Controversy Magazine -
This article was scanned by Treggy in May 2000.
By Earl Dittman
Having interviewed Leonardo DiCaprio on a number of occasions before Titanic set sail to becoming the largest-grossing film in motion picture history, I approached our impending conversation together with some trepidation. Leo had never been fond of speaking to members of the press, and he wasn't shy about letting those feelings be known. During our past talks with one another, he could be evasive, disinterested, pretentious and curt. But he was just a kid in those days, a boy genius of acting, so it was easy to simply write-off his ill-mannered behavior as youthful rebellion.
But DiCaprio is 25-years-old now, and, thanks to the billions of dollars in ticket sales generated by director James Cameron's Titanic, probably one of the most recognizable human beings on the planet.
Success, though, can often have a strange effect on a person's psyche, quite often amplifying their bad traits. With that thought weighing heavily on my mind, I worry if the Leo I'm getting ready to meet for the umpteenth time is nothing more than an older and richer version of that obnoxious teenager I had encountered several times before?
All fears are completely laid to rest as soon as DiCaprio walks into the Maui hotel room set aside for our interview to discuss his post-Titanic film, The Beach. Immediately after spotting me, he belts out a genuinely gracious, "How are you doing this morning," followed by an enthusiastic hand-shake. "It looks like it's going to be a nice day," he quickly adds. "It looks like you are going to have fun today."
Against all odds, it appears Leonardo DiCaprio has grown-up -- both physically and emotionally. He's matured into a charming, conscientious young man. And surprisingly, he credits fame with converting him into a thoughtful responsible adult.
"Certainly, that whole year after Titanic came out was a huge learning experience for me," he says, grinning. "Mainly because there was no Fame For Dummies handbook that I could go pout and buy to teach me what it was like to become famous and what I needed to do to survive it. I couldn't just go to Barnes & Noble and get it. I had to endure it on my own and make my own mistakes. I realized that I had to shape-up or it would end-up destroying me. I've seen it become a monster that some people can't control and no matter what they did, it engulfed their lives. I wasn't going to let that happen to me. So I had to change some of things about myself to make sure I didn't become one of those Hollywood casualties. I had to grow-up in order to defy perils of fame and what it could turn me into."
But even while he was wisely using the unprecedented success that Titanic was bringing him to put his life into prespective, there were times when the constant barrage of media attention had him shaking his head in disbelief.
"Almost every day I would read something about myself that was just completely untrue," he remembers. "I was shocked, I mean really shocked to find out how much and how easily people will lie. It's unbelievable and I wasn't prepared for that. I didn't understand that concept."
The tabloids went on a feeding frenzy with DiCaprio. If he wasn't out with his "posse" of friends causing fights in bars, the check-out counter rags would claim he was humiliating his young female fans. And when it came to his love life, all bets were off. If tabs weren't speculating on his sexual preferences, they would have him bedding down every female actress in Hollywood. Once, they even reported that DiCaprio and Carmen Electra had become extremely intimate with one another, right in the middle of a Tinsel club!
"That story was so untrue, which is the funniest thing about it," he laughs. "But I found that most of the stories were like that. They were just complete fabrications. But I can laugh about a lot of those situations now. I thank God I have my friends to keep me constantly grounded and remind me to laugh about it. They've been a fundamental, important part of not taking this too seriously or too hard. If I took it too seriously, I'd never leave my house. I'd be afraid to. But I go out in public. I have ways wearing a hat and glasses to not being recognized. But I don't use tham. I refuse to become a prisoner of all this.
"But I'm not one to sit here and be bitter and complaing about the position I'm in, because there are pros and cons to everything and you adapt," he continues. "I've adapted to this life that I have now. Someone asked me if I wished Titanic had never happened. You know what? For the opportunity it's given me -- no. I think that film will be remembered forever. It's a part of American and world-wide culture. It's cemented in time and I'm proud to be a part of it. And more than anything, it's opened the door for me to do any kind of film I want to be a part of. So all the pros outweigh the cons."
Titanic's lengthy box office success also afforded DiCaprio the time to search for a project he could really sink his teeth into. He found just what he was looking for in The Beach. The story of a disconnected young American who travles to Bangkok in a quest to find paradise, The Beach is a bold artistic achievement. Directed by Tranispotting helsman, Danny Boyle, The Beach is a gripping action/adventure that shocks the senses and penetrates the soul. It's a stunning, visually arresting slice of cinematic brilliance. And as the film's central character, Richard, DiCaprio turns in one of the most compelling performances of his career.
"I thought tihs was one of the more complex characters I'd ever read," DiCaprio says of hid role in The Beach. "He's also a truly modern character. He really represents a lot of themes that I think are going on with my generation: of being really trully desensitized to real emotion and real, tangible things. Through TV, video games or whatever, we've lost that contact. I also like the fact that this character goes on this journey to find himself. I could relate to that. He ends up finding this island Utopia that seems to be cocooned away from the normal laws of society and its rules. It seems like it's the answer to everything that he's ever hoped for. But eventually he realizes that paradise, in itself, is a false concept, that a place like that can't exist on its own."
DiCaprio says he shares some of his character's sentiments, but admits he has been able to find his own little slice of paradise.
"I think there are places of sanctuary that will bring you closer to your inner self or whoever you really are," he explains. "For me, it's driving around in my car. I love driving in my car alone because it really gives me time to get in touch with myself. But I don't think there is some Utopian place out there where you can escape who you really are. You're always left to who you are in the end and to your own demons. Acting is also paradise to me. When I can look at something I've done, like The Beach, and feel proud about it, that feels like Heaven to me.
