Interview Courtesy of: CELEBRITY SIGHTINGS (1997)
An Interview about Titanic
CS: Girls love you and have labled you as a sex symbol around the world. How do you fell about that ?
Leonardo: I donīt mind it of course, but I havenīt deliberately chosen certain films for that reason. I think thereīs always going to be sort of a new popular face, not just in film, but everywhere. Those sorts of things sort of come and go like anything else. The movies Iīve done like Romeo and Juliet, the Titanic, have been love stories - so obviously theyīre going to get thee female audience attracted to you from that, but Iīve chosen them simply because theyīve been fantastic stories. Who knows, I may do another love story soon. I just want to take the best possible roles in films in the future and thatīs what really concerns me.
CS: What appealed to you about playing Jack in Titanic?
Leonardo: Iīve not liked huge, gigantic blockbuster action films simply because to me, theyīve lacked content. But when I saw Tianic, it was a completely different situation. I recognized it as having so many themes for humanity and being such an intricate, interesting story that I didnīt want to discriminate against it, just because it was big. Iīm so extremely glad that I did it. I would definitely do it again. Not to say that doing the movie was one of the hardest things Iīve ever had to do in my life, but when you go through something like that and you look back on it, itīs all the more rewarding in the end. But I knew this was not going to be a walk in the park.
CS: But what in particular did you like about your character?
Leonardo: Iīve been used to playing characters that have been tortured by some sort of demon, or some sort of internal angst usually. It was an adjustment to play someone like this. It was alot more challenging that I thought it would ever be. It was alot harder than I ever imagined it would be. When you play somebody thatīs so vulnerable you know, itīs almost like an open book in a sense. Especially as he meets Rose and opens her whole world and you donīt have anything to fall back on - as far as what heīs internally going through. Heīs pretty much just there for her, to help her open up.
CS: Did you follow the script exactly?
Leonardo: We did a lot of improvisation and I think for the better. Kate and Jim (Cameron) and I did alot of work to make the characters interesting and to make this realistic. Kate Winslet and I had a great camaraderie throughout the whole movie because we constantly reminded ourselves among the chaos of thousands - and I mean that literally, because when youīre doing a movie of this size, Jim also had to pay alot of attention not only to the intimate story between our characters, but the thousand other people with thousands of different agendas flying around everywhere. You really have to pay a lot of attention to what you started out and intended to do from the beginning - as far as your everyone seems to be chaotic.
CS: Much of the film involves special effects. When you finally saw the finished product, what was your reaction?
Leonardo: I take my hat off to Jim because not only did he have to work on both things simultaneously, he had to take care of everything and make the realist possible love story between two people we could do. I didnīt pay much attention to the effects unless I was directly involved. It had something to do with my safety. Thereīs special effects stuff, like green screen shots you have to do, which arenīt fun. Itīs not like you truly feel like your heights as an actor when you stand behind a green screen and have to wait there 30 times as an electronic computerized camera buzzes around you. Thatīs something that we had to do to make the film what it is. And I think itīs a great film.
CS: Everybody loves the scene where Jack and Rose are at the bow of the Titanic, catching the wind, symbolizing togetherness and flying towards freedom. What are your feelings about that scene?
Leonardo: Oh wow. It looked great. I think with any movie you make something look - as far as technology is concerned - to see if it looks realistic. It looked pretty real to me! Iīm not the best judge of it at the same time, but you try your best and Iīd say to get the sort of imagery that you want to make the optimum shot that you have for a film, sometimes you canīt be there in reality flying through space and zooming past somebody onto a ship that isnīt really there. Youīve got to make it up. I didnīt get to see a lot of the stuff they did in the computer room, so when I saw this ship break in half and you see it bounce back on the water and crush people and then the sort of marathon of people trying to survive in the middle of the ocean is breathtaking. That was the great part about seing this movie for the first time. Not only did I get to watch what we did on screen, character-wise, but you get to be shocked and surprised by all the stuff that people have been doing while youīre off on the set for seven months.
CS: You spent a long time in the water. Tell us about the scene where youīre hanging onto the board with Kate, laying there losing faith and drifting in the icy Atlantic.
Leonardo: I loved doing that! I mean, the water wasnīt really cold, so all of us were acting and getting that Kabuki-like white make-up that we put on - like wax in our hair. It was like we were walking around like mummies for two weeks - like Halloween costumes and doing the scene was great. It was Jackīs good-bye to Rose and heīs giving his life for here at that point. It was an extremely important scene for my character and Roseīs character as well. It wraps up the whole film and Iīm pretty proud of that.
