The Face Interview - February 2000

 

The most famous man on the planet, world exclusively. After Titanic, The Beach. He talks to Chris Heath. He is photographed by Luis Sanchis. He takes his shirt off, but donīt be blinded by the light

 

 

The last time Leonardo DiCaprio made a film, it turned out to be the biggest-grossing movie of all time. Overnight, it transformed him into one of the most famous men on the planet. He wonīt be making the mistake again.

He slinks more than sits, pressing his head back into the soft hotel sofa. A glass of pink lemonade is cupped in his hand. His feet are on the table. His newly enhanced arm muscles bulge softly, as if surprised to find themselves filling the gaps between his scrawny frame and the sleeves of his T-shirt. He's been working out. Eating ludicrous meals. "Complex aminos, and carbs, and protein shakes," he explains. Preparing for a new film, Martin Scorsese's Gangs Of New York. He flexes the right arm, unimpressed. "I've been trying my best," he grins. "I have, like, the metabolism of a squirrel..." He grins a lot, and his usual grin is that of an amused truant who finds it funny to have been caught but even funnier that he'll soon be escaping again. He screws up his face a lot too, as if he is not just listening to each question but also smelling them. It is late November 1999, and he is in his hometown, Los Angeles. Soon he will have to talk to a German woman who will insistently demand to know, as an indicator of his manhood, whether he has ever shaved a woman's leg5. (No.) Right now the question which is being pondered, and which is stimulating some of his finer facial gymnastics, is this: Was it delightful or annoying to find yourself, for a while, pretty much one of the most famous men on the planet?

"Oh, you know," Leonardo DiCaprio finally replies, "it wasn't delightful. I wouldn't say it was..." - he rolls this next word back out after a short pause - "...delightful It's complicated, because I'm not going to say that I'm upset about being famous, or that I'm upset about being given the opportunities that I'm able to have right now, because that's a gift. How many people in a billion get to be in my shoes? You know, I'm extremely lucky. But - of course you've heard it a million times - there's a lot of prices to that. The most upsetting thing is realising that I'm no longer the underdog. I've always felt like a the underdog, you know what I mean? I've always felt like the guy who's had to go out there and prove himself. None of my movies ever made any money. I was always too artsy to get certain roles... blah blah blah. And now from being in that position - which I was comfortable in - when I did try to do something different like Titanic, all of a sudden I am the complete epitome of that"

In other words, he woke up one day to find that, retrospectively, he'd been a commercial sell-out all his life?

"Exactly." He lacquers each word which f0llows with dry amusement. "I am, like, the antichrist." Thailand. March, 1999. A wet Monday night. On the outskirts of Kata, a small town in the Southwest of Phuket island - which, like most towns round here, is principally devoted to satisfying the various desires of insensible and unsensible Western tourists - The Beach's film production as taken over a row of ladyboy bars. These are small cubicles blaring disco music with bar stools around them, at which tourists may take a drink and make the acquaintance of the many working women-who-were-once-men. As the production crew have discovered while preparing the set, typically the ladyboys live and sleep here too, simply curling up inside the bar at the end of the night. Each bar has a name. Tonight's principal action will take place at Luck Be A Lady, which sits next to the Geng Cocktail, the Bikini Sweet and the Bottoms Up, all crowded with ladyboys, the occasional genuine Thai woman, and holidaying Westerners who have been employed as extras.

The Beach is the first starring role Leonardo DiCaprio has taken since Titanic’s wake splashed over him the kind of unstable hyper-celebrity which few even amongst the famous ever experience. Before Titanic, he was the cool, talented, young brat of an actor who made fine, interesting, smart movies like What s Eating Gilbert Grape, Romeo + Juliet and This Boy's Life, and messy, interesting, smart movies like The Basketball Diaries, The Quick And The Dead and Total Eclipse. Afterwards, he was... well, it barely mattered for a while, because whatever anyone said about him was drowned out by the feverish teenage girl screaming.

That's one way of describing absolute fame: everybody wants to talk to you, but nobody's listening to a word. And if the perception of DiCaprio was strangely skewed by Titanic itself, it was not subsequently helped by the way some combination of his own natural habits and the media's depiction of them led to his frequent portrayal as a conceited, self-obsessed hotshot celebrating his new fame by forever falling in and out of modelstrewn nightlife hotspots, posse in tow.

