Leonardo DiCaprio has gone from a teenage heartthrob (trust me, I lived through the late 1990s) to one of the most respected actors in Hollywood today.
In a conversation with GQ, DiCaprio elaborates on his changing roles throughout his career and how he developed as an actor since his debut film.
DiCaprio claims he never thought much about success early in his career, saying, “Throughout my career, I never knew which movies of mine made money and which didn’t. When Titanic came out, people would say, ‘Do you realize what a success this is?’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, yeah, it’s a hit.’ The [money]stuff never mattered to me until I was into my thirties and got interested in producing, and people would show me charts explaining what finances a movie, what you’ll make from foreign, what you’ll make from domestic, what you need to make an R-rated film that’s a comedy versus a drama. But even now I say that unless you want to prove that you can carry a film with your name, continuously trying to achieve box-office success is a dead end.”
Though I don’t buy that DiCaprio was as clueless about Titanic’s great success as he suggests — the film was #1 at the box office for a record fifteen weeks and became the highest-grossing film in history at the time — his comments about how his mindset changed from that of an actor to that of a producer aren’t surprising as he’s moved into the producer role for many of his recent films. Of course, on the acting side DiCaprio might have learned from the best teacher, Robert DeNiro. He explains, “My introduction to acting in films was with De Niro in This Boy’s Life. When I got the part I was 15, and somebody said, ‘Do you realize who you’re gonna work with?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I guess.’ And they said, ‘No, no, no. Go watch all of his films, and then go see these people’s films.’ So I obsessively watched films on VHS, and I remember feeling so overwhelmed by what had been done in cinema already. Watching a young Brando or James Dean or Montgomery Clift, I was like, Oh, my God, how can anyone ever hope to achieve that type of greatness?”
It’s obvious that DiCaprio underwent his own personal exploration of film history, which lead him to become the praised actor that he is today. In fact, DiCaprio points to the 1970s era of director-driven filmmaking as the pinnacle of American cinema. “For my generation, it’s always the ’70s. That period where you felt like the hands were being dealt back in the director’s favor. The studios realized that letting them tell their stories was something the audience had a hunger for. And of course, it all went awry. Taxi Driver to me is the ultimate independent-movie performance. Playing a character like Travis Bickle is every young actor’s wet dream.”
Does DiCaprio feel passionate about every role he plays? He admits some are deeper than others. One of his favorites was playing Arthur Rimbaud in Total Eclipse, a film that wasn’t particularly popular but was deeply moving for DiCaprio, but he says he can’t just pick the roles he desperately wants to do, saying, “If I just waited for moments of I have to do this, I would do a movie only every four or five years.”
DiCaprio next appears in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, opening November 9