CS: You make your character so believable. What personal experiences do you draw from?
Leonardo: Well, first and foremost, I donīt necessarily have to experience things in my own personal life to make them seem real on screen. A lot of roles that Iīve done in the past I knew nothing about going into it.
CS: What was your experience with Kate Winslet like?
Leonardo: We both respected each otherīs work so much and I think the movie would have been twice as hard if it werenīt for our mutual support of each other and the chemistry we had. We both truly like each other as human beings in real life. I think that always helps and it truly made it a lot easier.
CS: It was reported that James Cameron was not an easy person to work with...
Leonardo: He can be tough. Absolutely. Thereīs no denying that. But youīve got to understand that doing a film like this and taking responsability for thousands of people that are constantly asking you questions is not easy. The only time he would get angry is when people werenīt focused and thatīs what you need to understand doing a movie like this. Heīs such a passionate director and he really cared about making these characters real and in the end I think what we all connected within the picture was our attachment to these two characters. Thatīs what it made it all the more tragic. Otherwise you could have seen this ship go down and not cared if we didnīt care about anyone on it.
CS: It used to be an old Hollywood rule that the good guys donīt die and that audiences prefer happy endings. By looking at some of your others movies, you seem to have a cinemathic death wish. Do you?
Leonardo: (Laughs) Well, like Iīve said before, I think Iīm pretty attracted to tragic characters, wether itīs a true life story or fictional, they always seem to be really interesting ... how they get to that point. I think besides that, the Titanic, as a film in whole, is a chancy movie... Itīs such a gigantic film that itīs such a tragedy at the end and doesnīt have a necessarily happy ending. This one was really unique for me. There hasnīt been a film like it in a while. I really donīt think so. Thatīs what I told James Cameron.
CS: Youīve been known to bring your friens to the set. Does that help you relax during the shoots?
Leonardo: Absolutely. Thatīs like taking my home life with me to have them around. It bases me in reality. Thatīs for sure. If I could, Iīd do it on every movie, but not every location is as cool as Paris. If Iīm shooting in some horrible location, I donīt know if theyīll go with me again! (Laughs)
CS: What was France like?
Leonardo: I had a great time in France. I really did. I brought my friends out with me and we explored the whole city. Had a good time. It was an honor for me to work with all the guys - not just Gérard (Depardieu), but everyone else that was involved with Iron Mask; Malkovich, Jeremy Irons and Gabriel Byrne. I mean, these are all actors that I sort of idolize, and to work with them was incredible. Theyīre so comfortable with the job now. Theyīre almost like children on set. Theyīre completely free-spirited.
CS: Youīre obviously idolized too. Do you feel isolated? Have you had to change your life in terms of where you can go and canīt go?
Leonardo: Yeah, I do have to watch a little bit more where I go nowadays. Thatīs the truth, but itīs the responsability that you take with being an actor. Itīs what youīve got to face. I wouldnīd say that Iīm ecstatic about not being able to do it all the things that I used to be able to do, but itīs no to the point where I canīt go out in public and live-lead a normal life. I still live in the same place Iīve always lived. I know the people that Iīve always known, and you take the good with the bad. You really have to. With anything, thereīs always the bad things and the good things with any job. Iīm not really used to it, so this is all new to me and itīs just going to take me a little time to adjust.
CS: Are you adjusting?
Leonardo: Oh, Iīm already fine with it. It can get a little stressful at times, like when youīre going to a museum or something, and you canīt peacefully visit a painting like you did before. That isnīt the greatest feeling in the world, but, like I said, you take the good with the bad.
CS: Articles about you said that after doing Titanic you became a real man. Please explain!
Leonardo: (Laughs) Iīve heard that so much... I just meant in the sense that we went through the broader spectrum of themes on this movie. We went through every experience that you could imagine making a film and itīs almost like itīs going to be hard for me to be shocked or deal with films in the future. I mean, of course things are going to be difficult making other films, but itīs almost like we went through everything here and I had such an amazing experience going through everything that it changed me as fas as career-wise, you know? It made me a differnt person.
CS: Letīs talk about your heritage for a moment. How much of you is Italian?