And part of the deal, when they bring you this kind of fame, is that in exchange they take away the benefit of the doubt: the Titanic sinks to the bottom of the ocean and Leonardo DiCaprio becomes the shallowest man on earth. With The Beach, Leonardo DiCaprio is not only returning to work, but trying to resume the career which was so strangely disrupted.

Danny Boyle, the director, will later describe to me how days filming with Leonardo DiCaprio begin: "He walks onto the set, and he looks like a dog's breakfast. He just looks f---ed, and you think 'Oh my God...' And then he gets into a scene, and it's just there. And you realise that all he's interested in in his life is not any of those stories about girls or anything. All he's interested in is just acting..." And - though even at DiCaprio's worst he struggles to look too rough - this is more or less what I see. Tonight, when the rain finally abates, DiCaprio saunters onto set, flanked by two bodyguards. He sits and has a cigarette. Yawns. Shakes his head violently, as if to judder himself awake. Takes a seat at the Luck Be A Lady next to Tilda Swinton. Sings, to himself, over and over, a falsetto loop of the Isley Brothers' 'Who's That Lady?' (Round here, not a lady at all.)

And then, when the filming begins, he slips effortlessly into his role as Richard, who - in the film version of The Beach- is the American backpacker who finds his way to a secret paradise beach community and is then a catalyst in its downfall.

In tonight's scene, he has come to the mainland for supplies, with the beach community's leader, Sal (Tilda Swinton). Here at this bar Richard will, to his horror, be chanced upon by two Americans to whom he had much earlier given a copy of the map showing the beach's location and to whom he must now, angrily, deny that the beach exists.

DiCaprio shifts into the acting without fuss, punching from surprise to horror to anger, over and over again. I have been allowed to watch on the clear understanding that I won't speak to him, and he only says one thing to me all night. "1 haven't enjoyed making a film like this," he says, for a long time." To anyone steeped in British youth culture of the Nineties, it's a potent combination: the most distinctive and innovative popular British filmmaking team of the decade (director Danny Boyle, writer John Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald) filming one of the two most representative and evocative novels of the era (Alex Garland's The Beach - the three filmmakers having already adapted the other, Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting) with one of the finest - and also, recently, most famous - actors (DiCaprio).

Their collision was a slow one. The fundamentals of what would become The Beach popped into Alex Garland's head at the beginning of the Nineties, when he was a 21-year-old student with a famous cartoonist father who wanted to write and draw comic strips. During his third year at university, he painstakingly drew up a 60-page strip, spending six months drawing something you could read in seven minutes. "I just though, this is crazy..." says Garland.

A few years later, now determined to be a novelist, Garland returned to the story. It was the right time for a book like this, told simply but powerfully, steeped in the voice and intertwined interests (travelling, dance music, drugs, computer games, pop culture nostalgia and so on) of a generation which the publishing world had only just discovered in the wake of Irvine Welsh's successes. Even before the book came out, there was interest in the film rights, but none of the offers seemed tempting enough. "I thought, I'm not going to sell this for two grand to a bunch of idiots;' Garland recalls. "I said to myself, I'd only sell it if it's the right people."

Soon after the book was published, a friend recommended it to Danny Boyle. He read and loved it; he was particularly fired up about this idea of an international community in paradise. He made Macdonald and Hodge read it too and, though they were a little less sure, they eventually saw its potential. When Garland subsequently met with Boyle and Macdonald. he didn't play 'it cool. "I was probably undermining all the hard work of my agent," Garland concedes. He simply asked them, "Will you please buy this book?” Which they did.

August 1997, Boyle, Macdonald and Hodge took a two-week exploratory trip to Thailand. Garland suggested some places they should go, but he couldn't be that helpful. It was a novel; he had made it up. The book's enclosed lagoon was inspired by postcards. Garland had visited islands in the Gulf of Thailand, not down south where the book is notionally Set: "There wasn't really a lot I could tell them because in a way, . geographically, The Beach was more set in the Philippines than Thailand. I just called it Thailand..." It was on that trip that Boyle focused on what would become, for him, one of the film's themes: that trying to build a paradise for a select few in someone else's land is absolutely wrong.

