DAY LEWIS FACES FAME AS A RUSS POET : DAY LEWIS FACES FAME AS A 1920S RUSSIAN POET

"Now comes the hard part," said Daniel Day Lewis: "Trying to decide what to do next."

Day Lewis is the British actor who earned the critics' hurrahs on both sides of the Atlantic with his entertaining performances in "My Beautiful Laundrette" and "A Room With a View."

Some people could hardly believe it was the same actor in both films. In the first, he was a working-class punk with an accent to match; in the second, a British fop, complete with slicked-down hair, pince-nez and mannered speech.

Now, here in London town, he's appearing at the National Theatre in Dusty Hughes' play "The Futurists." He plays a Russian poet in the '20s, and once again the look is different. Indeed, his ugly crew cut and stubble beard caused some wary glances when he walked into a West End hotel to meet me.

The play, which opened in February, earned him glowing notices. But for Day Lewis, at 29 the brightest new name in British movies, the question now is what movie to do next?

"It's interesting," he said. "For years I lived a rather sedentary life, thinking I was doing fine. Now, suddenly I'm made to realize there's a whole different level of existence. I can hardly finish one script before another comes along.

"At the moment, my brain is so saturated with drivel that when a good script does surface I tend to cling to it like a raft, giving it undue importance--I have to keep reminding myself that I don't have to do any of them if I don't want to. I live very simply in a small, shared flat. I don't have a lavish life style that has to be supported. For years, I lived a hand-to-mouth existence and wasn't at all unhappy. And I can do that again."

Of course, he won't have to. He's the new toy on the table. And everyone wants to try him out.

Grandson of Sir Michael Balcon, the British film maker who, under his Ealing banner, produced some of England's finest comedies with Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers, Day Lewis trained at the Bristol Old Vic.

After a considerable amount of stage work he took his first steps in movie acting with small parts in "Gandhi" and "The Bounty."

"I had high hopes for 'The Bounty,' " he said (he played the master of the ship). "I'd just finished eight months on the West End stage in 'Another Country' and the film seemed just the break I wanted. But I realized quite quickly that it wasn't going anywhere. And I remember quite clearly feeling very uneasy to see all that money wasted. I felt I had no right to be part of such gratuitous waste."

He then devoted his energies to the theater (one role: "Dracula") until "My Beautiful Laundrette" came along, followed closely by "A Room with a View."

"And I'm still amazed that those two directors (Stephen Frears and James Ivory) should have allowed me the chance to tackle such widely different roles," he said. "Many directors have such a narrow-minded approach to casting."

"Laundrette" was originally shot for television, but after a triumphant screening at the Edinburgh Festival it was grabbed for the big screen.

The American reviews surprised Day Lewis.

"Actually, they amazed me," he said. "I never imagined that little 600,000 film would do anything there. It was such a boost for all of us."

Then came the equally good reviews for "A Room With a View."

"I was concerned about my performance in that," he admitted. "I thought perhaps I had gone a little far--even James (Ivory) had sometimes cautioned me not to be too florid. I was afraid the American critics would dismiss it as a quaint theatrical portrait of a man. A few did, but many liked it."

So what next? He still hasn't made up his mind. "I'm trying not to listen to people who tell me how important the next film is," he said. "And I'm trying to salve some remnants of the instincts that used to work for me when I had no pressures--that told me what I should say yes to.

"We're always encouraged to believe that an actor out of work isn't really an actor at all and that one should take what one's offered as long as it's halfway decent. I don't hold with that; if I don't believe in something, I lose all my creative energy. I promise you--I would rather do absolutely nothing than take a role I don't believe in."

A GO: So now it's definite. David Lean, 78, is to direct Joseph Conrad's "Nostromo" for Steven Spielberg in Mexico next spring.

Christopher Hampton, whose play "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" is running in New York, has just been signed to write the script, and John Box, the art director who first worked with Lean on "Lawrence of Arabia," will again be on board.

Filming, I understand, will take place on Baja's West Coast where a mining village will be constructed--together with a cathedral. The original setting of the story was a mythical South American country.

Kevin Kline is rumored as a possible star.

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