LEO CHANNELS THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Chaos, coke, sex, cash — Leonardo DiCaprio is back working with Martin Scorsese, and loving it, writes Jonathan Dean
LEONARDO DiCaprio smokes electronic cigarettes, the Prius of addiction. I didn’t notice at first, approaching him from behind as a plume of what looked like real smoke rose around his broad, still shoulders and above his head. Gelled hair, slicked back. We meet at the edge of a balcony in Beverly Hills, as he stares over flowerpots into lateafternoon haze. He must have tucked the plastic stick into a jacket pocket before we shook hands. Minutes in, he takes a deep drag and the tip glows with green light. It reminds me of Gatsby’s signal for Daisy in Baz Luhrmann’s party folly, which earned more money than any film its star has made with Martin Scorsese, but far fewer friends. He ended last year in his fifth film with America’s finest living filmmaker, The Wolf of Wall Street. Based on the crook stockbroker Jordan Belfort’s memoir, it’s chaos, coke, sex and cash in capitalism’s greediest era. ‘‘ It’s Caligula, debauchery at its utter extreme, giving in to every deadly sin,’’ DiCaprio says excitedly, as if he’s just snuck out of his first 18-rated film.
In person, the 39-year-old doesn’t look much older than he did at 23, in 1997, the Titanic year, 12 months after Romeo + Juliet had first set hearts aflutter. Like a waxwork from his younger days, with a goatee and a couple of bags etched under the eyes, he’s friendly, if not exactly fun. A serious man whose barely used Twitter account lists him as an ‘‘ actor and environmentalist’’, last month he donated millions to save tigers. He holds eye contact — those sharp blues — and leaves long, thoughtful sentences. When he laughs, it comes from nowhere. It’s nerdy, often when what’s said isn’t funny. Then he sits back, listening, smoking, checked shirt hanging open to reveal a sliver of a silver necklace.
‘‘ This is about a man who gave in to every temptation,’’ he says of The Wolf of Wall Street, a three-hour Oscar contender in a champagne year for film. ‘‘ That’s the excitement, exploring the dark side of human nature. To me, that’s what all the greatest movies have been about.’’ Martin Scorsese, he says, is a master of this, the heightened drama perfected in his rise-and-fall GoodFellas.
As the ‘‘ bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’’ Belfort, DiCaprio is corrupted by Mark Hanna (the scene-stealing Matthew McConaughey), ‘‘ the devil that leads me to Dante’s inferno’’, as DiCaprio puts it. Eventually, Belfort is arrested by the FBI, but what rich fun — boats with choppers, a Quaalude orgy on a plane, dwarf tossing, Joanna Lumley — is had on the way.
Belfort is vulgar. He writes about how his boom-and-big-busts lifestyle brought ‘‘ insanity to young Americans’’, but he never seems repentant. Take the book’s cover, for one, with the thief smugly lording it over wads of cash, surrounded by a bikini model and expensive motor vehicles. And he’s sexist — patronising about a long-suffering ex-wife he cheated on with a range of prostitutes.
‘‘ We thought about whether people will be