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From a Singapore Newspaper - March 30, 1998

 

Leonardo DiCaprio is a teen idol who makes young girls scream and swoon. He dates supermodels, but who does he take with him to movie premieres?

By ELISABETH GWEE in New York

NEW YORK, the never-meant-to-be destination of Titanic, but where its leading man is waiting for me -- Leonardo DiCaprio, shining man of the moment.

Bring back a piece of him, that's what my editor told me. I was told to scurry in his wake, forage for splinters of his personality -- a button, a strand of hair, a piece of skin, whatever. I will have to be a walking, talking Hoover.

Ten stories below, a hundred screaming teens. "Leo! Leo!" they shriek, as they try to push their way past security guards and into the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue. Ten stories up, one screaming girl. Me. Not that you could have heard it out loud, but who wouldn't have been shrieking inside, practically on the verge of fainting, at the sight of DiCaprio, dressed in a dark blue sweater and charcoal-grey trousers, all arms and legs and shocks of dirty blond hair, striding through the door. He is so close, he is within biting range.

Those ferrety teeth framed by a waifish face that have sent a million girls screaming into the night. And then, he does the unthinkable. He begins to undress -- the top of a mineral water bottle with his ivories.

His lanky frame hunched over the tiny bottle, his head cocked to one side and his hands wrapped round the body of the bottle, he clenches the bottle cap between his teeth and twists it. Several deeply-embedded tooth marks later, the job is done, and he resumes his slacker slouch on the blue sofa. It is hard to draw one's eyes away from that face -- baby smooth skin, wolf cub eyes, girlish pink lips. Like a baby, his head is slightly bigger than the rest of his body, mostly arms and legs.

There is no need for his trademark hairband today as his previously floppy mop of hair has been cropped short. Every once in a while, he runs his architecturally long fingers through it, in the same way many a teenage girl has no doubt spent endless nights fantasising about.

Ahhh ... those fans.

From Paris to Tokyo, DiCaprio has encountered his fair share of trembling teens and even 20-somethings.

Leaning forward, placing the tooth-marked bottle cap on the coffee table in front of him and, looking up with those piercing green eyes, he says pensively: "I don't know any of them individually, so it's hard to feel a lot from it, you know what I mean?

"I guess I see it like anyone else that I'm walking with would -- it's not really realistic in a way. Because how can I identify with these people when I don't know them at all?"

But for someone who decided on a showbiz career at the age of six "so all the girls would see me", the attention is not all that bad. If anything, it proves to him that he is doing things right.

"As an actor, you act for other people's enjoyment, so to get some sort of reaction from them is fantastic," he says. "It was a huge honour to be part of Titanic, which to me is a situation which rarely, if ever, happens where it touches so many people. It's definitely something to tell my grandkids." Then, he says, his pink lips curling into a grin: "And you know, if actors didn't have people watching us, and feeling some sort of emotions for our performances, I might as well be doing it alone in my kitchen for that matter."

The kitchen is, in fact, where DiCaprio, now 23, kicked off his acting career.

At the age of 14, one of his first few jobs was advertising breakfast cereal on television. From there, he went on to bit parts on TV, including the sitcom Growing Pains, before making his leap onto the big screen. To date, he has acted in 11 films over the last seven years, winning critical acclaim for many of his performances, including an Oscar nomination for his role as a mentally-retarded teenager in 1993's What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

"I look at the opportunities I had in the past, and they were great. But now, it's even better. It's made me step up in the level of choices I make and find what really moves me the most, and what I can respond to. Any movie I do has to stir something in me," he says emphatically. Which is why, even in the face of extreme exhaustion after filming James Cameron's Titanic, he decided to take on not one, but the dual role of King Louis XIV and his twin, Philippe, in The Man In The Iron Mask, based on the classic novel by Alexandre Dumas. What drew DiCaprio to the role was the chance to play not just the good guy (Philippe), but the bad guy (Louis), too.

"Did I enjoy it? Absolutely! It was great to sink my teeth into a character with an evil streak, which is something I haven't done before," he says, perking up.

"This story is very complex. It has twists and turns and many layers of emotion." Which is just the way he likes his roles. From the time he landed his first TV role as an alcoholic teen in the soap opera Santa Barbara, he has shown a penchant for dark and troubled parts, from an abused boy scout in This Boy's Life to a junkie poet in The Basketball Diaries. IN THE movie, King Louis XIV tells one of his many bedmates: "There is more of me to love than a crown."

Art certainly imitates life, and DiCaprio knows that being a successful movie star can be a tough business. "I haven't had any really bad experiences yet, but there are people who portray themselves differently in front of you because they have different intentions for you than one may have just being a friend. But I am fortunate to have people around me, like family and friends, whom I've known for a while. I live my life like anyone else. It's just that I may have to be a bit more wary than others of people's true intentions."

Still single, he has been linked in gossip columns to supermodels ranging from Naomi Campbell to Helena Christensen to Kate Moss. However, his recent dates of choice to the premieres of his new movie have been none other than his mother and grandmother, no doubt endearing him all the more to his female fans.

By now, the actor is tired, and distracted.

As the interview wears on, his lanky body sinks deeper into the sofa, and, for the first time, one notices the huge eyebags that mar his otherwise perfect face. He keeps awake by chewing his fingernails, playing with his hair and fiddling with his bottle of water.

DiCaprio, the most talked-about, written-about, and fantasised-about man of the moment, is in need of a long break. "I don't know what I'm gonna do, but I plan to do a lot of stuff. I want to travel, see different places... "Artists need to take a break from the environment they're in and see different lifestyles. Because, as an actor, you need to eat and breathe reality. If you're cut off from it, you suffer as an artist, and that's the biggest price you pay for fame."

And then, he drags himself off the couch, shuffles out of the door and into the dreams of a thousand teenage girls, while I grabbed that water bottle of his.

****

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