The Cairns Post - May 30, 2013
News Limited writer


Leonardo DiCaprio has Jay Gatsby-style mystique

Hailed as the finest actor of his generation - and a philanthropist to boot - The Great Gatsby's Leonardo DiCaprio remains a restless and mysterious soul, writes Tiffany Bakker.


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 heís often considered "the finest actor of his generation" (this time around via his most recent co-star 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 that he clearly has a penchant for supermodels (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 that he's spent much of his life in the public eye.

(He first came to our attention as the cheeky neighbour in the saccharine 1980s sitcom Growing Pains). Now, at 38 Ė "I have two years until I hit 40," he smiles, "And Iím holding on to them" Ė 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 donít know if itís working yet."

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, Whatís 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 Luhrmannís lavish The Great Gatsby. DiCaprio first read F. Scott Fitzgeraldís classic when he was 15, but he didn't really connect to the story until he revisited the novel as an adult after Luhrmann sent him a first-edition print.

"I had a completely different outlook as an adult,íí he says. ĎĎIt became less of a love story and more about this obsessed man who had to erase the past. Heís a delusional character in a lot of ways."

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

"The truth is, it is a very risky undertaking.

"Everyoneís got their version of The Great Gatsby. I canít 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 youíre a part of where people have an expectation going into the cinema. I had a great deal of skepticism going in."

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

"Theyíre both people Iíve 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 with one another that ĎĎno matter what we do cinematically, weíre going to try to remain as true as we can to the novel and capture the essence of what made this book so great.

"There was a tremendous amount of hesitation initially, but it was really that partnership and that trust that made me do it."

Luhrmann says he had only one actor in mind to play the title role. While Luhrmann considered many for the role of Tom Buchanan (Ben Affleck and Bradley Cooper, among others), there could only be one Gatsby.

"Gatsby had to be Leonardo," Luhrmann says. "You need someone who has that screen charisma, but who can also deal with the complexity of the character, the darkness of the character. And thatís Leo."

Luhrmann says he never let the"thought to come into my mind" that DiCaprio would turn the role down.

"Not that I thought I could get him. I actually thought that he may not go there, not because he's not brave, but just because he had to look like that. He doesnít want to look like that, he wants to look like his teeth are broken."

Indeed, DiCaprio has spent much of his career railing against his heartthrob status.

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 that whether Iíve 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 canít imagine being on a set where you hate what youíre doing.

"Thatís a nightmare to me."

He is deadly serious about what he does and, according to those who have worked with him, has a monumental work ethic.

He's grateful for his "amazing" life, but fame often bewilders him.

"At times, I do get overwhelmed, but all of us go through that no matter what we do," he says. "I think all of that stuff detracts from the work, from people being able to see you as a character. I donít think that people need to know everything about me."

DiCaprio's world, he says, is quite small. He says he has "a few" very close friends, who he grew up with, and he is incredibly close to his parents George and Irmelin.

These relationships, he says, have gone a long way into keeping his feet on the ground.

"I have a very good sense of reality. In my life, I've grown up with great family and friends surrounding me."

He says that he's also more comfortable now than he's ever been.

"I suppose it's something that comes with age," he says. "In a lot of ways, Iíve grown up on screen and in the public eye, but there comes a point when you do feel more comfortable."

DiCaprio puts this down to the realisation that he has fulfilled his childhood dreams.

"I lived in Hollywood before I got into acting, but I knew about the industry and I wanted to become an actor," he recalls.

"I never felt like I belonged, but I got my foot in the door and, from then on, it felt like I'd won the lottery. I'm still so excited to be able to do what I do. Itís been a grand journey."