Hodge began work, focusing the narrative and making Richard, the narrator, more active in the story. At some point though, perhaps necessarily, the exact order of events becomes a little confused around now - Richard's nationality was changed from British to American. The principal male star of the trio's three previous films had been Ewan McGregor. They had talked to McGregor about The Beach, and had given him the book. When he later discovered that he had been passed over, he was gutted. "I think it wasn't handled very well;' McGregor told me earlier this year. "I wasn't told what was going on nearly early enough. I was led to believe I was playing that part for a long time." MCGre9or has always said that the decision was explained to him in terms of money - that they'd raise more with DiCaprio - and had been scathing about what he sees as a betrayal of their principles in order to crack the American market, He told me he bore no personal ill-feeling towards DiCaprio, but previously, when the news was fresher, he had been more disparaging. And DiCaprio had been listening. Were you aware of the fuss, and that Ewan McGregor was feeling robbed by you, and saying if loudly as often as possible?

Dicaprio: Yeah, I was aware of that.

Did you feel bad about it?
DiCaprio: No - it just became another one of these of things for me, that's all. You know what I'm saying? Another one of those,'Oh God... OK.'

Did it seem disrespectful to you that he would be saying that?
Dicaprio: Yeah. You know, yeah, absolutely.

I n a movie set, the illusion of a regular day is maintained whatever the real time actually is, and so L J it is sometime around midnight that they break for Monday lunch. Everyone trails to the tables laid out on some wasteland behind the ladyboy bars, tip-toeing through a sea of mud. "I bet you didn't expect it to be like this," says Tilda Swinton. “Like Glastonbury.” She fetches some food then sits with her book of Telegraph short Crosswords, snorting with annoyance at the feebleness of the correct answer to the clue 'boulder-strewn (5)'.'Rocky'.

After lunch, it is more of the same: shooting the ladyboy bar scene at different angles and distances. DiCaprio begins to clown about more as the night draws on, doing a wigglyheaded disco-snake dance with one of the American actors, then trying to make Swinton laugh early in the scene as they do dialogue he knows they will not be using from that angle.

During one take, DiCaprio rises from his stool so violently that the stool topples over. Realisin9 that the stool itself is out of shot, he doesn't break character, and for the end of scene sits himself down on thin air, hovering perfectly so that, through the camera, you can't tell.

"Good save," he congratulates himself after the camera stops rolling.

 

 

In tonight's scene, he has come to the mainland for supplies, with the beach community's leader, Sal (Tilda Swinton). Here at this bar Richard will, to his horror, be chanced upon by two Americans to whom he had much earlier given a copy of the map showing the beach's location and to whom he must now, angrily, deny that the beach exists.

DiCaprio shifts into the acting without fuss, punching from surprise to horror to anger, over and over again. I have been allowed to watch on the clear understanding that I won't speak to him, and he only says one thing to me all night. "1 haven't enjoyed making a film like this," he says, for a long time." T o anyone steeped in British youth culture of the Nineties, it's a potent combination: the most distinctive and innovative popular British filmmaking team of the decade (director Danny Boyle, writer John Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald) filming one of the two most representative and evocative novels of the era (Alex Garland's The Beach - the three filmmakers having already adapted the other, Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting) with one of the finest - and also, recently, most famous - actors (DiCaprio).

Their collision was a slow one. The fundamentals of what would become The Beach popped into Alex Garland's head at the beginning of the Nineties, when he was a 21-year-old student with a famous cartoonist father who wanted to write and draw comic strips. During his third year at university, he painstakingly drew up a 60-page strip, spending six months drawing something you could read in seven minutes. "I just though, this is crazy..." says Garland.

A few years later, now determined to be a novelist, Garland returned to the story. It was the right time for a book like this, told simply but powerfully, steeped in the voice and intertwined interests (travelling, dance music, drugs, computer games, pop culture nostalgia and so on) of a generation which the publishing world had only just discovered in the wake of Irvine Welsh's successes. Even before the book came out, there was interest in the film rights, but none of the offers seemed tempting enough. "I thought, I'm not going to sell this for two grand to a bunch of idiots;' Garland recalls. "I said to myself, I'd only sell it if it's the right people."

