Link: http://men.style.com/gq/features/full?id=content_7657&pageNum=1

 

 

GQ Men of the Year

LEADING MAN: LEONARDO DiCAPRIO
With Revolutionary Road, Leo DiCaprio has turned in the most mature and memorable performance of his lifetime—which is saying something. The über-star/carbon-negator talks with Marshall Sella about his love of Kate Winslet, why men are forever at war with themselves, and why the damned paparazzi always make him look ungrateful

~ Interview by Marshall Sella / Photos by Marc Seliger ~

 

 

LDC: It’s like The Shining in here. Just me and you.

GQ: It is. Wait—The Shining is in your top five movies of all time, right? By definition, then, that’s your favorite Kubrick film?

By definition, you’re very correct, but I think it’s hard to… I don’t even define 2001 as a film; it’s more of a religious experience.

Do I have it right that The Bicycle Thief is also near the top of your list?

Top three! That’s one of the purest movies I have ever seen.

Talking of pure movies, have you ever seen the Ealing Studios movies—Alec Guinness, late 1940s?

I haven’t seen much of Alec Guinness’s younger work. I have seen Brian Atene on YouTube refer to himself as “a young Alec Guinness.” Have you seen that Brian Atene clip? It was the taped audition that he did for Stanley Kubrick, and he begins [intoning with mind-bending pretentiousness], “Good day, Mr. Kubrick.…” It was a YouTube sensation.

I’ve seen that. Horrifying!

[still in the ludicrous Juilliard haughtiness of Atene] “I like to think of myself as a young Alec Guinness.… Since I am saying whatever I want to Mr. Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest directors in the world, though not quite as good as Michael Curtiz, the director of The Sea Hawk…” Brilliant. He’s actually kind of a genius.

Don’t. Please stop that.

You know, Brian Atene also really did go to Juilliard!

I’m begging you.

Okay. But how great is YouTube? Endless entertainment. Endless! Every day.
What the hell? You can type in anything, like “frogs getting laid,” and they have, like, seventy clips. It’s fabulous.

I’m going to avoid spoilers, but I was thinking of your love of The Shining when I watched Revolutionary Road. There’s Frank Wheeler, your character, saying, “I have the backbone not to run away from my responsibilities”—and you remember Jack’s speech to Wendy in The Shining.

Yes, yes!

“Have you ever thought about my responsibilities?” Anyway. This movie has you again co-starring with Kate Winslet. How much has your working relationship changed?

It felt like no time had passed in the way that we’re so comfortable with each other personally and professionally. We’ve been friends for such a long time, and we knew what boundaries we have with each other professionally, and we knew that we could get great stuff out of each other. She’s one of my best friends. But was this different? It was, in that we were a part of every nuance of this movie. There was a different level of intimacy. It was a much more hands-on approach, and we were both more responsible for our characters and the tone of the film. That’s just something that comes with age and experience. After all, we were barely 20, 21 years old in Titanic.

How did you channel the 1950s? I mean, the politeness and the measured speech and the, um, not feeling alive? Obviously, neither of us is an expert on that, because we didn’t live through that time. But you embodied Frank.

The novel was so ahead of its time. The ’50s was America’s prepubescence, in the sense that we were just developing our moral high ground. People were getting white picket fences and trying to find an iconic American image. The novel is about two people not wanting to conform to that, not wanting to be comfortable in that environment, not wanting to be cookie-cutter clichés. They’re holding on to their individualism desperately, you know? As alien as the ’50s seem to us now, we’re all still holding on to a lot of that, that picture-perfect image. It’s all still there. And here are these two characters striving to live a somewhat bohemian existence. Meanwhile, they find themselves trapped. And I think they were destined to be apart. I don’t think the suburban lifestyle is what tears them apart. They’re destined to be apart.

Aaaand there’s the spoiler.

[laughs] That is maybe a spoiler; you’re right.

It’s fair to say you’ve had an unusual life so far. Can you relate to the emptiness and the hopelessness of suburbia as portrayed in that script? Or do you need to? It’s not like your dad was the man in the gray flannel suit.

Richard Yates’s novel is a classic for a reason. The conversations that each character has in his or her head… While I’m sitting here kissing my wife and telling her how much I love her, and how everything is gonna be okay, there’s this inner voice that just detests her and detests my life and knows I’m lying about everything. That inner dialogue in the book was fabulous for all of us.

When you hear Kate’s character say you were “just some boy who made me laugh at a party once”—how do you relate to that guy? I’d bet you’ve never heard a line like that in your entire life. Has any girl ever hit you that hard? Be honest.

No. But certainly there have been some cruel words exchanged. And that’s what you draw on. Buddy, it’s the human things you draw on. We go through life, we meet certain people and have connections with them. And it’s much like what Kubrick would say.…

I love you bringin’ that around.

No, it’s true. It’s like in Eyes Wide Shut. Two people in a loving relationship who have this stronghold of marriage, but what brought them together? A giant accident brought them together. Timing brought them together. It’s like when Nicole Kidman is telling Tom Cruise’s character—

How she’d walk away after one—

Yeah, “I would have walked away with this other guy.” I love that moment.

