WE CATCH UP WITH THE HOLLYWOOD SUPER STAR ABOUT HIS LATEST OSCAR BID.
The best actors are hunters who know the best roles are out there, waiting to be run down and ravaged. The best actors start young, make mistakes and build knowledge from errors. The best actors do their best living in the role. The best actors must act or go mad. Right now, Leonardo Dicaprio is king of the celluloid jungle. No one hunts and kills like Leo. Forget the fscal crunch of his $34m-per-movie pay packet (not counting percentages), Dicaprio’s true power lies in his ability to cherrypick the roles he wants to play with a single phone call. If Leo arches an eyebrow of interest in a project, it can guarantee a flm is made. His confrmation in the cast can open the coffers to many millions in budget and open the doors to all manner of A-graders wanting to share a set with him. The sheer power of Leo’s talent pumps muscle into puny scripts – his weight behind the words making each a weapon. Yet for all his big-screen virtuosity, the real Leonardo Dicaprio is an enigma. Like Gatsby, he keeps his true self suppressed. Having acted since adolescence, Dicaprio’s identity remains elusive behind a gadabout Sun King facade. It’s not that he struggles to live normally beyond his working life in flm – there’s a Kraken sac-worth of ink every day devoted to his looks, exploits, conquests and charities – it’s simply that he’s an unmarried, childless man who walks on a cushion of air created by the gasps of those whispering his name. Maybe that’s his magic. Leo is more than a feeling. In fact, right now, Leo’s here to save the world.
NOVEMBER 11. REMEMBRANCE DAY. DATE OF THE WHITLAM DISMISSAL. The day Ned Kelly was hanged. Also, in 2015, the 41st birthday of one Leonardo Wilhelm Dicaprio – actor, environmentalist and more. The man GQ meets today is just that – a man. At long last the squirrelly cute, easy-to-irk, hard-to-hate boy wonder we’ve come to know over 25 years and 28 flms has vanished – in his place stands a man with hair on his chin, scars on his face and steel in his eyes. This is a relief – not for fans of Leo the heart-throb, but for fans of Dicaprio the actor and, crucially, for the man himself. Since his 1993 turn in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, he’s been on a hard slog to outrun his pretty-boy looks. Along the way Dicaprio has used the gifts bestowed on him by fate (with help from the genes passed down by George, his comic artist father and Irmelin, his legal secretary mother) to excellent effect. After proving his acting chops as a teenager with developmental disabilities in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, he won hearts in Romeo + Juliet and Titanic in the ’90s. In the early 2000s he charmed critics in Catch Me If You Can and The Aviator. He then managed to chisel credibility from parts in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, The Departed and Shutter Island before maturing to manhood in Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. This evolution reaches new levels in his newest and, to his mind, toughest flm in his canon. Inspired by a 2002 novel by Michael Punke, The Revenant is a brutal, sweeping, 156-minute frontier epic of endurance and survival from Alejandro Iñárritu, the director behind last year’s Academy Award-winning Birdman. Dicaprio plays Hugh Glass, a fur trapping gun-for-hire who gets ambushed by shrieking scalpers, mauled by a bear and left for dead in the big, endless white of North America circa 1823. “He is an outsider, a man with an indigenous wife and son who has immersed himself in the natural world,” Dicaprio tells GQ of Glass. “The white man is infltrating what is, at this time, the equivalent to the Amazon – unchartered American territory. And yet there’s a massive infux of people trying to extract its natural resources. It’s pre-gold rush, pre-oil rush. Fur is the natural resource being extracted
Acting is more than a feeling. It is a business of blood, calling for the most primal emotions – love, hate, fear, lust – and demanding they be written large, if invisible, in performance.