Soon after the book was published, a friend recommended it to Danny Boyle. He read and loved it; he was particularly fired up about this idea of an international community in paradise. He made Macdonald and Hodge read it too and, though they were a little less sure, they eventually saw its potential. When Garland subsequently met with Boyle and Macdonald. he didn't play 'it cool. "I was probably undermining all the hard work of my agent," Garland concedes. He simply asked them, "Will you please buy this book?” Which they did.

August 1997, Boyle, Macdonald and Hodge took a two-week exploratory trip to Thailand. Garland suggested some places they should go, but he couldn't be that helpful. It was a novel; he had made it up. The book's enclosed lagoon was inspired by postcards. Garland had visited islands in the Gulf of Thailand, not down south where the book is notionally Set: "There wasn't really a lot I could tell them because in a way, . geographically, The Beach was more set in the Philippines than Thailand. I just called it Thailand..." It was on that trip that Boyle focused on what would become, for him, one of the film's themes: that trying to build a paradise for a select few in someone else's land is absolutely wrong.

Hodge began work, focusing the narrative and making Richard, the narrator, more active in the story. At some point though, perhaps necessarily, the exact order of events becomes a little confused around now - Richard's nationality was changed from British to American. The principal male star of the trio's three previous films had been Ewan McGregor. They had talked to McGregor about The Beach, and had given him the book. When he later discovered that he had been passed over, he was gutted. "I think it wasn't handled very well;' McGregor told me earlier this year. "I wasn't told what was going on nearly early enough. I was led to believe I was playing that part for a long time." MCGre9or has always said that the decision was explained to him in terms of money - that they'd raise more with DiCaprio - and had been scathing about what he sees as a betrayal of their principles in order to crack the American market, He told me he bore no personal ill-feeling towards DiCaprio, but previously, when the news was fresher, he had been more disparaging. And DiCaprio had been listening. Were you aware of the fuss, and that Ewan McGregor was feeling robbed by you, and saying if loudly as often as possible?

Dicaprio: Yeah, I was aware of that.

Did you feel bad about it?
DiCaprio: No - it just became another one of these of things for me, that's all. You know what I'm saying? Another one of those,'Oh God... OK.'

Did it seem disrespectful to you that he would be saying that?
Dicaprio: Yeah. You know, yeah, absolutely.

I n a movie set, the illusion of a regular day is maintained whatever the real time actually is, and so L J it is sometime around midnight that they break for Monday lunch. Everyone trails to the tables laid out on some wasteland behind the ladyboy bars, tip-toeing through a sea of mud. "I bet you didn't expect it to be like this," says Tilda Swinton. “Like Glastonbury.” She fetches some food then sits with her book of Telegraph short Crosswords, snorting with annoyance at the feebleness of the correct answer to the clue 'boulder-strewn (5)'.'Rocky'.

After lunch, it is more of the same: shooting the ladyboy bar scene at different angles and distances. DiCaprio begins to clown about more as the night draws on, doing a wigglyheaded disco-snake dance with one of the American actors, then trying to make Swinton laugh early in the scene as they do dialogue he knows they will not be using from that angle.

During one take, DiCaprio rises from his stool so violently that the stool topples over. Realisin9 that the stool itself is out of shot, he doesn't break character, and for the end of scene sits himself down on thin air, hovering perfectly so that, through the camera, you can't tell.

"Good save," he congratulates himself after the camera stops rolling.

At the beginning of the rehearsal period, Boyle wanted DiCaprio to introduce himself to the actors in the beach commuriity. And DiCaprio insisted that this was not a possibility. "I had to explain to him;' DiCaprio says, "that just because I'm in the position I'm in doesn't mean I'm going to go out there and be this flamboyant cheerful guy that everyone's going to love. I'm going to have to meet people my own way, one on one."

"No group hugs on day one," Boyle nods

Now, in the safety of a Los Angeles hotel room, DiCaprio feels free to act out, in a hokey, booming all-American voice, what might have been expected of him: "I'm glad we've all arrived here for the 20th Century Fox filming of The Beach," he smarmily announces. "I am Leonardo DiCaprio, your host..."

Though in location and storyline and sweep, The Beach is a very different film to Boyle & co's others, in other ways it's clearly imbued with the same spirit, and there are plenty of the devices and disjunctions which Boyle uses to establish moods and jar the viewer. Towards the end, Richard's grip on reality slips and the film smartly somersaults into weirdness. There are smart questions to be asked about this, and there are others.

