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The ‘Gangs’ all here

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Eileen Murphy

Take a perky, red-headed pickpocket, a working-class hero out to avenge his father’s murder, and set the story in the Irish slums of 19th century New York. Add some big-name actors, a legendary director and, let’s face it, some seriously ugly costumes, and, voila!, you get the long-awaited Martin Scorsese epic, “Gangs of New York,” which opens at movie theaters this December.

The cast of the movie is an impressive one. Teen heartthrob Leo Di Caprio stars as Amsterdam, an Irish-American ruffian whose father, played by Liam Neeson, was murdered by the head of a rival gang. Cameron Diaz plays the love interest, and the showy, villainous part goes to Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day Lewis.

Rumors have been circulating for months that the picture was overbudget, that the script was a work in progress, etc., etc. The last part was definitely the case for Diaz. EW magazine reports that her lines were being rewritten “seemingly every day.” But the actress says she didn’t mind a bit.

“Were the circumstances ideal?” she asked rhetorically. “No.”

But the end was far more important than the means.

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“The truth is, [when] you’re in Rome making a movie with Martin Scorsese, you don’t want to complain.”

The movie marks a return to the screen for Day Lewis, who last appeared in “The Boxer.” In “Gangs” he plays a baddie named Bill the Butcher. Which is the first clue that this is not going to be a romantic lead.

So, why the long absence?

“The image that springs to mind is when you leave a field lying fallow because you’ve used up all the ingredients in the soil,” Day Lewis said. “And you can’t use that soil for a couple of years.”

The actor has been fertilizing his soil by reading and studying the art of shoemaking. He worked as an apprentice under a master cobbler in Italy, an experience he declines to discuss. The bad news is that Day Lewis found “Gangs” to be such an intense moviemaking experience that it could be at least another five years before he gets in front of the cameras again. But we bet he’ll have nice shoes when he does.

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