for shipping to Europe. Indigenous people are massacred, trees are cut down. And here’s this character, this last remnant of the iconic, mythological mountain man who lives in peace and harmony with the world in this frst surge of confict.” Dicaprio usually hates talking to the press. Luckily for us, he loves talking about The Revenant. His reedy all-american voice comes from somewhere darker, deep inside – the wristy little fop of old is now more a mantis, folding and unfolding a limber frame of wiry muscles and strenuously tested marrow. Look him in the eye and fre. Leo won’t look away. You could call The Revenant ‘a campfre story’, but the truth is Dicaprio eyes his character as a vital historical fgure, “a symbol of the American spirit of survival”. As such, he’s about as real a man as the actor’s ever played. King Leo takes the crafting of every movie mask seriously – history the stage where he best plays. Filmmaking, he adds, “is the greatest, most moving art form in the world. There’s nothing that compares to it. When a movie’s done right, there’s nothing more immersive.” Leaning forward in his chair, he labels The Revenant his greatest challenge. And if it works (it will), it’ll form his greatest triumph. On the surface of it, Dicaprio’s life has been a breeze. There have been a couple of near-death experiences – a ripcord that failed to release his parachute and left him falling fast until an instructor intervened at 5000 feet; an exploding plane engine fying from New York to Moscow for a conference Vladimir Putin organised to save the Siberian tiger. But for the most part, the challenges of modern life passed him by. Can he beat and crumb a schnitzel? Console a child? Prune a tree or iron a shirt? Truth is, Dicaprio’s a child of Hollywood – albeit one who tells tales of growing up on LA’S mean streets. “Mum and I lived at a drug dealer and prostitute corner,” he’s recalled. “It was pretty terrifying. I got beat up a lot. I saw people have sex in alleys.” But since starting his on-screen life at 15, Leo’s lived in a gilded cage where the sun always fnds his face. The fame that goes with success meant a crazed model also found his face with a broken bottle in 2005, necessitating 17 stitches. That same year, another ‘uncommon’ event: Dicaprio began a relationship with Israeli model Bar Rafaeli after meeting her at a Las Vegas party for U2. Filming The Revenant was a chance to step outside the Hollywood bubble and test his mettle as a man, by pitting himself against the elements. “When you set out to do a flm in the harshest of winter territories, the true wilderness with locations miles from civilisation, the flm’s gonna take on a life of its own,” he rhapsodises. “Alejandro wanted an immersive experience and I really believe he’s captured that. This flm is the closest thing to a documentary experience I’ve ever had, a real existential journey. It’s a very linear, straightforward story but by reacting to the surroundings we’ve made it more extreme, harsh and simultaneously more profound than we ever imagined.” It’s a powerful piece that will challenge. While there are several Terrence Malick-esque moments of tenderness between man and nature, an equal number of heinously violent scenes erupt throughout – scenes that would make Cormac Mccarthy wince. Cue the extended sequence in which Dicaprio’s Glass is attacked, mauled, slashed, slobbered over and half-eaten by a grizzly bear. “Alejandro’s shots are like this winding snake that capture the vastness of nature but, at the same time, creep in on the characters,” says Dicaprio. “There’s an intimacy to the violence in this movie you’ve never seen before. It’s almost like there’s another sense that takes hold of you as an audience member that awakens all the other senses. You can feel the breath.” Set against the prowling cinematography of gifted Iñárritu wingman, Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant (defnition: ‘a person who has returned, supposedly from the dead’) is part American ice western, part environmental erotica. Filming in the mountains of Argentina, British Columbia and Alberta, Dicaprio found himself in minus 30-degree conditions enduring “a modern day heart of darkness… a mad, intense scramble to capture this magic light, this precious hour and a half”. Either side of that ethereal 90-minute window, he prepared as if for a daily theatre performance, meticulously rehearsing the flm’s elaborate physical stunts and priming his newly feralised and horribly bear-slashed face to fre on cue. It’s not the face endlessly fawned over in the gossip pages. There’s no sign of what Kate Winslet called ‘probably the world’s most beautiful-looking man’ or the mesmeric cinematic force described by director Lasse Hallström (“His left eye is very soft and empathetic, oozing warmth. The right eye is more analysing, more penetrating”). Instead, it’s a fercely frozen version of the energy Martin Scorsese likens to that he found in Robert De Niro back in the ’70s: “Leo will give me emotion where I least expect it… and he can do it take after take.” The Revenant has Dicaprio on screen for nine-tenths of the flm, a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that he utters only a few dozen lines of dialogue and delivers most of them while strapped wounded and dying to a makeshift gurney. Nonetheless, it’s an incredible performance. Leo the man
“There’s an intimacy to the violence in this movie you’ve never seen before. It’s almost like there’s another sense that takes hold of you as an audience member that awakens all the other senses.”
