What is it about Leo? On one hand, he's an average, gangly guy who hangs with his friends, on the other, he's an A-list massive megastar, who stays secretive about his private life. In part one of our exclusive interview, we discover the real Leo...
Q: We waited a full year after What's Eating Gilbert Grape? before you took on your next film role, and you're doing the same between The Man In The Iron Mask and The Beach. Why the long breaks?
A: Well, everyone wants you to work all the time but you've got to pick the type of things that you want to do. You can't just be out there all the time. People will start saying, "He's in every film we see. Well, who cares?" I want to take my time with each role and that's how you plan a long career, rather than doing it all at once in a big explosion. (Easy to do, especially after starring in The Beach - leo plays a young traveller seeking adventure on a Thai paradise Island. He received a reported $21 million for the role - half the films budget.)
Q: So what kind of films did you turn down?
A: A lot of movies about death. One of the films had me being an insane killer. That was interesting but it just didn't work out. Then there were some loves stories thrown my way, cheesy little comedies, things like that.
Q: How do you think Hollywood sees you?
A: Right now, it doesn't seem too bad, which I'm happy about. I know as much as any journalist from reading the press. I think I've got a good perspective on how Hollywood sees me.
Q: We've heard the rumours of the wild ways of you Hollywood babes. How do you avoid getting caught up with, "the wrong crowd"?
A: It's not easy. I think ever person goes through a period in their life where they want to b e cool. I think we all go through a phase when we wanted to fit in with the rest of the crowd and we all have this insecurity inside. I think when you get the success, it makes it even harder. But you just deal with things. one situation at a time. You don't want to move too fast. That's the worst thing you could do!
Q: What are you really passionate about?
A: I'm passionate about working with really good directors. I think that's obvious. I'm passionate about well-written materials. But mainly, the thing that I'm most passionate about is being able to play a character and act out a lot of things which I can't or don't do in my normal, everyday life. It gives me a legal excuse to just go nuts with the character, and the more nuts I go and the more I show, and the more deep I get into the depression, or into the happiness or the anger of a character, the more real it is. So that's what's really fun for me.
Q: You lives at home until about a year or so ago. Why was that?
A: Well, don't believe everything you read. One thing I'll say in my own defense - I'm not a mummy's boy, by any means! For the last few years, I've been making movies six months of the year, anyway, so I've never been constantly at any "home". My mum is very open-minded and she let me do what I wanted when I stayed there. I got the best of both worlds, but I also knew I wanted to experience living on my own, so I moved out.
Q: Speaking of your family, how does your mother feel about your film performances?
A: My mother is really cool, just in the aspect that she really doesn't care about this whole thing. She truly doesn't. She loves what she's doing. You know, she's walking the dog and hanging out, working for me. Doing all kinds of stuff. She gets herself extremely separate from it and is one of the only people who genuinely cares what I do as a person. And my career, she doesn't make it out to be more than a job - which is what it is. She just thinks of it as my job, just as if I were working at a 7-11. She'd feel the same way and have the same enthusiasm.
Q: Do you ever ask her about your work?
A: Yeah, I go, "Mum, what do you think? Did you like it?". She'll say I was good but then add, "You know, I like that other movie better but, whatever, try better next time". My mum's just a little too honest with me! But it's very refreshing, especially in this business, where everybody tends to kiss your ass a lot. (smiles)
Q: People have finally stopped comparing you to River Phoenix and James Dean. Is that good?
A: I heard all that. You know, I thought (River) was one of the most talented actors in the business. For something like that to happen was tragic. It irked me! I can't imagine what would have possessed him to get it.. Too many people think, once you're successful everything's trippin' dandy, but people get affected by it. It's sad that we had to lose him like that.
Q: Do you think you can avoid those pitfalls?
A: Drugs? Listen, everybody has a choice and I choose not to do drugs. Period. As far as the club scene is concerned, is it me? It depends. I'm not into doing just one thing. I do different things all the time. I like going out at weekends with friends but when it comes to work, I know to get my head down. I get enough sleep, as much as I possibly can. I'm just trying to learn right now.