I know that when you’re shooting, you can’t judge Frank Wheeler, because you had to be Frank Wheeler. But in the end, looking back on it, what do you make of him?

[long breath] What do I make of him? I have compassion for him. Any man can identify with something in Frank Wheeler’s character, that desperation and that instinctual urge—to please the wife, to please the family—while simultaneously making himself completely unhappy in the process. [laughs] Do you know what I mean? Just wanting credit for saying, “I did this.” But at the same time, he’s this loathsome creature. He’s banging his secretary. I don’t even know where I’m going with that, but it’s such a human character.

Not so unusual, really.

Ironically, the women I’ve heard from who have seen this movie? They’ve sided with Frank Wheeler, even though he’s the one going off and sleeping with someone else when he’s married and has two kids. They forgive him for that! His lack of control and his self-loathing—they identify with that, I guess. And they think he’s trying to do what’s best for his family and trying to conform to this environment the best he can. Maybe a lot of guys who see this movie will see him as a weaker sort of coward. But I guess any man can identify with the wanting-to. And also with the need to get credit for doing a good job in a relationship.

Last time I saw you, six years ago, you also had two movies coming out at virtually the same time [Gangs of New York and Catch Me If You Can]. Can’t you just do one movie at a time?

I know! It always happens. It’s happened to me three times—two movies opening within a month of each other. It’s because I always have one director who takes way too long to edit and another who flips it out really fast.

You’ve just wrapped your fourth movie—Shutter Island—with Martin Scorsese. What did you take away from those experiences?

For me, I don’t sit there working with someone of that caliber and think, “What am I learning?” To be honest, I try to be as focused as he is. I try to bring as much to the table as he does. It’s less about learning something—although I have learned a tremendous amount from his film knowledge. Every time he and I do a movie, he screens four or five movies beforehand to give me a frame of reference. And every time you have a conversation with him, you know you’re in the best possible hands. It’s a good experience to walk on a set and think, “Even though I might disagree with him, his experience trumps mine,” and so I have no doubts. I’m all good with it. That’s a great feeling to have.

You two clearly have a shorthand at this point.

We think somewhat alike. And we dislike the same things a lot. We’re just very direct with each other. We give each other information in as clear and honest a way as possible, without any fluff around it. He’s very blunt with me about how he feels about what I’m doing. There’s no one else whose opinion I’d respect more.

Hey, don’t talk down Spielberg!

Oh, I wouldn’t! I would never. They’re similar animals. Working with both of them at roughly the same time, I couldn’t help but see the similarities. They’re intense film nuts. They grew up living and breathing and eating cinema, and it shaped everything in their lives.

What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started out?

This is what I know the most: You have to take full responsibility for your character and for yourself on-screen. You can have the relationship with a director where the director shapes it, but you have to own it. I didn’t understand that when I started out. Then, it was always, Let me go to the director and see what he wants. As opposed to bringing something to the table and then having that open for discussion. You have to be able to shock—well, not shock, but surprise the director and sometimes go in a direction he didn’t expect.

The way Scorsese described you—it was pretty glowing. “The energy of a young De Niro.”

[DiCaprio’s arms cross tightly]

And your body language tells me that makes you self-conscious. And it’s fantastic that even when I point out the body language, it doesn’t change!

[laughs] Yes. Look, any actor would absolutely feel the same way I do about working with a director like that. It’s a no-brainer.

After all these years, you’re still carrying these cinnamon toothpicks around and wearing baseball caps all the time. What does that logo stand for—“FAU”?

I have no idea. But I love baseball caps! This is the real reason I wear ’em: I just like the design and the pattern. People come up to me and say, “You went to FAU!” Wait—this is Florida Atlantic University.

You’re just guessing now. So…Body of Lies. You and Russell Crowe, directed by Ridley Scott? On paper, that should be an Oscar machine. Don’t you think they almost owe you an Oscar at this point? After all these performances?

Not at all! Mm-mmm. I’ve always felt more like I’m in “proving stuff to myself” mode. That was one of the roughest movies I’ve ever done, though.

You two clearly have a shorthand at this point.

We think somewhat alike. And we dislike the same things a lot. We’re just very direct with each other. We give each other information in as clear and honest a way as possible, without any fluff around it. He’s very blunt with me about how he feels about what I’m doing. There’s no one else whose opinion I’d respect more.

Hey, don’t talk down Spielberg!

Oh, I wouldn’t! I would never. They’re similar animals. Working with both of them at roughly the same time, I couldn’t help but see the similarities. They’re intense film nuts. They grew up living and breathing and eating cinema, and it shaped everything in their lives.

What do you know now that you didn’t know when you started out?

This is what I know the most: You have to take full responsibility for your character and for yourself on-screen. You can have the relationship with a director where the director shapes it, but you have to own it. I didn’t understand that when I started out. Then, it was always, Let me go to the director and see what he wants. As opposed to bringing something to the table and then having that open for discussion. You have to be able to shock—well, not shock, but surprise the director and sometimes go in a direction he didn’t expect.

The way Scorsese described you—it was pretty glowing. “The energy of a young De Niro.”

