Daily Bruin online - October 29, 1996


Leo Rising

By Simon Dunstan

Leonardo DiCaprio is slowly but surely rising as a Hollywood megastar, and with his role in 'William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet,' it's easy to see why.


If there was to be an actor who would successfully represent our generation (the so- called Generation X) on and off the screen, it would be Leonardo DiCaprio. He is one of the most gifted and versatile talents of his age. His attitude and outlook towards his life and Hollywood's movie industry is so incredibly down-to-earth and normal ­ it's a refreshing change.

This Oscar-nominated 21-year-old makes one wonder how he has managed to keep his head screwed on while being constantly surrounded by Hollywood hype. But DiCaprio has an indifferent attitude toward the press get. He has successfully survived the slings and arrows of the movie industry.

"No matter what happens outside of making a film, it's always your work that speaks for itself in the end," DiCaprio says.

With his latest role in "William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet," DiCaprio has modernized the character, yet retained elements of the original Romeo to properly honor the 400-year-old Shakespearean text.

The one significant change made to one of the most captivating plays of all time is the transition from a traditional Elizabethan setting to a futuristic one. Filmmakers are hoping this will appeal to a modern audience. Directed by Baz Luhrmann ("Strictly Ballroom"), the film gives Shakespeare's Elizabethan English a contemporary American voice. The story is based in the mythical city of Verona Beach, a passionate, sexy, violent other-world.

Considering DiCaprio's past works ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape?," "This Boy's Life," "The Basketball Diaries"), his decision to take the role of Romeo is not a surprise. Dicaprio is constantly drawn to off-beat films, so "Romeo and Juliet" is not a great change for him.

"Baz Luhrmann gave me the script and at the time, I didn't really think that I wanted to do a traditional 'Romeo and Juliet,'" says DiCaprio. "Then I went out to Australia to do a workshop with him. At that time he told me the new ideas that he wanted to bring into the movie. The ideas consisted of fast cars, guns and groovy D&G designer clothes, instead of the swords and the traditional Elizabethan clothing."

DiCaprio expressed concerns to Luhrmann about the transition from traditional to trendy. He did not realize that the film would work until the first day of shooting.

"'Romeo and Juliet' is, I believe, the most famous play of all time and the most widely successful. So you definitely have a lot of stress going into it knowing that," says Dicaprio. "I felt a lot of pressure on me, but the way Baz decided to direct it relaxed me a lot more. I know I would have been nervous if it was done in the traditional style," says DiCaprio.

DiCaprio prefers a more relaxed atmosphere on the set when he is working. He does not bother with the extra stress of a method style of acting.

"I prepare myself as I go along, and the only time I am in character is when I'm in front of the camera," says DiCaprio. "I am never the method man that has to be in that character the whole time."

But the more emotional scenes turned out to be more demanding than the actor expected.

"He has to go through some heavy stuff," recalls DiCaprio. "As far as preparation, I had to be ready for the emotional points that Romeo has to go through because he is not a very light-hearted guy.

"Going through Romeo's emotions was physically draining. I had to go through a lot of the stuff that the character was going through. When you have to cry like that and be so emotional it does take a toll on you."

Performing in Mexico City also affected DiCaprio's portrayal of Romeo. The conditions added to the strain and tension DiCaprio felt as he conveyed the agony Romeo continually experiences through the film.

"The interesting thing was, while we where shooting in Mexico City there was a lot of violence and shootings happening around us," recalls DiCaprio. "Also many of our crew were getting really sick all the time. It really added to what we were doing out there because we were really going through the same things as the characters."

Initially when DiCaprio decided to take on the role, he thought that Romeo was "some fluffy guy dancing around the place in tights." But once he started to look deeper into his role he found that Romeo was in fact the opposite.

"Romeo is a hopeless romantic and he needs Juliet," explains DiCaprio. "Juliet says 'All right, if you have any real balls then you should marry me now and risk everything.' So he risks everything, his whole entire life, his family and then he marries this girl. Which is such an honorable thing to do, if you really believe in somebody and are in love, especially at that age."

DiCaprio also has another film coming out this Fall, "Marvin's Room" with Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton. The buzz is big about another Oscar nomination for DiCaprio. At the moment he is working on the big commercial film, "Titanic," with James Cameron ("Terminator 2"). But despite the exciting new projects, he seems as unsure about his future as any 21-year-old would be.

"I don't really have a plan of what I am going to do in the future," says DiCaprio. "I don't have a map of what type of movie I am going to do next. Meryl Streep gave me some great advice. She said 'You choose the best thing available at that time.'"

Considering that most other actors DiCaprio's age are either caught up in the drug scene or their own egos, DiCaprio is trying to live out his life as normally as possible.

"When I am not working on a movie, my life is pretty relaxed and pretty much like it has been since I was in high school," DiCaprio explains. "I am really not into the way the movie business is now, where it is less about art and more about making money. It's looked at as an industry in some factory, and I am not into that. It is certainly not the direction I want to go in."

And if anyone feels that DiCaprio is naive or idealistic in his views, he won't be bothered. He does not let public opinion affect him anymore.

"I don't care what people say about me anymore, cause it gets to a point where when you're hot you're hot, and when you're not you're not. I just want to keep on doing what I am doing and hopefully people will watch my movies."