With girlfriends changing as fast as movie rolls, Leonardo DiCaprio remains one of the most elusive bachelors in Hollywood.
Leo was born in November 1974 — a Scorpio with Libra rising. “That means I’m trying to balance the passionate and insane parts of Scorpio as best I can, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job,” he says darkly, but with a smile.
He grew up in East Hollywood. His German-born mother, Irmelin, split from his father, George, a comic book artist, when their son was about a year old. George was a bohemian, with radical friends like writer Charles Bukowski. He was a creative guide for Leo. In fact, Leo always speaks of both of his parents with great love and is thankful for their very distinct influences on him.
From his mother, he inherited those pale blue, slightly slanting eyes. He says he can tell her anything and everything. For a long while, it was she who walked the red carpet with him. When he talks about Revolutionary Road’s Frank and April (Winslet’s character) as “two people who should never have been together in the first place — a fascinating train wreck to watch,” you wonder if there’s perhaps anything there about the disintegration of his own parents’ marriage. But he’s spoken before about his upbringing being both solid and inspiring. From a very early age, acting with Robert De Niro in This Boy’s Life and breaking out in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Leo was certain of his talent and sure about what he wanted to do with his life.
He is also certain “about different species being pushed into extinction.” His concern for the planet has never faltered, even when his concern for himself did. After the release of Titanic, teenage girls gathered at airports and in streets, so frenzied when they saw him that they would literally want to tear him apart. And while he would never admit to being scared of them, he certainly recoiled from doing blockbuster-type movies afterward. I refer to it as his post-Titanic distress syndrome.
He greets that assumption with a hollow laugh. You wonder if — during those years of Leo-mania — he felt trapped by his own celebrity. “It was never my intention to have my image shown around the world,” he says. Certainly not for barbers in Afghanistan to be arrested by the Taliban for offering a Leonardo DiCaprio-style haircut to their customers.
After Titanic, he famously turned down Spider-Man and Star Wars to do The Beach. People wrote him off and considered the movie a failure, but Leo was reinventing himself, getting rid of the possibility of ever being considered a lightweight. For last year’s Body of Lies, the filming in Morocco was intense and adrenalin-fueled. He tells me, “I almost had a physical breakdown at the end of it.” I admit to him that the torture scene at the conclusion of the movie was so horrifying I couldn’t watch it. “Good,” he says with a laugh, “because so much hinged on it. A lot of what you see is my breaking point.”
He explains that his character in the movie is in a dirty fight in the war against terror. “He is trying to hold on to a semblance of morality and belief in his country, but he starts to question his patriotism. He is trying to hold on to a certain belief system that is lost,” which seems to be why he took that part. “It’s a scary world that the United States has ventured into,” he says. “I am hoping that Barack Obama can come in and change everything, set this country on a different course.”
Despite his superstar credentials and his alleged $20 million take per movie, Leo has never been excessive or brash, never conspicuous in his consumption. He drove his Toyota Prius and kept to himself until he realized a person in the public eye can make the most of such things, and then he produced his eco documentary The 11th Hour. Never does he ram principles down anybody’s throat. His goals go beyond that.
“It’s about something much, much bigger,” he says of his efforts. “It’s about getting the governments of the world to implement environmental policy. We haven’t made a tiptoe toward renewable technologies. We should be the ones paving the way, the ones other countries look up to. It makes me extremely sad. … But Obama gets it.”
Sometimes Leo’s pale-blue eyes can look at you with a stare that is a little intense for a little too long — and suddenly the eyes dart away as if he doesn’t want you to catch what’s inside of him. I read once that when somebody looks at you like that, it’s either because they want to have sex with you or because they want to kill you. In his case, of course, it’s neither. He just wants to frisk you, to make a quick estimate of where you’re coming from. But he doesn’t want the gaze to linger, lest you see something inside him that he doesn’t want to show you.
Being trailed by the paparazzi infuriates him. Yet he’ll answer questions, just not very specifically — sometimes with irony, sometimes for a laugh. When you’re with him, you feel he’s up for anything — there’s only a shadow of the circumspect, shy Leo. But the way he dances between the two keeps you guessing.
“Being an environmentalist and doing this business [making films] opens me up to entirely different worlds. I love juggling those things,” he says. There it is again: the different sides of Leo, constantly at play. The duality seems to make him comfortable. The balancing act is what makes Leo interesting. It’s what makes him clever and what makes him flawed, and most of all, what makes him human.
Read Part 1 of this interview.