[DiCaprio’s arms cross tightly]

And your body language tells me that makes you self-conscious. And it’s fantastic that even when I point out the body language, it doesn’t change!

[laughs] Yes. Look, any actor would absolutely feel the same way I do about working with a director like that. It’s a no-brainer.

After all these years, you’re still carrying these cinnamon toothpicks around and wearing baseball caps all the time. What does that logo stand for—“FAU”?

I have no idea. But I love baseball caps! This is the real reason I wear ’em: I just like the design and the pattern. People come up to me and say, “You went to FAU!” Wait—this is Florida Atlantic University.

You’re just guessing now. So…Body of Lies. You and Russell Crowe, directed by Ridley Scott? On paper, that should be an Oscar machine. Don’t you think they almost owe you an Oscar at this point? After all these performances?

Not at all! Mm-mmm. I’ve always felt more like I’m in “proving stuff to myself” mode. That was one of the roughest movies I’ve ever done, though.

Is it true you had a recurrence of OCD after shooting The Aviator?

I never actually had OCD. I know I did say that at some point, but I didn’t. I studied this. OCD is us reverting to a reptilian part of our brain where we have to organize everything. It’s about cleanliness and protecting the home nest. That’s why you see rodents running around and picking things up and constantly organizing.

What is wrong with you?

Hey, that’s what it is! We all have that in our brain early in life, but some people get locked in, like a stuck gearshift. That’s what OCD is. They can’t stop themselves from, say, stepping on everything they see that has a floral pattern. Or thinking, Don’t enter this area of the house, because it’s dirty. They honestly feel like they will die or something horrifically wrong will happen unless they go through this process. I don’t have OCD—I don’t!—but I remember when I was little, I would step on cracks.…

You would step on cracks?

[quite seriously] Didn’t you? You did, right? Well, I stopped doing all that at a certain age. So when I did the movie, I wanted to bring out any compulsive habit I’d had in the past, and it didn’t wear off for a year afterward. I was going around stepping on cracks.

Not stepping around cracks? You had, like, reverse OCD. That’s ROCD.

Yeah—stepping on them. And for some reason, at airports I had to step on every stain that I saw, so I’d be darting around doing that.

Was there anything that stuck with you after Revolutionary Road?

It was one of the more emotionally painful movies. It was depressing, making this film, I have to say. As great as it was to work with Kate, I was happy to get out of…not happy to wrap the film, but happy to stop arguing with my wife for months straight, confined in a tiny suburban house. We were really shooting in a tiny little house, and the entire crew was there, smashed into this little two-bedroom house. There was no way to get out; there was nowhere to run. The claustrophobia was pretty intense after a while. After eighteen months of work, I’m trying to figure out what normal life is like again.

Are you seeing friends? Are you dating a girl?

[coyly] I am seeing my friends, yes.

But you’ve never dated a girl?

I have dated a girl. I have, plenty of times!

You’re not much in the tabloids anymore. Have you noticed that?

[whispers in mock terror] Don’t say that too loud!

And by the way, what strip joint are we going to later on?

Actually, I’m not in the tabloids anymore. I am sometimes, but I’ve watched the culture change. I’m old hat. And I love it. You know what it is with me? This is something I’d like to clarify. I’ve heard people say, “Because you hide, it makes you seem ungrateful.” The mere fact that these—I’ll use the word piles—are earning money from exploiting my image is the only reason I hide myself or am not a photo-friendly person. I do not like the way they conduct themselves. I think they’re disrespectful and dangerous. The reason I don’t pose or smile or that I seem mad is that I don’t want them to make a living off my private life.

As a journalist, I resent the idea that you think you deserve a private life. Publicly, of course, you’re known for your politics. What does this last eight years mean in terms of energy policy?

Do you realize the progress we could have made? Eight years is an unbelievable amount of time. The biggest travesty is that we’re the most powerful country in the world and haven’t made a tiptoe toward renewable technologies. And we should be the ones paving the way, the ones other countries look up to. That makes me extremely sad.

The old hack question: Are there films you regret turning down?

Sure. Boogie Nights is a movie I loved and I wish I would’ve done.

You turned down something for Titanic, no?

That was Boogie Nights!

Oh! So…if you could go back, would you take Boogie Nights over Titanic?

[pauses for an age; furls brow] Well, that’s an interesting question.

Isn’t it?

I’m not saying I would have. But it would have been a different direction, careerwise. I think they’re both great and wish I could have done them both.

But Titanic made you a mega-über-superstar.

I would have been happy to do them both. And the truth is, if I’d not done Titanic, I wouldn’t be able to do the types of movies or have the career I have now, for sure. [pauses again] But it would have been interesting to see if I had gone the other way.

Even for you, it’s hard not to wonder about the road not traveled. Which brings me back to Revolutionary Road. Yates said it was about “a lust for conformity” and Americans grasping for “security at any price.” Ring any bells?

Yeah. Well, I just hope our country has learned its lesson and can go in another direction. We all do, right? I hope that things can change. There’s so much to do. Ahhh, I could go on a rant here—but I’m not gonna do it!

~ marshall sella is a gq correspondent. ~

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