drawing on every facial tic trick in his bag of brilliance – popping eyes, furrowing brows, curling lips, foaming at the mouth and generally transforming that beautiful clock of his into a roiling dial of grief, pain, desperation and vengeance. “How do you express emotions and give audiences an understanding of a person’s struggle or journey without articulating almost anything?” Dicaprio asks himself of such a quest. “You do major planning,” he answers. “You do research, you read books. You learn how to survive in the mountains. You learn how to cut a bear fur, how to eat a potted mouse and how to make a knife. And then, when nature takes over, you have to react to surroundings, yet tell the story of this character without words. That was something I embraced. It was nice not to have to learn fve pages of dialogue every day, too. Mostly, though, it was nice to hone in on the subtlety of being alone. I mean, how do you act when nobody’s watching you?” For someone who’s spent three of his four decades as an actor watched by almost everybody, it’s a good question. As Dicaprio hits his peak, perhaps his deepest legacy is taking shape behind the scenes as a warrior for the environment. Concurrent with shooting The Revenant, Dicaprio narrated Carbon, a nine-minute short exploring climate change and the frst of four mini-docos in the Green World Rising series. “If national governments won’t take action, your community can,” he says in Carbon. “We can move our economy town by town, state by state, to renewable energy and a sustainable future.” He has a long history of supporting environmental causes through his non-proft Leonardo Dicaprio Foundation. He voiced and produced the documentary flm The 11th Hour in 2007 and pledged $9.5m to ocean conservation in June 2014. “Anyone who doesn’t believe in climate change is an absolute dinosaur,” he sneers. “99.99 per cent of the scientifc consensus [states] it is happening. OK, you don’t believe in science. Then maybe the world is fat and maybe there is no gravity as well? It just boggles my mind how there’s still an argument. But look at the numbers, man. There’s no argument.” This year, Dicaprio joined 2000 well-monied individuals and 400 institutions representing a, ahem, titanic $3.5tn of investment to join the 50-fold increase in citizens and corporations divesting themselves of investments in coal, oil and gas companies. It followed his address of the United Nations Climate Change Summit in September 2014. “We only get one planet,” he lectured delegates that day. “Humankind must become accountable on a massive scale for the wanton destruction of our collective home. Protecting our future on this planet depends on the conscious evolution of our species. This is the most urgent of times, and the most urgent of messages. Leaders of the world, I pretend for a living. But you do not. The time to answer the greatest challenge of our existence on this planet... is now.” One thing is certain. Dicaprio has left a footprint with The Revenant. Could this be the performance that fnally earns him an Oscar for Best Actor and confrms his place in the pantheon of handsome bastards who can actually act? Four times a nominee and four times beaten, late betting had Dicaprio ahead of Eddie Redmayne ( The Danish Girl), Johnny Depp ( Black Mass), Tom Hanks ( Bridge of Spies), Michael Fassbender ( Steve Jobs) and Matt Damon ( The Martian). “If you look at somebody’s career, there’s going to be a couple of movies that you talk about at the end that are great – flms worthy of showing your children or grandchildren,” offers Dicaprio modestly. “[ The Revenant] happened to be something that was completely different to anything I’ve ever done before. But I’m only 41 years old, I’m just getting started.” This year, Dicaprio is rumoured to be deepening his Australian connections after he nabbed a $17m paycheque – pocket change when you’re worth an estimated $300m – to ‘act’ alongside old buddies Scorsese and De Niro in a ‘flm’ for James Packer’s $4.5bn Studio City casino in Macau. Joel Schumacher directs him in The Crowded Room as Billy Milligan, the frst person to successfully claim multiple personality disorder in court. One of Milligan’s 24 different personalities was Australian, so expect a characteristically accurate accent from Dicaprio. Soon after he’ll also re-team with Scorsese to star in and produce The Devil in the White City, based on Erik Larson’s gripping true story of a dapper maniac stalking the 1893 Chicago World Fair. “I never do a movie just because I want to try a different character,” he explains. “I’d do 10 movies in a row about insane rich people if a director’s good and the script is unique. Aviator, Gatsby and The Wolf of Wall Street were three vastly different characters but all competing for that same ideal.” So what’s the drive? “Coming from a meagre background and then being accepted into a world, very early on, where I got to see the opulence of rich peoples’ lives. I understood fast what it was like within and without. So now it’s all about that next great piece of art that I can be of service to. I know one thing for sure – the fat rises to the top.” So too, Leo. n The Revenant is in cinemas now
FROM TOP: DICAPRIO AS HUGH GLASS IN THE REVENANT; ON SET WITH DIRECTOR ALEJANDRO IÑÁRRITU.