In the midst of this descent into madness, Richard is seen eating a green caterpillar. Aficionados of DiCaprio's work will know that this is familiar territory for him: in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, he decapitates a grasshopper in a mailbox. Your second fine insect-crunch in a movie.

DiCaprio: Yeah, that was pretty interesting. That was fun. There was a lot more stuff that I ate in that film that's not there. I've eaten more gross things in this movie than I could have ever dreamed of.

Boyle: There was a lizard, but we cut that bit. It wasn't a real lizard.

And what's the caterpillar made of?
DiCaprio: No, the caterpillar was real.
Boyle: (Nods) It's real.

Well, how can you...
Dicaprio:...bite that dog down? (Laughs)

Well, are you allowed to do thaf?
DiCaprio: (With feigned solemnity) Well, let's talk about this, because this is a big issue. You're allowed to kill roaches and ants. Is a caterpillar better than a roach or an ant?
Boyle: (Cutting in, laughing) No caterpillars were killed during the making of this film is the truth of it. It's very clever the way he did it. People do think he's eaten it definitely...
DiCaprio: (To Boyle, slightly irritated) I don't think you should say that. You shouldn't demystify it.
Boyle:I'd been told these caterpillars were safe, even their waste I was told wasn't toxic, Because it's possible it may do something in his mouth.
DiCaprio: (Defiantly~ It spun a web in my mouth.
Boyle: (Amused) Did it?
DiCaprio: (Insistently) It did spin a web in my mouth. I had a cough with webs in it.

The scene shot on Monday will eventually appear just over halfway through the film, just as paradise begins unravelling. On Tuesday night, they shoot some scenes that are scheduled to appear right in the film's first few minutes, in which Richard arrives at a cheap travellers' hostel on the Ko Sahn Road in Bangkok.

The hostel is a real one, though it is really in the centre of Phuket town. (On the noticeboard are postings from the real travelling life: details of a Westerner in the local jail who would appreciate any visits.) When he arrives, Leonardo immediately gravitates to the Infightzone 'School' video game machine, and begins the simulated fight action. I watch. "I'm pretty good," he declares. "It's a character thing. You wouldn't understand."

It's true: he is pretty good. He wins the first few fights "Yeah! Bastard!" he hollers in triumph - but then he begins to complain. "These buttons aren't right," he says. "Come on, stupid," he squeaks through the next battle. Boyle, who is munching on pineapple, joins the audience. "I'm giving this guy a professional can of ass-whooping," he tells Boyle. "Did you seethat?" And then he loses. "You son of a bitch! Oh man! I'm sweating all my make-up off.....” He’s annoyed. After a further face-saving victory, he retires. The wardrobe department bring him a fresh shirt; the previous one is now far too sweaty. Down the other end of the room, Robert Carlyle has quietly slipped in. It is his first day on set. He plays Daffy, a character which has recently reappeared as a significant figure in the script. (The script has been evolving since they arrived in Thailand. Many of the details of the final, pivotal confrontation towards the end, which diverges significantly from the book, were worked out in rehearsal between the filmmakers and principal actors.) Carlyle's participation was only confirmed in the previous week, atter complicated scheduling and insurance conversations relating to his role as a villain in The World Is Not Enough, which he is midway through shooting. (Otherwise, Macdonald says, "we would have probably ended up with Keith Allen, which is what the French wanted us to have - they love Shallow Grave so much.") DiCaprio's mother and grandmother are also here, and are to make a cameo appearance in the first scene, sitting at a table in the travellers' hostel. Leonardo reminds them not to look into the film camera and advises his grandmother to talk about the weather as the camera rolls. "I'm nervous for them," he says. Between takes he wanders over and compliments them - "Beautiful, huh?" he says, about his grandmother. "She knows how to get the light" - and takes Polaroids with them. Some of the time he talks with his grandmother in German. Then he loiters towards the back of the hostel, a toothpick in his mouth, the make-up artist holding a mini-fan to his face to stop him sweating. When some satay comes round during a break, he grabs some. Despite recent tabloid insistence to the contrary, there are no foodtasters in sight.

 

 

Lunch - in the middle of the night again - is served a few hundred yards away, past the hundreds of spectators gathered across the street quietly watching the filming. Robert Carlyle and his wife are just in front of me in the queue. The Thai server looks at him. Carlyle's traveller wardrobe and demeanour are clearly too successful.

