IT’S a freezing New York winter’s day, and Leonardo DiCaprio is moving just a tad gingerly. Thanks to a mishap at his Los Angeles home, his ankle is buggered, and he’s using a cane to help him navigate his hotel room.
“I sprained it on the floorboards at my house,” he shrugs, slowly easing himself onto an uncomfortable looking couch. “I’m building a deck and I was showing the architect what I wanted done, so I somehow jumped through a floorboard and popped a couple of ligaments.”
Of late he reckons he’s been injury- prone, adding that he also put his back out while filming one of the many drug scenes for his latest film, The Wolf Of Wall Street.
“I was crawling around like some sort of slug for two days, and ended up at the chiropractor. I think my body forgets I’m not as young as I used to be.”
In fact, it’s sort of bizarre ( and makes you feel positively ancient) to think that DiCaprio is nearing 40, a milestone he’ll hit in November. That this is the baby- faced actor whose striking blue eyes so captivated a generation of hysterical teenage girls in Romeo + Juliet and Titanic. These days, there are a few more lines around those eyes, but it’s as if his face has finally caught up with his career ( he’s a threetime Academy Award nominee).
Indeed, there are strong whispers he’ll increase that tally, thanks to his performance in The Wolf Of Wall Street, which is based on the memoir of disgraced stockbroker Jordan Belfort. In a “pump and dump” share scam, Belfort fleeced investors out of some $ US300 million in the late 1980s and early ’ 90s, to fund a lavish lifestyle of helicopters, yachts, mansions and copious amounts of drugs.
DiCaprio, who gives a fearless performance in the film, says he’d been obsessed with the hedonistic nature of Belfort’s memoir the moment the book was published in 2007. “The man is portraying the darker nature of himself in his own biography. I became obsessed with playing him because I felt he kind of represented everything that’s wrong with America today.”
DiCaprio, of course, has had his own reputation as a bit of a party boy with, like Belfort, a penchant for models ( his latest is 21- year- old German supermodel Toni Garrn).
“You can’t compare me to him,” he snorts. “I’ve got nothing on Jordan Belfort.”
The actor viewed the book as “this sort of financial underworld story” and wanted five- time collaborator Martin Scorsese to direct the film ( indeed the film has elements of Goodfellas about it). For Scorsese, embarking on another project with DiCaprio was a no- brainer.
“Filmmaking can be an arduous business, and there’s absolutely nothing worse than working with people who don’t want to be there, and Leo is never like that,” says Scorsese.
“Aside from the fact that he’s a terrific actor, every time we work together it goes further, and our working relationship gets deeper. We just like to hang out, we like being around each other, we really do.”
In some ways, DiCaprio and Belfort could be two sides of the same coin. Both accumulated massive wealth at an early age ( DiCaprio is said to be worth more than $ US200 million), but both have handled their money in entirely different ways, but DiCaprio, a committed environmentalist and philanthropist, says he can understand where the urge for more stems from.
“Being a successful person myself, I honestly feel that the attitude is very twisted – the need to accumulate more and more wealth and consume more and more. I’ve met a lot of people like that in my industry and it almost becomes an obsession with them. Everything relates to more money and once you reach a certain bracket of wealth, that’s not enough and you have to get more. And then that’s not enough, and you have to get more again.”
For Belfort, “more” was never enough. He made $ 49 million bucks the year he turned 26, but was furious he didn’t reach $ 52 million, “because it was three shy of a million a week”.
DiCaprio says he liked the fact that Belfort and his cronies “aren’t the movers and shakers of Wall Street, these are really street urchins that are trying to emulate Gordon Gekko”.
The only reservation he had was that the audience would “tune out” because the behaviour of the protagonists is so appalling. ( Jonah Hill is extraordinary as Belfort’s repulsive partner- in- crime, Donnie, and Aussie Margot Robbie cements her status as a star on the rise as Belfort’s wife, Naomi.)
DiCaprio dismisses accusations that the film glorifies Belfort’s crimes. ( Belfort ultimately served only a paltry 22 months of a four- year jail sentence, after co- operating with the FBI).
“We don’t give these people any moral compass whatsoever,” he says. “We’re not apologising for their actions. I think we’re portraying them for what they were and what their motivations were, and we’re not giving them some false sense of sympathy for an audience.”
There’s also the matter of some of the film’s more risque scenes, such as the one which features him snorting cocaine off of a woman’s breasts, not to mention the one of him being whipped by a dominatrix who has an interesting idea for the placement of a burning candle. DiCaprio says he had no reservations about filming the scenes.
“When you do a character like this, you have to go all out,” he says.
“You can’t pull any punches.”
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET Now showing at Village and State cinemas