“I was this kid that came from television and TV commercials, and I had no idea how to conduct myself on a set” – Leonardo DiCaprio
Many film fans wondered if this would be the year that Leonardo DiCaprio is awarded an Oscar after four previous acting nominations and one previous nomination as producer. Yes, DiCaprio won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in The Revenant, and it came after a long, long, wait — not unlike his good friend Martin Scorsese. DiCaprio’s first film role was 25 years ago in Critters 3, though his first significant film role came in 1993’s This Boy’s Life. Reminiscing to Deadline in a pre-Oscars interview, DiCaprio recalls working on This Boy’s Life and how his audition process didn’t go as intended.
DiCaprio confesses that he still doesn’t know what it was that This Boy’s Life director Michael Caton Jones and Robert De Niro saw in him when he was cast in This Boy’s Life, but he has been eternally grateful for the opportunity. He reveals:
I saw Michael Caton Jones recently in London. He said, “I’m sorry I was so mean to you when you were little.” I said, “Are you crazy, you were the greatest big brother I could ever have during my first giant cinematic process.” I said, “You talked me through everything. You told me all the fundamental basics. Like a little league coach, literally telling me how to run the bases, because I had no idea.” I was this kid that came from television and TV commercials, and I had no idea how to conduct myself on a set. I had no understanding when to…shut up. Like when you see Robert De Niro preparing, and I’d get a squeeze in the arm from Michael if I was telling too many jokes, or cracking up, or trying to converse with the crew members. He let me know. “An actor prepares, Leonardo.” “Oh, right, right. Yeah, yeah.”
He literally walked me through the process because I really was this wild child. Very outspoken, ballsy, and I think that’s probably why I got the role. I think it was probably always the little guy thing too that helped in the audition. In school I would always talk back, and if kids were bigger than me, I’d get in people’s faces. I was 15 years old, and I remember somebody telling me…“Do you realize how important this role is, this is a starring role, and it’s Robert De Niro, and you’re the lead. This doesn’t happen, historically, ever.” I’m like, “Oh yeah, shit. Okay. Yeah, I think I get it.”
He recalls trying to impress the cast and crew in his audition by going over-the-top during a particular scene, but he didn’t get the reaction he expected. He recalls, “I remember there was this mustard jar sequence, and just thinking to myself, ‘Shit, I’ve got to do something…memorable. I’ve got to do something to just rattle these people’s cages.’ I went in and they were doing the mustard jar sequence, and [De Niro]’s like, ‘Is it empty, is it empty?’ And I just stood up and threw my chair down, or something, and screamed at him, ‘No, it’s not empty.’ And then Bob had this smirk on his face, and just started slowly busting up, laughing in my face. And then he looked at everybody else, and the whole room starting laughing.”
However, though the audition wasn’t exactly what they were looking for, it gave De Niro and Jones something that they felt they could work with. DiCaprio continues, “I was like, ‘Holy shit, I blew it. I blew this. I blew this whole opportunity,’ but I guess at 15 you misunderstand. I guess they kind of liked it, because Bob was like, ‘That kid was…there’s something interesting there.’ And they brought me back.”
That “something interesting” has carried DiCaprio through more than two decades of leading roles and now an Oscar.