"No!" the Carlyles are told. "Extras!" And they are pointed to a longer queue a few yards away. "Give me some food," Carlyle says, evenly. His wife picks up a plate. "Give her some food," he instructs. They refuse. All of us in the queue behind interject and encourage them to comply, and it is only then that they do. Carlyle shakes his head. "I was about to go off there;' he says. Affer lunch, the camera is set up on the first floor of the hostel which is, it turns out, still in use even as they film. There's a bloke asleep in the room just next to the cameraman, and throughout the night bleary travellers will occasionally appear, look baffled, and go back to bed. Leonardo has to walk out of the shower room, a towel around the bottom half of his body but otherwise naked, and lean over the balcony to where the tired, splayed travellers (these ones extras) are watching Apocalypse Now down below. In truth, in a wilful refusal to method act, beneath his towel - a fetching item covered with colourful fish, whales and, he is proud to point out, a manta ray - Leonardo is actually wearing red, whitte and blue Tommy Hilfiger boxer shorts.

DiCaprio sits against a wall, waiting, singing to himself. "All the people;' he goes. "So many people. They all... go... handin-hand..." He sighs. "Oh my God, I'm sweating like a f---ing pig. Oh shit, it's so f---ing hot..."

Boyle looks anxious. It's nearly six o'clock, and the first shade of dawn can be seen in the sky above the rusty watertower. They need to get this shot now.

"Take one!" the shout goes up.

DiCaprio burps. "Excuse me," he seys, to no one in particular. "And... action!'

He acts out the required moves end moods then, as soon as the camera stops, walks straight out of shot and over to the corner where I'm lingering.

"1 saw that pen go down when I burped," he says.

Danny Boyle points to DiCaprio, sat next to him on the Los Angeles sofa, and tells me that "his taste is quite European - although he'd hate to admit it - in terms of choices of films". Then he turns to DiCaprio and says, "Your taste, compared to what goes down here in America, is very peculiar." DiCaprio seems to squirm at this, though whether the squirm indicates disagreement or an awkwardness when receiving compliments I am not sure.

Do you confess to peculiar European taste?
Uh, this could be argued, but essentially I really try to go for something that a lot of people haven't seen a million times before, whether that means European, or somewhat more on the artsy side.

So you're saying that you're not the kind of guy who's going to end up in the biggest-grossing movie ever?
DiCaprio: (Grins) No. That wouldn't be me. I could never work out whether you were thrilled or horrified by Titanic's success.

DiCaprio: (A gentle laugh) Thrilled or horrified? I'd say both. I'd say definitely both. If people do now think of you as a commercial sell-out, that must be a little bif annoying.

DiCaprio: Well no, I'm not annoyed by it because in truth I don't want to talk about what I want to do or where I want to go or what kind of career I want to have - I just want to do it. I don't want to sit here and tell you what kind of actor I want to be or what career I want to have, I'm just going to go out there and do what I'm going to do and that's it. The only upsetting thing that I've found was the lies that were said about me. Some of the portrayals of how people, especially the media, views me is unbelievable. And they're from a culmination of a million different lies, of me going out and doing what I've done all my life. And I've never responded to any of the garbage that's been out there and I don't want to sit here and go through all the garbage, because literally 95 per cent of the s--- that's beenout there has been a complete lie and it would waste both our time, but that's the most upsetting thing - not having a voice.

The picture that was painted of you in the time you had off was that you were a full-time irresponsible party boy. Presumably you weren't thrilled with that perception.

DiCaprio: You know what? People are always going to find something. You're put up on a pedestal, they have to find something human about you. They can't make...(Stopping himself and shaking his head I'm going to spit out a bunch of cliches about this and you don't want to hear them.

Was all that really counfermanding the pleasure you were having?
DiCaprio: Oh, yeah, a lot of times I was miserable, yeah. But the good thing is, I have, believe it or not... (Stopping himsed again) Nah, that's not true actually.

What were you going to say?
DiCaprio: I was going to say that I still do all of the things that I've always done, which is not true in some ways, as far as when there's a big public event I'm not going to roll in alone. But I go wherever I want to go, I do whatever the hell I want to do, I still have the same experiences that I've always had. I mean, I guess presumably the smartest thing to do after a situation like that is to go hide in a hole for a year and never talk to anyone, but I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to let anyone dictate how I should live my life. Let them sit there and say whatever the hell they want about me for the rest of my life. I don't give a shit. And meanwhile you get Slick Rick to play at your birthday party?
DiCaprio: (Grins) Yeah, dog.

