The great King Leo

Hailed as the finest ac­tor of his gen­er­a­tion and a phi­lan­thropist to boot, Leonardo DiCaprio re­mains a rest­less and mys­te­ri­ous soul, as TIFFANY BAKKER dis­cov­ers

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE -

HE may be the big­gest movie star on the planet, but Leonardo DiCaprio has achieved the near im­pos­si­ble in this world of in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion – he has re­mained some­thing of an enigma.

We know tid­bits, of course: that he’s of­ten con­sid­ered “the finest ac­tor of his gen­er­a­tion” ( this time around via his most re­cent costar Carey Mul­li­gan); that he is a pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cate for en­vi­ron­men­tal causes and an­i­mal rights ( he’s “sick” of the hu­man race “treat­ing the Earth like a gas sta­tion”); and he has a pen­chant for mod­els ( his for­mer paramours have re­port­edly in­cluded Gisele Bund­chen, Kate Moss, Bar Re­faeli and Erin Heatherton).

But this is not all of him, de­spite the fact he’s spent much of his life in the pub­lic eye ( he first came to our at­ten­tion as the cheeky neigh­bour in the sac­cha­rine ’ 80s sit­com Grow­ing Pains).

Now 38 (“I have two years un­til I hit 40,” he smiles, “and I’m hold­ing on to them”), he has lost some of that del­i­cate beauty that seemed to plague him, al­though the translu­cent blue eyes that made many a teenage girl swoon are as po­tent as ever.

When we meet at New York’s op­u­lent Plaza ho­tel, DiCaprio puffs in­ces­santly on an elec­tric cig­a­rette. He started smok­ing as a teenager and he wants to quit – “I don’t know if it’s work­ing yet,” he says.

What is work­ing is his ca­reer. If you take a

glance at his im­pres­sive fil­mog­ra­phy, you are re­minded just how good he’s been over such a sus­tained pe­riod ( think Django Un­chained, What’s Eat­ing Gil­bert Grape, The De­parted, The Avi­a­tor, Gangs Of New York and In­cep­tion, among many oth­ers), while some­how avoid­ing the fran­chises, the pi­rates and the su­per­heroes.

Now, he’s taken on per­haps the most fa­mous char­ac­ter in Amer­i­can lit­er­ary his­tory, star­ring as Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann’s lav­ish The Great Gatsby.

DiCaprio first read F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s clas­sic when he was 15, but he didn’t re­ally con­nect to the story un­til he re- vis­ited the novel as an adult af­ter Luhrmann sent him a first- edi­tion print.

“I had a com­pletely dif­fer­ent out­look as an adult,” he says. “It be­came less of a love story and more about this ob­sessed man who had to erase the past. He’s a delu­sional char­ac­ter in a lot of ways.”

DiCaprio says he had many reser­va­tions about tak­ing on such an iconic Amer­i­can role.

“The truth is, it is a very risky un­der­tak­ing. Ev­ery­one’s got their ver­sion of The Great

Gatsby. I can’t tell you how many peo­ple have come up to me and said that this is their favourite book of all time. There are not many projects that you’re a part of where peo­ple have an ex­pec­ta­tion go­ing into the cin­ema. I had a great deal of scep­ti­cism go­ing in.”

Even­tu­ally, he was swayed by two fac­tors. One was be­com­ing re- fas­ci­nated by Gatsby as a char­ac­ter and the sec­ond was the in­volve­ment of Luhrmann and long- time buddy, Tobey Maguire ( who he met when they both started act­ing at 13), who plays Nick Car­raway.

“They’re both peo­ple who I’ve known for over 20 years and who are trusted col­lab­o­ra­tors. We could al­ways be hon­est with each other,” DiCaprio says.

He adds that the trio made a pact that “no mat­ter what we do cin­e­mat­i­cally, we’re go­ing to try to re­main as true as we can to the novel and cap­ture the essence of what made this book so great”.

De­spite his heart­throb sta­tus DiCaprio has spent much of his ca­reer rail­ing against this pub­lic im­age.

Post- Ti­tanic, he shied away from ro­man­tic lead­ing- man roles, mov­ing in­stead into be­ing Martin Scors­ese’s post- Robert DeNiro muse.

“Peo­ple have asked me whether I’ve avoided ro­mance or love sto­ries, and I have to say, no, not at all,” he says. “The only pre- req­ui­site or cri­te­ria that I have for do­ing any­thing is: Is there enough there to do?

“Oth­er­wise, I be­come bored as an ac­tor. I just can’t imag­ine be­ing on a set where you hate what you’re do­ing. That’s a night­mare to me.”

Now show­ing at the Vil­lage and State cinemas

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