Q: You small art movie Total Eclipse has come back into the news not that you're famous. What was it like kissing actor David Thewlis?
A: It was not my favourite thing in the world. I don't imagine anything except "cut!". I don't try to imagine a beautiful girl or anything but, you know, it is difficult because you have to act like you really like it and be convincing. I made sure our lips were clean and everything. I made sure that I got a little disinfectant, we both did that. It wasn't that fun, though. David Thewlis is always the consummate professional. He's an extremely intelligent and ambitious person. He's directing a feature - he's never done that before. He's constantly driving himself to do new and different things. He's a terrific actor on top of that and a cool person to talk to.
Q: Did getting nominated for an Oscar for Gilbert Grape change you as a young man?
A: Change me? I was sleeping when it was announced! I was in bed and my agent called me up and said, "You got it! You got it!" and I said, "Great, great". I was very excited about it for about five seconds but tiredness prevailed and I went right back to bed. Actually, if you really must know, I became really conceited! (laughs) just kidding! Nothing really changed except I got a lot more phone calls. My answering machine has a bigger tape in it these days. (smiles) That's about it.
Q: Do you think winning an Oscar is really important for an actor's career?
A: It's like, you do your job and do the best you can. And when these things come along, of course, it's very flattering but it's something that I just can't think about. all of my concentration needs to be on my work, my work in the business. And then winning or being nominated for an Oscar is nothing I'm planning on, by any means. It's, sort of, that nice accolade that you get if the people recognise your performance and, on that level, it's something really nice to have. That's all.
Q: You seem to be attracted to the dark roles. In Titanic, you were on the edge. In Total Eclipse, you played a homosexual. In The Basketball Diaries, you played a heroin addict. In What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, you were emotionally disturbed. Do you like playing these tortured souls?
A: It just seems to be what's the most colourful for me. A lot of the time, people negativity seems to be the thing, from an acting standpoint, that is the most interesting to me. I mean, don't think for a moment that I'm really like any of the characters I've portrayed! I'm not!
Q: I read somewhere that you'd like to do a comedy and get away from all the darkness.
A: I don't know if I want to do a comedy. Maybe somebody said that for me. What I did say was that I'd like to do something completely different. Something that I've never done before.
In part two of our exclusive interview, our favourite babe Leo talks about how he prepares for roles, how he imitated a psychopath at school, his life as 'the little teen attraction' on Growing Pains and how he hates being called a hunk...
Q: You've played many characters who have been abused and mentally disabled. Do you know anybody like that in real life?
A: Well, there's no-one that really sticks out in my mind. Child abuse and being around emotionally disturbed kids hasn't really ever touched me personally. I haven't had much experience with it. So I went in trying to react instinctively. Somebody can't be trained in knowing what it's like to be an abused child, or to be emotionally disturbed. And I don't think anyone really wants to know what it's like, so I had to feel what it was like for the first time when I was put in the situation.
Q: Did you feel it and understand it?
A: Oh yeah, and a lot of times I felt horrible after it. But I was always surrounded by people on the set who wouldn't let me get too depressed. I wouldn't say I was traumatised about playing any one of those roles, but you can't help feeling a little bit disrupted afterwards. I knew I was only acting, but you don't just walk away from playing intense roles like these without being affected by them.
Q: How do you prepare for roles like that?
A: It depends on the character. For Gilbert Grape, I did a lot of preparation. It really depends on how much I need to change myself. Like, in This Boy's Life, there wasn't much preparation, other than reading the book and just spending time and trying to concentrate on that era of time. But for Gilbert Grape I did have to really change myself. I couldn't be me by any means. I couldn't do any of the things I did in normal life, so I had to do a lot of preparation, a lot of meeting with people with mental disabilities and everything, and that made this role all the more challenging. But once you get the hang of anything and if you stick to it, it will work out.
