Spend any time with Leonardo DiCaprio and the 34-year-old actor seems confident and self-assured. With his blonde good looks and self-composed nature, the quietly spoken star appears as though he doesn’t have any insecurities in the world. But he doesn’t see things exactly the same way.
“Are you kidding?” he laughs. “Of course I do. We all do. I’m filled with self doubt constantly, but that’s part of life, right?”
DiCaprio has just finished one of the most challenging roles of his career in the psychological thriller Shutter Island, directed by Martin Scorsese and also starring Michelle Williams. The film, based on the Dennis Lehane novel, is set in 1954 and deals with two US marshals who investigate the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane. From the outset they are deceived by the hospital administrator, but then a hurricane hits and they are trapped on the island.
DiCaprio plays US marshal Teddy Daniels, but DiCaprio didn’t want to give away too much of the plot to MiNDFOOD.
“The truth of the matter is the more I don’t talk about what really happens it is best for the movie,” he smiles.
It’s the fourth time DiCaprio has worked with Scorsese (Gangs of New York, The Aviator and The Departed were their past films) and their relationship is a tight one. He has even been dubbed the director’s muse. Scorsese, who has directed such films as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull has kept a watchful eye on DiCaprio’s career for almost two decades.
The acclaimed director first took notice in the early 1990s, when a close friend of his, actor Robert De Niro sung DiCaprio’s praises while working with him on This Boy’s Life. He was just 17 years old at the time and DiCaprio admits the film was a turning point in his life.
“I’ve always really known what type of actor I wanted to become, the types of movies I wanted to try to do and come close to emulating,” he says matter of factly.
But it was watching De Niro’s work ethic that cemented the approach he wanted to take on his career going forward.
“You know I think we are all very much a product of our dreams and aspirations during those pivotal early teenage years where your mind starts to formulate what you want to become. During that time period, when I got the opportunity to work with De Niro that gave me a crash course in filmmaking. I also watched movies like James Dean in East of Eden, De Niro in Taxi Driver and tons of movies that I felt moved me. I said to myself then, ‘If I’m an actor and I get the opportunity, I am going to try and emulate something close to this. If it moves me emotionally, that’s what I want to try and do. I don’t know if I can achieve it, but I’m going to go for it.’”
DiCaprio has been going for it ever since.
He was nominated for his first Academy Award (Best Supporting Actor) in 1993 for his role as the mentally handicapped Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, opposite Johnny Depp.
Best Actor Oscar nominations followed for his work in films such as The Aviator, in which he played film producer and aviation magnate Howard Hughes, and the politically charged film Blood Diamond.
He has also starred in movies such as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, Catch Me If You Can and the highest grossing film of all time, Titanic, the one which turned DiCaprio into a bonafide superstar.
In an article for TIME magazine, Scorsese wrote it was at this time, DiCaprio “had a choice.”
“It would have been so easy for him,” Scorsese wrote. “He could have made a comfortable home for himself in commercially viable, action-thriller roles. But he chose to go down a different, more adventurous path.”
True. DiCaprio wanted to be more than the blue-eyed boy on a poster in every teenage girl’s bedroom. Not that he has any regrets about taking a role in the hugely successful film.
“Here’s the thing,” he says. “Titanic was a departure for me. I wanted to try something completely different and it happened to be that movie,” he laughs. “I don’t regret it at all.
It was a great movie and it’s given me the chance to do so many things on all sorts of levels. It put me in the driver’s seat.”
While fame has brought with it some unwelcome attention – he has a well-known dislike and disregard for the paparazzi – he has used his success to bring awareness to environmental issues, a subject he is passionate about.
DiCaprio was one of the first stars in Hollywood to drive a Toyota Prius and still does. His house in the Hollywood Hills is ‘green’ with solar panels and an organic vegetable garden. He also has a base in New York City’s Battery Park in a ground-breaking apartment building that uses green technology.
One of DiCaprio’s best tips on how to help the environment is to “vote with your dollar.”
“Every time you buy something you’re advocating the way that company does business. We need to buy organic and green products because that creates demand and they will create more for the market place,” he explains.
DiCaprio says the environmental issue is one that should unite everyone.
“This is a gigantic worldwide movement that needs to cross cultural boundaries, religious boundaries. It needs to be far reaching and it needs to unify all of us.”
And for those who don’t believe in global warming, DiCaprio also has a response.
“How can you argue with not wanting to be energy independent?” he asks. “How can you not want cleaner air or cleaner water? These are fundamental human rights issues at the end of the day.”
In 2007, DiCaprio produced the documentary The 11th Hour which dealt with the state of the natural environment and raised awareness on global warming.
On his official eco-site, it’s issues on the environment that take front and centre, not his films. There’s a ‘No Plastic Bags’ pledge and advice on how to help the environment by doing simple things such as reusing water bottles and choosing to buy beverages in glass instead of plastic.
The star is also a supporter of US President Barack Obama and DiCaprio tells MiNDFOOD he will be trying to get attention for an environmental bill later this year.
“I want to try and focus getting a lot of attention on that,” he says.
“It’s the first step the US will take in reducing its carbon emissions and that’s the next project I hopefully can jump on board with.”
“I’m very blessed to have a great relationship with both of my parents and I know how valuable that is. I would never have been a working actor if it weren’t for both of them. My mother was the one that listened to an 11-year-old kid who said, ‘I want to be an actor’; and drove me to every audition I wanted to go to after school. That’s a big thing to do and my dad has been advising me ever since,” he says.
All in all, DiCaprio says he is enjoying where life and his career has taken him so far, although he almost drives himself crazy with how much thought he puts into deciding which roles to take and not to take. It’s not ever a decision he enters into lightly.
“I’d love to be more decisive,” he says. “Then again, I think that’s a part of my process. I feel like if I torture myself over decisions for a long period of time then I can ultimately have a good track record.”
So, is he satisfied?
“I don’t know,” he says. “I have a hunger for doing this and I don’t know if it can ever be satisfied. I think once you have that bug in you, you just keep going and going and trying to achieve that high. I don’t know if it will ever be quenched.”