GQ - March 2005



Hollywood High-Flyer

Leonardo DiCaprio is back at cinema's top table thanks to his superb portrayal of Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese's 'The Aviator'. Here he talks movies, Marty and madness with Giorgio Armani

Interview by Giorgio Armani


What was your favourite film as a child?

My three favourites were 'Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factorry', 'Watership Down' and 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks'.

What are your favourites now?

'Taxi Driver', 'Bicycle Thieves' and '8 1/2'.

Who was your first celebrity crush?

I don't remember my first - but my last was Claudia Cardianle. Particularly in 'Once Upon a Time in the West' and '8 1/2'. I was overwhelmed by her beauty.

How did you come to work with Martin Scorsese, and what is the dynamic of your relationship?

I have always been fascinated with Marty's work; he is one of the few filmmakers whose work you can see repeatedly and always find new nuances and details. His filmmaking is so authentic that it remains timeless. When I was 19, I switched agents because I had the opportunity of working with Marty on 'Gangs of New York'. I also began working on 'The Aviator' almost eight years ago and just last year we completed the movie together. Though we are generations apart, we share a lot of the same tastes, not only in film, but also in music and other art forms. I think we fundamentally agree when things work in film, but more importantly we agree when things don't work.

So 'Taxi Driver' is your favourite Scorsese movie...

Yes. Travis Bick is buffeted by unseen forces. I really appreciate a film when, as an audience member, it allows you to become immersed completely in the lead character's journey. By the end of 'Taxi Driver' you have completely empathised with that character's insanity.

What's the most important thing Marty has taught you?

Besides the immense education I've had in the filmmaking process by working with him, he has taught me patience - it takes a long time to make a good movie. He is a leader in the world of film preservation as well. He truely made me understand that film is a valid an art form as painting or sculpture, and like other great art it needs to be preserved for future generations.

What fascinated you about Howard Hughes, on whom 'The Aviator' is based?

Before I got into researching his character, all I knew about Hughes was that he was the tycoon locked away in a Vegas hotel room with Kleenex boxes, long hair and long fingernails. Than I stumbled upon a book about him and it gave me an insight into what kind of man he was before his descent into madness. A pioneer aviator, a renegade producer in the golden era of Hollywood, and the great Casanova of his time, he succeeded in almost everything. He was obsessed with anything he put his mind to - and he had an inability to stop short unless perfection was achieved. He did have obsessive-compulsive disorder and was a germophobe. The irony of the story is Howard was a man who created the biggest plane ever built, he was America's first billionaire, he had a vast empire, but in spite of this, his intense fear of microscopic germs was ultimately his downfall.

Do you want to direct a film?

Not yet, I feel I have too much to prove to myself as an actor.

How do you deal with fame?

I think it's human nature to adapt to the environment around you - fame is not the hardest thing in the world to deal with, there are so many people with much more complicated issues. I would hate to sound like I'm complaining about it because it's given me so many wonderful and different experiences that I wouldn't have had otherwise. Everything is relative and comes with pros and cons.

It is hard to maintain your close circle of friends?

I have a solid group of friends, some I've known for more than 15 years. After knowing someone that long, it's not hard to maintain friendship.

What do you think of London?

I love the culture London has to offer: the Tate Modern, the National Film Theatre and, of course, the British Museum which has some of the most extraordinary artefacts I've ever seen. I always look forward to visiting London.

Any great memories of your time living and working in Rome?

For nine months we shot 'Gangs of New York' in Rome at the legendary Cinecittą Studios, where Fellini shot many of his masterpieces. Every weekend I explored museums and ruins, and in all the time I've spent there, I haven't even scratched the surface of what it has to offer. It's truly one of the most magical cities I've been to. I could go on forever about the food!

What is it about Italian cinema that you love?

I can't talk about Italian cinema without mentioning Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita', '8 1/2' and 'La Strada', and in particular, De Sica's 'Bicycle Thieves'. No one captured the post-war realities in Europe with such peotry as De Sica, Fellini and Visconti. 'Bicycle Thieves' has to be one of the most perfect films I've ever seen. It's a day in the life of one man trying to find his bicycle, but it somehow seems to capture a lifetime of experiences and emotions. I'd never had a two-day discussion about one film with anyone, and this film provoked that.

Where do you want to be when you are 40?

Hopefully in the same situation that I'm now - being able to work on films that I love.

What keeps you ambitious?

I love filmmaking, I want to continue in its dynamic, ever-changing world for as long as possible I can. I'm curious to watch the future evolution of film, how it will unfold, or someday if it will become interactive. Ultimately, like any artist, we want to be a part of lasting pieces of art.