The Herald Sun (Australia) - October 09, 2008



(This is not a recent photo.)

Leonardo DiCaprio opens up on heart-throb status, and behond

by Peta Hellard


T hough he has seemed all business since his post-Titanic move into challenging adult roles, Leonardo DiCaprio says he's still just a young guy wowed by the movies. From the direct gaze of his steely blue eyes to his in-depth discussions about his environmental and political crusading, DiCaprio seems every inch the ‘‘serious issues'' star. But there are hints of the roguish charm he exhibited in some of his most iconic performances and during his stint as a hard-living Hollywood playboy -- the '90s real-life equivalent of Entourage's Vincent Chase.

When asked if he spent time with government agents to help prepare for his latest role as a terrorist-chasing CIA operative in Body of Lies, a smile changes DiCaprio's usually serious face.

‘‘I had (meetings with) a former head of the CIA, who shall remain nameless,'' the 33-year-old says with a conspiratorial wink and a laugh.

‘‘He helped me out with a lot of stuff, with his knowledge of undercover ops.''

The fast-paced thriller, which is based on the novel by Washington Post Middle East correspondent David Ignatius, sees DiCaprio working with director Ridley Scott and Oscar-winner Russell Crowe, who plays a CIA veteran.

This is Crowe's third film with Scott. The two have formed a strong partnership since Gladiator.

DiCaprio, who has formed his own multi-film alliance with director Martin Scorsese, had reservations about breaking into the tight team.

‘‘Ridley Scott is a unique director and they (Ridley and Russell) are both really unique in the way they work together,'' he says.

‘‘They kind of mumble a few things to each other -- they have such an incredible shorthand. They just instinctively agree on things and all of a sudden a scene is changed or a helicopter is going to land in the shot or whatever it is.

‘‘They are so instinctively quick about it that you have to embrace that pace -- a pace I'm not necessarily used to. Once you get into the mode of that it's incredibly exhausting, but it's a pace that energises you and keeps you incredibly on your toes.

‘‘That's what I see in their relationship together -- they are both about business when they show up on the set.

‘‘They're all about being completely honest with each other right off the bat -- telling each other exactly what they think and making quick decisions.''

The high-octane Body of Lies shoot came at the end of a back-to-back stretch for DiCaprio, who went straight to the Middle East from the set of 1950s drama Revolutionary Road, which has been generating Oscar buzz.

‘‘It (Body of Lies) was a refreshing experience coming off Revolutionary Road, which in its own right was fascinating and interesting but more like a stage play -- endless talks about two people's relationships and what they would really be feeling, confined into a small home in the suburbs.

‘‘A month later I was out in the middle of Morocco with helicopters shooting missiles at me,'' he laughs, ‘‘and giant crews moving location from one side of the desert to the other, making split-second decisions.

‘‘It was jarring but it was interesting.''

Over the course of two days with DiCaprio, he exhibits two very different sides to his persona -- casual Californian guy and serious big-screen professional.

For the first day -- an intimate discussion in a small hotel suite in Beverly Hills -- the DiCaprio jawline is carpeted with a fine layer of stubble and his hair is wet, as if he's just run his head under a bathroom tap and swept it up.

Later in the week, when he faces a room full of press from around the world, DiCaprio is polished and ready for his close-up, his hair perfectly styled in Cary Grant fashion.

His demeanor is noticeably more serious and reserved at this second meeting. He seldom smiles or jokes, and picks his words carefully as he discusses America's place in the world when it comes to terrorism, the coming presidential election and environmental policy. But earlier in the week, a more relaxed DiCaprio opens up.

He is surprisingly candid when talk turns to his late-'90s heart-throb status -- a tag earned from playing the doomed heroes in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet and blockbuster epic Titanic.

DiCaprio's subsequent film choices -- Gangs of New York, The Aviator and The Departed with Scorsese, crusading in Africa in Blood Diamond and playing a runaway fraudster in Catch Me If You Can -- have taken him a long way from teen idol.

But he shakes his head when asked if a desire to steer away from the heart-throb label has influenced his career decision-making.

‘‘It's never been, though some may perceive it that way, a conscious career-steering into one direction or the other,'' he says.

‘‘This is the kind of movie I've always wanted to do, ever since I was 15 or 16 years old. Now I'm getting the opportunity to pick and choose films in a way that I don't think I could have when I was younger.

‘‘This is representational of who I really want to be as an actor and less of . . .''

He trails off, looking down as he pauses to reconsider his words before a smile lights up his face. ‘‘It's kind of simple, you know -- I'm a guy and I like somewhat hardcore movies,'' he says with a laugh.

DiCaprio's recent projects have reflected issues as varied as global warming, police corruption and the African diamond trade, but when asked if he finds it important to be in films that are creating debate, the actor is torn.

‘‘Yes, in some ways, but they are very hard to find. It doesn't mean it's always synonymous with a good story or an entertaining film, and it doesn't always mean that a director I would necessarily love to work with is working on it, so it's very difficult to find movies like this,'' he says.

‘‘I love doing movies like this because obviously, when you are dealing with issues that the world is facing right now and topics on people's minds, it gets you that much more excited about the project and where it comes from historically -- how it is a representation of that time period.

‘‘But the main criteria is always, is it going to be a good movie that you're going to like to see?

‘‘It's very simple because at the end of the day you can do political film after political film, or controversial film after controversial film, and if it's a piece of s--- no one watches it and it's a huge waste of time.''

DiCaprio becomes animated when talk turns to his prized collection of contemporary paintings and sculptures that he handpicks to decorate his Los Angeles home.

‘‘I collect art and I have a good movie poster collection -- everything I ever dreamt about as a kid.

To be able to obtain some of that is pretty incredible,'' he says.

‘‘I collect paintings and sculptures -- a lot of contemporary art, stuff of my generation, because a lot of the old stuff is crazy expensive.

‘‘I wish I had started a long time ago.''

When it comes to love, the actor is much less revealing, and for good reason.

DiCaprio has long been fodder for the paparazzi due to his penchant for models and his hard-partying ways earlier in his career. His rocky on-off relationship with Brazilian supermodel Giselle Bundchen finally ended in November 2005 after almost six years, when DiCaprio reportedly called it off.

He then moved on to 23-year-old Israeli swimsuit model Bar Rafaeli.

Does the big-screen bachelor plan on getting married and having a family?

‘‘Me? Sure,'' he says, stretching his arms back and linking his fingers behind his head. When asked whether he plans to marry before he turns 40, he laughs awkwardly. ‘‘If I had a crystal ball I could tell you that,'' he says in a tone that signifies the topic is closed.

DiCaprio has a firm idea of what he wants his legacy to be.

‘‘You become so busy as an adult that you have to remind yourself what your intent was and the direction that you took in life,'' he says.

‘‘I just keep thinking back to when I first said, ‘Oh wow, I can actually become an actor and do serious work and have a film career'. I was 16 and relatively young, so it was a pretty big opportunity to have at that time, and a lucky one.

‘‘I remember seeing the great actors of the generation of (Robert) DeNiro, (Al) Pacino and (Dustin) Hoffman and saying ‘I just want to be a part of a couple of films that somebody in the next generation will look back on and say: that was an important movie'.''

And does he believe he has achieved that yet?

‘‘I think I have,'' he says, earnestly. ‘‘But a lot of films are lost in the pages of history and only as history unfolds will that play itself out as the truth.''

Body of Lies opens today.