Interviews


Leonardo DiCaprio


Occupation: Actor, Teen heartthrob
Date of Birth: November 11, 1974
Place of Birth: Los Angeles, Calif., USA
Sign: Sun in Scorpio, Moon in Libra
Relations: Parents: George and Irmelin DiCaprio; current companion: Gisele Bundchen (model)
Education: Center for Enriched Studies and John Marshall High School (both in Los Angeles)

 

NO one can say that Leonardo DiCaprio hasn't paid his dues: he suffered opposite Alan Thicke and Kirk Cameron on ABC's wretched Growing Pains before beating out 400 other young hopefuls for the role of Tobias Wolff in This Boy's Life. For a poor kid who never studied acting, DiCaprio won raves for his performance in this coming-of-age tale, and critics agreed that he all but stole the movie out from under its star, Robert De Niro. DiCaprio proved that he was no fluke with his next outing, Lasse Hallström's What's Eating Gilbert Grape, in which he played the mentally retarded brother of Johnny Depp (DiCaprio almost lost the part because he was considered too handsome for the role of the unkempt Arnie). His honest and open performance earned him an Academy Award nomination.

Suddenly, the 19-year-old actor found himself hailed as the new rebel  the young, tortured soul that Hollywood loves to devour. DiCaprio's subsequent career choices have done nothing to alter that perception. He starred as the cynical Kid, opposite Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman, in The Quick and the Dead, which was a pretty accurate description of the film's box-office performance. He followed that with the long-anticipated film adaptation of Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries, a project that had languished for years awaiting a powerful young actor to bring the drug-addicted, hoops-loving poet to life. DiCaprio threw himself into the role. He spent weeks preparing for the film's withdrawal scene, which required him to achieve, as he put it, "a primal state of being  I had to turn into an animal almost." The movie bombed, and so did Total Eclipse, DiCaprio's dreadful follow-up about the twisted relationship between the poet Rimbaud (DiCaprio) and his mentor, Paul Verlaine.

DiCaprio was raised in what he refers to as the "Hollywood slums" by parents who were old hippies. His mother has said she chose the name Leonardo after she received a swift kick from her unborn son while she was standing in the Uffizi gazing at a Leonardo da Vinci painting. Although his parents were separated by his first birthday (they are still technically married), the family has remained close, and both mom and dad are very active in their son's career (mom handles the finances, dad screens the scripts). DiCaprio made his acting debut at five, when he appeared on Romper Room. By the time he turned 10, he was already disillusioned with the business: an agent rejected him for having "the wrong haircut," and suggested he change his name to Lenny Williams. But at 14, DiCaprio decided to give acting another try. He found an agent who liked his haircut and his name and soon landed some 30 commercials, and went on to bit parts on TV's Santa Barbara and The New Lassie, and the unforgettable feature film Critters 3. He also made several educational films, including Micky's Safety Club and How To Deal With a Parent Who Takes Drugs. He joined the cast of the long-running Growing Pains in 1991. Fortunately for DiCaprio, his tenure on the show was short-lived. In 1992, he left to make This Boy's Life.

DiCaprio's days of disappointing box-office are over for good. His crossing-over from art-house darling to mainstream favorite began in earnest when he acquitted himself well in a modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet, with Claire Danes as his Juliet; and in the ten-hanky family drama Marvin's Room, in which he co-starred with Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton. But the popular and critical accolades that met those performances were completely engulfed by the enthusiastic tidal-wave reception that greeted his Golden Globe-nominated star turn in James Cameron's blockbuster Titanic, a film that upgraded him once and for all from boy to romantic leading man status. He kept his momentum going with a dual role as good and evil twin heirs to the French monarchy in an adaptation of the classic Alexandre Dumas novel The Man in the Iron Mask that had him buckling swash alongside screen vets John Malkovich, Gabriel Byrne, Jeremy Irons, and Gérard Depardieu, and finished out the year with a role as a voraciously self-indulgent star in Woody Allen's Celebrity. After much deliberation over what his next role would be, DiCaprio finally signed a $20 million deal to headline The Beach, a film based on the novel by Alex Garland about an aimless traveler who is given a map to paradise by a mysterious stranger.

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