screen, his intelligence, charisma and darkly handsome looks are sure to keep fans intrigued.

Feature by Julia Davis