Leonardo: My fatherīs Italian, my motherīs German, so Iīm half-German, half-Italian. I have a German middle name, Wilhelm. Iīve been to Germany more than a dozen times. Iīve seen the culture, spent a lot of time with the people, know a lot of German people. Itīs like my second home almost. It truly is even though most people disagree, I love German food. (Laughs)
CS: What kind of music do you listen to?
Leonardo: Not really RockīnīRoll. I like sort of 70īs funk and soul, like Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers and Al Green, Marvin Gaye, people like that and I like rap music too.
CS: Youīre not as fidgety as you used to be. As youīve matured, what wisdom have you learned?
Leonardo: Right now, to tell you the truth, Iīm sort of going to slow down as far as movies are concerned. Iīve been working like a horse and I need to take some... a long time off. Iīve had a lot of interests ever since I was sixteen and even younger than that, starting out in the business, which naturally get neglected when you have a busy schedule. Especially this next year, Iīm going to take a lot of time off, for myself and do a lot of things that Iīve sort of missed out on.
CS: Do you go to concerts?
Leonardo: When I can. I donīt have much time anymore.
CS: Do you have to be backstage?
Leonardo: No, Iīll go there - right in the pit with everyone! (Laughs)
CS: In Titanic we get a glimpse of how people of different classes treat each other. In your own life, have you ever been treated in a condescending way because of your background?
Leonardo: Itīs interesting... Our family didnīt exactly grow up - off by any means, but I just remember my elementary school specifically, because I went to a really special, predominant school, and hung out with a lot of kids that had much more money than us. I got to go hang out at really fantastic houses. So even though I grew up. And as fas as being treated differently, thatīs just ignorance that happens all over the place.
CS: Do you share your character Jackīs philosophy of life?
Leonardo: I agree with that completely. I mean, if wether I can live up to that expectation is another thing. Jack is a character that is a free-spirited bohemian that grabs life by the reins and takes each moment as it counts - is a philosophy definitely to live by. Itīs hard to live up to, but itīs something extremely admirable to model yourself after. Absolutely. Thatīs what I loved about the character.
CS: Are you romantic in real life?
Leonardo: (Sexy grin): I do think Iīm a pretty romantic guy. I donīt know how romantic.Iīm certainly not Romeo, but thatīs always a part of everyoneīs life. To what degree - it varies. Iīm still a young guy and I have plenty of... a lot of other girls to meet, so... (Smiles)
CS: What do you consider romantic and how do you romance a girl?
Leonardo: Itīs hard, you know... I think just being as honest as possible with them and not - itīs hard to sort of... Itīs weird... I mean, you can answer those questions. Whatīs weird, and I think where a lot of young actors get into trouble, is when they feel that they need to live up to their public personality and create an image around what people expect of them when they meet you personally. You sort of develop a fake sense of yourself, where you feel like you need to create a character for your own personal life. What I mean, and all the sort of things that they see you as up on the screen, they want you to be all that and more, in person. Itīs a weird feeling when you realize youīre just like everyone else. Sometimes people reject you for that reason.
CS: Do you give flowers?
Leonardo: (Getting a little uncomfortable on this too personal territory) Iīve done that. Been there, done that.
CS: Actors that have worked with you always comment how much fun you are on the set. You laugh, tell jokes and then theyīre surprised at how quickly you get into character. As soon as the director calls "Action!", you switch gears. How can you do that so easily?
Leonardo: The way that I work is that I have to have a good attitude when I work. Making a film can be so tough at times, and unless you keep spirits light, it makes it go by a lot easier, especially doing a movie like Titanic. Iīve always joked around and I think overall it helps the movie. It helps me especially and it helps people work together comfortable, I think, when you have good spirits. As far as getting into the character, Iīve had no problem with any role that Iīve done. As soon as they say "Cut!", Iīm able to just walk away and not still be emotionally attached to it, just because thatīs the type of person I am, I suppose.
CS: It doesnīt sound like youīre having an identity crisis, but so many people donīt know you other than from what you portray on the screen. Does it ever feel like youīre actually two people?
Leonardo: It does and truthfully my response to it is that I feel so detached from most of the stuff that is going on - as far as the public figure is concerned. It almost makes you feel like two different people individually, so itīs hard for them to personally affect my life. Itīs almost like something I hear and see, rather than truly experience. It truly seems like no reality. Thatīs the bottom line. In a couple of years, Iīm probably going to be able to look back on this and see what it was in reality, but much like anything for me career-wise, when itīs actually happening it doesnīt seem like itīs really there.