Q: Robert De Niro was your co-star in This Boy's Life and he was involved in persuading you to change agents. What is it that makes Robert De Niro so alluring?
A: The man is so focused, for one thing I think acting is the number one thing in his life. He'll let nothing else get in the way of it. I see him working and I see the concentration and preparation he goes through just to get into character. He works at it a lot. I couldn't do that. It would drive me crazy if I had to work on a role that much, for months and months every single day. I'd flip my lid! So I respect that. I'm more of a gung-ho actor, where I have to go in there and do it. If there's a change that needs to be made, I'll usually talk to the director right then and there.
Q: I have heard that as a kid growing up you used to imitate strange characters?
A: Yes, I did do that. I still do it, really. I love doing that. Charles Manson is one of them. Although I didn't know what he did or who he was at the time, I went to school with this swastika on my forehead and started talking about biting dogs' heads off, but I really had no idea what I was talking about. I just went and did it. I was sent home from school and I had no idea I was doing anything wrong.
Q: Which meant more to you at the time, your acting break on the TV show Growing Pains, or getting into movies with This Boy's Life?
A: At the time, Growing Pains was a big deal. While I was doing Growing Pains, I found out that I got This Boy's Life and automatically I knew what kind of changes it would make, not only in my life but in my career as an actor. Doing sitcoms, you can make a good living off it, but I knew that I wouldn't be happy doing it long term. Something like this - acting in films - I knew would be infinitely better. I knew it would help me out a lot.
Q: Many girls think of you as a hunk. Do you like that?
A: My God, no! I hate this whole 'hunk' thing - "WOW! Here's the hunk of the month! This month we're shoving him down your throat this cute little kid. Oh, look! It's Leonardo DiCaprio. Isn't he cute! Let's put him on the cover and we'll sell so many more magazines. We'll write some schlock about him... whatever comes to mind." That's not what I want to be and I've tried real hard to get away from that whole situation. It's not like I'm some big teen star. it just gives me a yucky feeling.
Q: Don't you enjoy the attention just a little bit?
A: I'm not going to become a better actor from it and, to me, that's all I'm interested in right now.
Q: With all the publicity you get, do you ever stop in your tracks for a moment to take it all in?
A: Yeah, sometimes I like to take a break and spend a few days alone to put it all into perspective. My agents were sending me these magazines that were writing about me and I'd sit and read them and go, "Whoa". And I read everything, even the tabloid stories. I actually find it hilarious to see them. You can't do anything but laugh at it because if you start to take it too seriously, you may get hurt by it.
Q: You've played guys who are younger than yourself in every role! Do you think you can continue to do this?
A: Well, hopefully - everyone has trouble making the transition. Not everyone, but some people do have trouble making the transition. But I see no reason why, when I look a little older, that I shouldn't be able to play the older parts. As the years go by those different roles will come and I think I'll be fine in making the transition. I feel confident enough in myself right now to play an adult role. I just don't look like I'm 25 years old yet!
Q: Are you feeling pressure in your career?
A: Yes, but I'm not going to change anything. At least I'm not in the position where if my movie doesn't open and make $20 million straight off, my career would be in danger.
Q: How are you dealing with fame?
A: Ok, I guess. I'm recognised more than I was before and although it was hard to adjust to, I have done it, I think. It really gets personal, sometimes, when people are looking at you all the time and you think, "What am I, an idiot or something? Is there something on my face? What is it?!" I still get that.
Q: Then what do you do?
A: Then you realise that it's just that they've recognised you, and then you have to be cocky to insulate yourself.
Q: What is your take on the future?
A: My perspective is this - no matter what position you're in with your career, this business is shifty. You're a hero one minute and then you can be out the door the next minute. What I know about my future is that I've just got to maintain my passion for what I do. There's always going to be someone new. You can never expect to be 'The One' the rest of your life. All you can do is what makes you happy. If you can do what you do best and be happy, you're further along that most people.
Back to Interviews & Articles
Back to Mainpage