Blue Skies for Leonardo, Part 1

Leonardo DiCaprio, Part 1

Blue skies are ahead for Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the busiest actors in Hollywood — and did we mention, fabulously single?
Leonardo DeCaprio - The future looks bright for this singular star
There’s something mesmerizing about Leonardo DiCaprio’s face. It’s heart-shaped and sweet, but strangely powerful. His complexion is smooth, in a “When will I start to shave?” kind of way. He’s full of contradictions — irresistibly polite, yet willing to throw horse manure in the faces of paparazzi. He looks both older and younger than his 34 years. He’s equally at home in a beautiful suit or a battered T-shirt.

On the several occasions I’ve met him over the past seven years, he’s always looked kind of scruffy, and every time I’m shocked by how tall he is. He’s supposed to be 6 foot 1, but he appears taller in a reverse Tom Cruise sort of way. His arms aren’t as bulging as they were in, say, Gangs of New York, when he transformed his physique for director Martin Scorsese. But something of that inner strength and inner weight has stayed with him.

A British film critic once described Leo’s relationship with Scorsese “as Brando’s was to Kazan.” It’s intense, with lots of imperceptible thinking going on between the two of them. They’ve done four films together —Gangs of New York, then The Aviator, then The Departed and now Shutter Island, which opens in February 2010.
Leo received an Oscar nod for his breakout performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. A lead role in 1997 box-office topper Titanic turned him into a Hollywood megastar but also pegged him as a matinee idol — a perception he fought by taking on more complex parts.
“My relationship with Scorsese has been a dream come true,” Leo told me when we met in a smoky suite at the Beverly Wilshire last fall. “Not only have I gained a tremendous education in the history of cinema, he’s opened my eyes in a lot of different ways to the art form that I’m part of — through his excessive fanaticism. He’s meticulous and specific.” Then Leo gave me a slow, curling smile. “Someone said that we dislike the same things, and I think that sums it up really well. We understand each other.”

And we understand that Leo would never be so rude, so obvious and so specific as to say what those things may be. He is open, yet unfathomable. It’s clear he doesn’t want to be defined. “Defining yourself to the public on a constant basis is death to a performer,” he explains. “The more you define who you are personally, the less you are able to submerge into roles of characters, and people begin to think, ‘I don’t buy him in that role.’”

He talks so passionately about the parts he plays — you know he’s lost himself in all of them. For instance, when asked about his character in Revolutionary Road, he talks urgently about Frank Wheeler’s despair, his disillusionment, his cowardice. “It’s a film about the disintegration of a relationship, [when you’re]  a smile on your face and doing all the things you should be doing in a loving relationship, but the darker side is taking over,”putting he says. “It’s about people who are holding on to their love in circumstances that are ripping them apart. I’m more attracted to doing that sort of thing these days, because things in this world, they aren’t easy, they are very complicated.”
His work in The Aviator (2004) and Blood Diamond (2006) also earned him Oscar nominations.
Leo is complicated. He wouldn’t be capable of a connection that lacks complexity. While he won’t go into the specifics of his current relationship with Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, you imagine it can’t be as intricate as his relationship with himself. He must remember his days as a shy boy, a little afraid of girls.

Now he gets to date supermodels — Gisele Bündchen, Helena Christensen, Amber Valletta and Eva Herzigova, to name but a few. You look at him and wonder how he transformed into this powerful-looking being. Remember when we saw him in Titanic? He looked cherubic, childlike, pining over Kate Winslet. How ironic that they should reconnect in such a bleak, torturously unraveling way in Revolutionary Road.

“Kate’s exactly the same person,” Leo says about his longtime friend, meaning that she’s untainted and unspoiled by fame and its trappings. At the Golden Globes, she gushed in her winner’s speech about how much she loved Leo. He blushed with pride for her and tried not to look embarrassed by the emotional outpouring.

He’s always been shy around women. He once said, “I’ve always been a slow starter. My first date was with a girl called Cessi. We had a beautiful relationship over the phone all summer, and then when we met I couldn’t look her in the eye.” Still, he’s not comfortable talking about girls. Partly it’s a machismo thing. He doesn’t want to express his intimate emotions like that. He thinks it’s wrong and unfair to the woman, and he doesn’t want to be pinned down as somebody’s boyfriend.

He’s made oblique references to having a wife one day – someone he could feel comfortable with. But one gets the impression that “one day” is still far off. His work is too important to him. I’m not sure he’s willing to let a relationship get in the way.

I remember the first time I met him. I’d gone to his house in the Hollywood Hills to interview his then-girlfriend, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen. She rambled passionately about how much she loved her dog, a yapping Yorkie named Vida. She and Vida both had urgent eyes that lit up when the housekeeper made her favorite Brazilian empanadas. Dog and owner dearly loved the greasy meat treats.

Leo, meanwhile, was in the open-plan kitchen preparing food to take to a friend. He was fastidiously chopping vegetables. He favored cooking something that was clean and healthy. He said several times to his girlfriend, “Baby, we’re late.” He didn’t want to be rude and ask me to leave.

He could see she was on an unstoppable flow. In fact, she completely ignored his requests and carried on regaling me with the minutiae of her life. Leo, in contrast, was withdrawn and reserved, but not overwhelmed by her. I sensed a distance between them, but it was a distance he seemed resigned to, rather than at odds with.

Gisele drove me home that day, singing a version of Joni Mitchell’s “California.” She told me Leo didn’t sing karaoke, but apart from that, life with him was great. I thought that, apart from being beautiful, they had absolutely nothing in common. But maybe he was trying to complete himself with his opposite, someone who seemed always at ease. Being comfortable in his own skin seems to have been such a task and journey for him.

Read Part 2 of this interview.

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