Harper's Bazaar Australia - June/July 2012
Link: http://www.harpersbazaar.com.au/celebrity/interview-leonardo-dicaprio.htm

Interview: Leonardo DiCaprio

 

 

Supermodel-dating, sex symbol and acclaimed actor, sure. But eco activist and watch designer? There’s a lot about Leonardo DiCaprio that may surprise you, finds Eugenie Kelly. Photographed by Nathaniel Goldberg.

Leo-mania may have hit its giddiest peak in the late ’90s circa Titanic (now at $2 billion in ticket sales, making it history’s second-highest-grossing movie after James Cameron’s other golden egg Avatar), but you wouldn’t know it, going by Sydney’s recent aggressive obsession with securing pap shots of DiCaprio filming The Great Gatsby here.

Upon realising the pursuit wasn’t going to end anytime soon, his attempts at anonymity began to border on why-bother: baseball cap pulled down low, Victoria’s Secret babe in tow, an entourage trawling the model posse at various late-night hangouts.

Drinks at Beach Haus. Dinner at Momofuku Seiobo. Dumpling stop-offs at Din Tai Fung.

We’re familiar with the bad-boy party image, but it’s one that seems to contradict the other Leonardos: three-time Oscar nominee; Golden Globe Award winner; the lead in movies-of-the-moment such as J. Edgar and the aforementioned Gatsby remake. And committed activist [/b]…

Visit the actor’s official website, www.leonardodicaprio.com, and you’ll see what we mean. About a third of the content is devoted to movie news; the rest is dedicated to his causes. Saving tigers. Ending the elephant slaughter and ivory trade in Tanzania. Alliances with a high-end coffee line that promotes sustainable practices in Haiti. Shark conservation in California.

The guy certainly walks the talk, whether it’s producing and narrating the documentary The 11th Hour (a pull-no-punches state-of-the-earth address) to working with TAG Heuer as a spokesmodel of sorts.

Ah, yes. That fascinating breed: the celebrity face. Yet DiCaprio is the rarest of the species. His alliance with the luxury Swiss watchmaker is leveraged to benefit his environmental passions. This deep immersing of self (a typical Scorpio trait) is evident in his responses — long, detailed, considered answers — when he phones the BAZAAR offices on behalf of TAG, early one recent morning.

He’s clearly proud of the watch he co-designed with the brand back in 2009 (the Aquaracer 500M), the royalites of which were donated to Green Cross International and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and discussions are underway about a second one.

“Our world is run by corporations and so many things are controlled by them,” he says, clearly trying hard not to come across as preachy. “They have an incredible amount of power and sway. Some are conscious about trying to make the world a better place and take responsibility not only for what they give back, but how they produce things. That’s why TAG was an attractive fit for me. We created this sort of campaign together, Jean-Christophe Babin [TAG Heuer’s CEO] and I.”

Cue DiCaprio visiting the brand’s headquarters in Switzerland in March 2010, giving it a green makeover of sorts and encouraging Babin to curb its energy consumption via the building of a photovoltaic roof.

“We’re a massive population,” he argues. “Seven billion. We’re depleting our planet’s resources like never before. Things are on the tipping point. From oceans to fresh soil, to deforestation, to endangered species. Individual actions create change.”

It’s big-picture stuff, but trying to get him to open up about what he does, green-wise, on a personal level and you’d have better luck pulling hen’s teeth.

“I’m always hesitant to compare what I do with other individuals,” says the 37-year-old. “It’s just not the same situation. I have access to a lot of things. Sometimes this can turn people off. Make you think that that person’s elitist.”

So yes. We’re talking solar panels on his LA home, while his New York condo overlooking the Hudson features low-emission paints, an in-house water treatment facility and a filtered air system. And he drives a Fisker Karma, a plug-in luxury sports car that retails for about $100,000 in the US.

“It’s amazing,” he admits reluctantly. “If driven correctly you only need to fill it up three, four times a year. “It’s about being conscious about the world we live in,” he continues, attempting to steer the conversation away from his home life. “Voting for the right leaders. Or buying local — think about transporting food across the world from China. We live in a complex world where we want everything at our fingertips even if it means having it travel long distances.”

Does the sheer scale of what needs to be done ever depress him? He laughs. “I got depressed about it a long time ago,” he admits. “You’ve got so many different cultures, religious beliefs, governments. To unify them and work towards one common goal — it almost feels like we need one major disaster to come together as a world community. Every environmental leader you talk to is incredibly frustrated.”

To plug away at this cause so relentlessly requires certain character traits. Someone with unrelenting hope. Someone even slightly delusional. They’re personality markers that sound remarkably close to home, considering DiCaprio is portraying Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald masterpiece, scheduled for release on January 10, 2013.

“Like it says in the book, he [Gatsby] had ‘an extraordinary gift for hope’. An ability to keep looking towards the future and against all odds. To just stay on course,” says DiCaprio. “I just love the character. He’s an incredibly desperate man. Someone who wants to create an identity for himself by any means necessary.”

The project not only reunited Luhrmann and DiCaprio, who last worked together 16 years ago on Romeo + Juliet, but also involved his best friend, Tobey Maguire, who plays the part of Nick Carraway, the honest Midwesterner seduced by the East Coast high life. (DiCaprio is rumoured to be godfather to Maguire’s five-year-old daughter, Ruby.) DiCaprio describes it as a story that defies time, its key themes just as relevant today as they were in 1925 when first published.

“Here was this man in this tragedy who did anything necessary to achieve wealth because it meant status in our country. America was this open land of opportunity, with money becoming the dominating force. Baz is really excited about retelling the story, because it looks like our economy now. It’s almost like history repeating itself. Our economic-growth pattern mirrors the ’20s — the mortgages, the housing markets, the escalating prices … Then boom.”

Luhrmann shot The Great Gatsby in 3-D — something you’d expect of a fantasy tale or gory science-fiction flick, not a sophisticated drama — and it’s hoped the camera techniques will have the desired effect of enveloping viewers in the opulence the period was renowned for. An ultra-reality effect, as DiCaprio describes it.

“What’s being attempted here is to create a theatre quality for the audience. You’ll feel like a fly on the wall listening in to conversations that are almost too intimate and too secretive for you to be there,” he explains. “Baz is going to do some pretty spectacular things cinematically with this movie, [for example] the distance between characters … what that says to an audience — who is in focus; who is in the foreground; who is in the background. You’ll see one character saying something and another far off in the background reacting to it. Theatrically, I think Baz is experimenting with giving people the feeling of being in true, real theatre.”

Another director he speaks equally highly of is Martin Scorsese — the pair worked together on Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed and, most recently, Shutter Island. In August they will team up again to start shooting The Wolf of Wall Street, in which DiCaprio will play the role of infamous stockbroker and white-collar criminal Jordan Belfort.

Until then, he’s in New Orleans working on the Quentin Tarantino flick Django Unchained; performing ambassador duties for TAG Heuer; donating funds to sustainability initiatives through his foundation; and flitting to and from New York, where he will perhaps be papped riding a bike around town, most likely in the company of a gorgeous Sports Illustrated-type blonde. Who knows? Maybe it won’t be curiousity over his latest squeeze that stops us in our tracks.

Perhaps, as he’d no doubt hope, the fact he’s riding an electric bike will excite us more.

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