The Beach is DiCaprio's first film since becoming a member of Hollywood's elite $20 million per picture club, another by-product of his Titanic sojourn. While its producers are baking on his star power to turn The Beach into a box office hit, DiCaprio says he doesn't lay awake at night worrying about how well it might do on opening weekend.
"I have no control over that," he explains. "The only thing you can as a performer and artist is give the best performance you can. No matter how much publicity and attention you want people to pay to it, or what critics or reporters say, it's its own monster and own baby after a while, and you have to let it go."
Since completing The Beach, DiCaprio has been linked to several high profile projects, most notably a proposed third Godfather sequel and the next installment of the Star Wars franchise. While he confirms he was approached to appear in both films, his participation in either of them now seems unlikely.
Francis Ford Coppola and I had some very serious discussions about doing me doing a Godfather 4 , but sadly, (Godfather novelist) Mario Puzo died and Francis decided to shelve it," he says. "And I'ven been to Skywalker Ranch to visit with George Lucas about the next Star Wars, but I haven't really seen a script yet."
Was Lucas interested in casting him as the adult, pre-Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker?
"I don't know if I'm allowed to say anything about that... but I do know that we've talked about it," he says with a laugh. " I'm a big Star Wars fan, though, I really love it. But I know they are getting ready to start filming pretty soon and I'm already committed to something else. So I don't know if you'll be seeing me in Star Wars any time soon.
DiCaprio has signed on the dotted line to star in Martin Scorcese's Gangs of New York. In just a few weeks, the actor is scheduled to fly off to Rome to begin shooting the epic period piece.
"We will probably be there for about four months, I'm kind of looking forward to it," he says with excitement. "And before you ask the obvious, 'Why are you filming a movie about New York in Rome?' it's because the story takes place in New York of the early-1900s and the town just doesn't look like that anymore. So they are building a whole city for it on a Rome soundstage. It's going to be awesome."
Leonardo DiCaprio has a lot to be thankful for these days, and he knows it.
"Titanic changed my life, there's no denying it, but I think it's made me a better person," he confesses. "To a degree, life is a lot more hectic than it used to be. I have a lot more responsibility, career-wise and personally, and all the little facets and branches of what comes along with that. You know, things like protecting this, protecting that, making sure people don't think that -- whatever. Essentially, I've been given a fanstastic opportunity to do what I love and create as an actor. I've been given more opportunities than I ever had before because of Titanic. And I wouldn't give it up for the world.
Although he stresses he'll never be the one to write that Fame For Dummies handbook, he does offer some advice for others brave enough to fan the flames of fame.
"The biggest tip I can tell someone getting ready to become a celebrity is to not take everything too damn personally and not to freak out," he asserts. "Even before Titanic, I would take things very personally that were written about me. I mean everything! I'd know if someone didn't like me, misquoted me or said a lie about me.
"Before I was blind-sided by fame, I used to see what it was doing to other actors, and I'd think to myself, 'God, it must eat them alive to have people say that stuff about them! Jeez, I couldn't live with myself!' And if I heard a rumor about a person, I'd be like, 'Oh my God' I don't know how they sit in their own skin! If I were themi I's just have to go and give a press conference and completely contradict what they're saying!' But then you get in this position and it realize it's a monster on its own and you have no control over it. You really don't. And even if you try and fight it, it just feeds the fire sometimes. So I'm of the opinion that I'm going to let my work and what I put into it speak for who I am. And then any other assumptions about me can just be made on their own. I've got life to live and a career to build I can't be worried about that stuff. I'm not a kis anymorei so I don't have time for childish things."
Do you feel
like the King of the World?
"Sometimes I feel like that, sometimes not."
just buy your dream house?
"I did buy a house, but I wouldn't say it's my 'dream house,' because I'm not sure what that is yet."
describe the decor?
"I really just got it, so there's no decor yet. I didn't even really have any furniture before I got it. Before that, I was on location a lot so I didn' really have a permanent place."
Is there any
significant other that's living with you now or who will be
moving in soon?
"No there isn't."
some of the biggest lies you've read about yourself?
"There were a couple of lies just happened with The Beach: that I got (his co-star) Virginie Ledoyen pregnant, that we were destroying the environment and that we were being bitten by sharks. Stuff like that -- just ridiculous!"
stories that you were really afraid of being poisoned while you
were in Thailand. Is that true?
"No. Oh, what, the stuff about the food testers? That was a bunch of crap. Bunch of crap."
How do you
react to all these lies?
"I just accept them. I neither laugh or get upset. It just is. It's its own entity."
turned 25. How did you celebrate?
"I had a big party with my friends and we had a great time."
"I don't call them a posse. Other people call them that. I just call them my friends."
The Beach in Thailand. What did you think of the place?
"It's the most unbelievable place on earth right now. Totally unique. It's like the Roman Empire. Anything and everything happens there, and you can do anything and find anything."
"All kinds of beautiful women are there, absolutely! But more so than that, it's just crazy, wild insane mix of really sweet people and a very violent culture. It's a whole demented world there."
What kind of
car do you drive?
"I have a Lexus right now. But I like changing my cars around."
change them so that fans can't follow you around?
"Sometimes I do that. I usually just get bored with a car, so I give it away to my parents."
cars do you have?
Do you still
"No, I quit."
"Like anyone else, for my health."
What king of
regiment did you use to get in shape for The Beach?
"Nothing interesting. I worked out for four months, that's about it."
Do you feel
like a sex symbol?
"That kind of stuff I don't even think about it, and I don't even agree with."
Are you sick
"I've only seen it like five times, so not yet. I think I have a long way to go before I won't be able to stand it. We'll see."
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