Leonardo DiCaprio ('The Aviator')
'Now He's The King of the Skies!'
His name allegedly derives from his German mother Irmalin's having experienced a sudden kick from her unborn boy while enjoying a DaVinci painting at the Uffizi! In the year following his birth, she and his Italian father George were divorced. He grew up in Echo Park, then a particularly seedy, drug-dominated area of Los Angeles. At five he appeared on his favorite TV show, 'Romper Room,' and was nearly thrown off for misbehaving!
After a string of commercials, educational films ('Mickey's Safety Club'), occasional parts in TV series, a debut film role as Josh in 'Critters 3' (1991), a continuing role as the homeless boy Luke in the TV series 'Growing Pains,' he got his break-through part as Toby in 'This Boy's Life' (1993), co-starring with Robert De Niro and Ellen Barkin. The part led the New York Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics to name him runner-up for Best Supporting Actor.
His first Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations came for the difficult role of Arnie in 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape' (1993). Equally challenging parts were a drug-troubled Jim Carroll in 'The Basketball Diaries' (1995), the tormented homosexual poet Rimbaud in 'Total Eclipse' (1995) and the male lead in a very updated 'Romeo + Juliet' (1996). True superstardom came to DiCaprio playing Jack Dawson in 'Titanic' in 1997.
Chatting with the young man this afternoon, he is noticably tired due to the premiere last night of his new film, 'The Aviator' - in which the actor assumes the role of the young and complex Howard Hughes. Wearing a black t-shirt, black casual jacket, with his hair slicked back, the perennially youthful 30-year old star, has remained intensely passionate about bringing Hughes' life to the screen for several years. "As an actor, you're constantly searching for that great character," DiCaprio explains, when asked why the fascination for Hughes. "Also, being a history buff and learning about people in our past and amazing things that they've done, I came across a book about Howard Hughes and he was set up as basically, the most multi-dimensional character I could ever come across. Often, people have tried to define him in biographies, but no one seems to be able to categorize him. He was one of the most complicated men of the last century and so I got this book, brought it to Michael Mann and John Logan came onboard and really came up with the concept, saying, 'you can do ten different movies about Howard Hughes. Let's focus on his younger years. Let's watch his initial descent into madness but meanwhile, have the backdrop of early Hollywood, these daring pioneers in the world of aviation that were like astronauts that went out and went out and risked their lives to further the cause of aviation. [He was] the first American billionaire who had all the resources in the world but was somehow unable to find any sense of peace of happiness'. It's that great see-saw act in the movie that goes on. On one side, he's having all the successes in the world and on the other side the tiny microbes and germs are the things that are taking him downwards."
What level of admiration do you have for this great man? "I think he certainly took things farther than I could ever imagine," the actor insists. "He was such an obsessed human being and remained so obsessive about everything he'd gotten involved with, whether it be planes, women or films, he made."
While DiCaprio has remained as ferociously guarded about his private life as Hughes was intensely shy, the actor says those two apparent parallels are miles apart from each other. "I have to say, that for the most part, I am a pretty private person while his came from a genuine mental disorder and I'm just fundamentally not like that. My reasons for being a private person are different from Mr. Hughes, in that because I'm an actor and want people to believe me in different roles and not necessarily know way too much about me. I want to be around in the business for a long time, while he had an intense fear of being around people and germs."
While 'The Aviator' is a film about the early youthful ambitions of Howard Hughes, when it comes to DiCaprio's own childhood dreams and obsessions, the actor says there was really only one, "... ever since I got into this business at around 13 years old and that was to be in this business forever. Once I did my first television commercial, I caught that itch, that bug, and said, it is possible to make a living doing this for the rest of my life, that is the only thing I really want to do. He had multiple dreams. I look at film and cinema as legitimate an art form as sculpture, painting or anything else. We're in the first hundred years of cinema, which is still in its infancy and I'm very curious to see what types of films last into the next thousand years, just like what paintings people still look at. I want to be a part of pieces of art as far as cinema is concerned, that people will want to see for generations to come."
Who was one of your greatest influences during your formative years? "I remember the casting session that I had where I was a break dancer, having this punk hair cut. They rejected me and I became really disillusioned with the business and said well this is what it's all about, and I haven't even got in to read a line. My father said don't worry, some day we're going to get you back into this and it's going to happen for you, which I kind of took to heart," DiCaprio recalls. "It was one of those situations where I was lucky and fortunate enough to be at the right places at the right time", he adds, referring to his early television breaks that included the likes of 'Parenthood' and 'Growing Pains.' "All of a sudden I was on the set of 'Growing Pains' and got this audition for 'This Boy's Life' and was able to jump into the feature film world. It's really been just simply the fact that I'd been able to work, you know what I mean? I would probably still be trying to be an actor even if I was out of work, but I would probably become a little disillusioned at some point and move on to other things. But it's the one thing that I know that I love."
As for future projects, DiCaprio says they do not include 'Alexander the Great,' which at one time was going to be a Scorsese project. "Alexander The Great was one of those things where Scorsese and I just share the same taste in similar things. We were both fascinated with Alexander The Great as well as Howard Hughes. They're completely different time periods and different men, but similar dynamics, men that keep on reaching for their ultimate goal and stop at nothing until they achieve that. It just happened to be that this script and project was way further advanced in the development stage than the script that landed in our lap from 'Alexander' and we wanted to go forth - we had an intention at one time of doing them both, but you don't get everything you want all the time."
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