In either of its incarnations, The Beach is a powerfully simple story, but one whose meaning and implications are harder to pin down. Garland knows that plenty of people take it as a celebration of the traveller scene. "I thought The Beach was quite an explicit argument," says Garland, "but not a simple one. It begins with the premise: there's nothing inherently noble about travelling. I think a lot of the misconceptions and hypocrisies about travelling stem from the idea that there's something inherently noble about doing it"

"He sets off looking for happiness or whatever we're all looking for, and then he pushes and gets what he wants," says Boyle, "and it ultimately it leads to your downfall - as it should do, that amount of happiness. When you get everything you want, it's a temporary state. It's self-contradictory, as it should be. And I think you want to see that happen. It's like Blair at the moment - he's so happy, everything's so great. That's why they'll vote for Livingstone. It's in our psyche - it's wrong for things to be that pertect."

"Well, this is what I got from it - although it doesn't hit this home," says DiCaprio, "but, like, in a world that seems to be more and more dominated by Western civilisation, where everything is now becoming like the white man's service station around the world, and everything'5 becoming catered to our needs and our existence on earth, this to me is maybe one of those last times where there's still a possibility of something out there in the world being unexplored and uncharted... It just shows also that mankind is pretty much ill-tailored for paradise. I mean, look at us as the human race on earth and what we're doing to our paradise which is essentially the place we live. We're destroying it. We don't know how to live a productive life and save our resources... In some ways it's the story of Adam and Eve in paradise, and Richard's like the snake in the tree he's the one that exposes everyone, he exposes the community to what they're doing wrong and drives them out of paradise." When Danny Boyle got home to England and looked at what he had shot, he had a four-hour film. "It was interestin9," he says. "Much more kaleidoscopic. Much more discursive." They cut it down, and showed it to the studio, who he says were encouraging and helpful, though they were worried about how unsympathetic the character of Richard seemed. The studio particularly disliked the fact that Richard lies.

"It's interesting," says Boyle, "that with the character they regard as a hero - thought we don't regard him as a hero they regard lying as much worse than violence. That is an interesting thing, morally, about America. The idea of lying to someone is much worse than actually getting four people gunned down in a field. I find that just bewildering, because I think we all lie all the time, whereas we don't get people gunned down in fields." The lies stayed, but they decided that the ending, as it stood, was too bleak, and they filmed a new, additional, final scene this summer in London.

DiCaprio says that it will take him some time to realise what they've done. "You only look at its flaws the first couple of times. Michael Caton-Jones, the first director I worked with..." Caton-Jones directed This Boy's Life; DiCaprio is conveniently writing the earlier Critters 3 out of history - "...said, `Look, for you to really see what this film is and for you to separate yourself from it, it's going to take you years.' That's always stuck with me, and it's true. It takes you years to detach yourself from a film. So I think it's going to take me a while to really understand what I did good."

So having been slowly gathering that perspective on previous things, which ones are you really proud of?
Dicaprio: Specifically? I'm proud of Gilbert Grape, This Boy's Life, Romeo And Juliet, Basketball Diaries... Those are the ones right now that jump out.
Boyle: You got an answer! I asked him that the other day and he wouldn't tell me.

So the one sitting in the middle, unsaid, is Titanic - where does Titanic come in that?
DiCaprio: Titanic is, in a lot of ways, a masterpiece. It's an unbelievable movie. Like I said (starting to laugh), it's going to take me a while to really look at it for what it is.

Is it fair to say that as an actor, that s not the movie that one necessarily...

DiCaprio(Jumping in, slightly annoyed; I've pushed too hard) No, it's not fair to say that, no. Not at all.

At this point, Boyle launches into a smart, tactful appreciation of the ways in which Titanic was a great achievement. Though, in truth, DiCaprio doesn't seem to be listening. He's staring past both of us, out of the hotel window.

What are you looking at?
DiCaprio: (Pointing) There's a big seagull

 

 

You can find all of the photos published in The Face on page 11 of "Just Leo Galleries" !

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