17 Things You Never Knew About ‘The Last of the Mohicans’

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Has there been a movie couple in the past quarter century as steamy as Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe in “The Last of the Mohicans”?

Released 25 years ago this week (on September 25, 1992), Michael Mann’s pre-Revolutionary adventure saga never got Day-Lewis out of his buckskin or Stowe out of her corset, yet their smoldering glances and passionate embraces sparked more sexual chemistry than screen couples in more explicit movies have displayed.

“Mohicans” was a hit that transformed Day-Lewis into a Hollywood leading man, proved Mann could do historical epics as well as contemporary crime dramas, and put Wes Studi (who played the villain, Magua) on the map as a character actor. Still, there’s a lot that fans of the movie haven’t seen — the production’s off-camera turmoil, the missing love scene, and the secretly prankish side of the usually intense Day-Lewis. Here’s what really happened in the feral backwoods.
1. There really was a Col. Munro who led the British forces at Fort William Henry when the French attacked it in 1757. James Fenimore Cooper drew much of his 1826 novel from accounts of the siege’s survivors, but the rest of the characters were his own inventions.

2. Mann drew more from the 1936 Randolph Scott movie version of “Last of the Mohicans” — a movie he’d enjoyed as a kid — than from Fenimore Cooper’s novel. Not only is the book a notorious slog to read, but it’s also largely an apology for white appropriation of Indian lands, one that wouldn’t have sat well with post-“Dances With Wolves” audiences.
3. Fortunately, in Mann’s research, he found the diary of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, a French explorer who served as an officer during the siege. His detailed, witty, sarcastic account of the event served as a bracing counterpoint to Fenimore Cooper’s version.

4. The unspoiled woodlands of rural New York in 1757 were played by the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina of 1991. Mann spent a reported $6 million just to build the Fort William Henry set to historical specifications.
5. Day-Lewis brought his usual Method obsessiveness to the part of Hawkeye. Before he came to the set, he spent six months with a trainer building his upper-body strength. In the North Carolina forest, he spent another month learning Daniel Boone-type survival skills, including hunting, skinning animals, building canoes, wielding a tomahawk, and loading and firing a 12-pound flintlock rifle.

6. Like a real frontiersman, he brought his rifle everywhere, even to Christmas dinner. And while some of the actors and crew spent their downtime listening to Walkmans and smoking Marlboros, Day-Lewis made a point of avoiding modern technology and rolling his own smokes. Explaining what drew him to the role, he said, “I liked the idea of a man who had not been touched by 20th-century neurosis, a life that isn’t drawn inwards.”
7. Russell Means was 52 when he made his big-screen debut as Chingachgook. He was already famous, however, for his activism as the national director of the American Indian Movement.

8. Wes Studi, too, had been an Indian activist before turning to acting later in life. (Before “Mohicans,” his most prominent credit was as the Indian mystic in Jim Morrison’s visions in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.”) Both Means and Studi had been involved in the Wounded Knee occupation in 1973, 18 years before they reunited on the “Mohicans” set as antagonists.
9. Much of the secondary romance, between Alice Munro (Jodhi May) and Chingachgook’s son Uncas (Eric Schweig) didn’t make it into the movie. It was rumored that there was a more explicit love scene between them, cut at the insistence of the 17-year-old actress’s mother, who chaperoned May throughout the shoot. Schweig, however, has said that their scene was more “puppy love” than its reputation suggests, and that Mann de-emphasized the Alice-Uncas romance in order not to distract from the main love story between Hawkeye and Cora Munro (Stowe).

10. Hawkeye and Cora may have been mentally undressing each other on screen, but when the cameras stopped, Day-Lewis and Stowe were busy trying to punk each other. Their practical-joke war started with food fights and escalated to a bloody car crash, faked by Day-Lewis and his chauffeur, for Stowe to stumble upon.
11. Mann was notoriously as much a perfectionist as his star, supposedly shooting up to 20 takes of many scenes and keeping the night-shoot crew working from dusk until dawn. An oft-repeated (but apocryphal) anecdote from the set had Mann, at the end of a long night, complaining about an orange light messing up his shot, only to have a crew member respond, “That’s the sun, Michael.”

12. By the end of the shoot, Mann had gone $7 million over his $33 million budget. Oscar-winning costume designer James Acheson had left the production, citing creative differences with Mann, to be replaced by Elsa Zamparelli.
13. In post-production, Mann scrapped composer Trevor Jones’ electronic score and decided he wanted a more traditional orchestral score. Jones reworked his score but didn’t have time to finish it, and Mann had to hire composer Randy Edelman to complete the music.

14. After the shoot, Day-Lewis had a hard time shaking the character. Complaining of hallucinations and claustrophobia (he was no longer used to spending much time indoors), the actor turned to a French holistic doctor, who prescribed him a potion of mystery ingredients, which Day-Lewis assumed to be a concoction of herbs and alcohol. Whatever it was, it seemed to do the trick.
15. “Last of the Mohicans” earned $75.5 million at the North American box office, making it the 17th biggest hit of 1992.

16. Despite critical raves, the film earned just one Oscar nomination. The category was Best Sound, and “Mohicans” won.
17. Mann has yet to make another movie set before the 20th century. After “Mohicans,” he said, “My next movie will have flat floors and people who wear zippers. I’ve had it with nature and stuff that falls off, everything tied together with thongs.”