Occupation: Actor, Teen heartthrob
Date of Birth: November 11, 1974
Place of Birth: Los Angeles, Calif., USA
Sign: Sun in Scorpio, Moon in Libra
Relations: Parents: George and Irmelin DiCaprio; current companion: Gisele Bundchen (model)
Education: Center for Enriched Studies and John Marshall High School (both in Los Angeles
Leo's first appearance was on the small screen when he was quite small: He was on Romper Room at age five--and was promptly dismissed from the set for his precocious behavior. He had found his calling, however, and by age 10 was already begging his father to get him an agent. In making the rounds, Leo's disdain for the tactics of the Hollywood system was chartered: He was advised to cut his hair and change his name (to Lenny Williams). He was signed at the age of 14, and appeared in educational films and over thirty commercials. He eventually scored appearances on episodic television, including Lassie, The Outsiders, Roseanne, and Parenthood.
At 16, Leo landed a regular role as a homeless boy on the hit series Growing Pains, and Hollywood started to take notice. The young actor portrayed a depth and sensitivity that stood out almost incongruously in a middling, incessantly cheerful sitcom. For Leo, the experience was enlightening; "I realized what I didn't want to do," he said. When given a shot at features, he chose decidedly darker, offbeat projects.
At 17, Leo won the role of a '50s teen who is abused by his stepfather in This Boy's Life, starring Robert DeNiro and Ellen Barkin. Critics hailed the actor for more than holding his own with the legendary DeNiro, and dubbed him the One to Watch of his generation. At 18, Leo turned in a tour-de-force performance as Johnny Depp’s sunny, retarded brother in What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, and a torrent of praise culminated in an Academy Award nomination. Leo was 19.
A kind of ad-hoc training ground followed, with interesting turns in somewhat less-than-interesting pictures. The Quick and the Dead, with Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman, was supposed to have been dark rather than drab; The Basketball Diaries, based on Jim Carroll's harrowing autobiography (and a project which had been slated for everyone from Matt Dillon to River Phoenix) was certainly dark, though perhaps too dark; and Total Eclipse, about the gay 19th Century poet Arthur Rimbaud, did little more than secure Leo's ardent and growing gay following.
In 1996, Leo had a popular breakout with Baz Luhrmann's contemporary adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Claire Danes co-starred, and though the two actors' mismatched performance styles kept screen sparks at bay, the director's singular vision made for a modern, wild ride through a venerable classic. Leo's performance is uneven, but when it works, it's radiant. The screen adaptation of a successful play, Marvin's Room, gave Leo an opportunity to work with acting greats Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton.
Then came Titanic. No one could have been prepared for the worldwide audience response to James Cameron's romantic epic, least of all DiCaprio. Reports of screaming, crying Leo fans surging past police barricades in the tradition of Elvis and The Beatles became commonplace. This didn't quite mesh with DiCaprio's honest disinterest in "being a star," despite his less-than-stellar "star" behavior.
Weighing his options carefully post-Titanic, DiCaprio chose another period piece – one far less successful – for his follow-up, The Man in the Iron Mask. The release of a very old film, Don's Plum, without the permission of Leo or buddy/co-star Tobey Maguire (The Ice Storm) led to a lawsuit, and DiCaprio's name began appearing more in the gossip pages than in film reviews.
Towards the end of 1998, he made two smart choices: first, he showed that he could mock his public image by doing a Woody Allen film, Celebrity (does anyone actually turn those things down?), in which he played a self-absorbed teen idol; and second, he took the lead in The Beach, the adaptation of Alex Garland's best-selling novel. The shoot, on location in Thailand, was rife with controversy, but by now, it should be clear that wherever there's Leo, there will be controversy, whether deserved or not.
One thing is certain, however: Leo's performances and his meteoric rise to superstardom ensures that he is now squarely situated in leading man territory, whether romantic, comedic or dramatic. Monty's mantle has finally been passed.
1999 The Beach
1998 Don's Plum
1998 The Man In the Iron Mask
1996 William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
1996 Marvin's Room
1995 The Basketball Diaries
1995 Total Eclipse
1995 Les Cent et une Nuits
1995 The Quick and the Dead
1993 What's Eating Gilbert Grape
1993 This Boy's Life
1991 Critters 3
1998 Titanic: Breaking New Ground
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)