Orange County's news cource: - October 7, 2008



Leonardo DiCaprio fights the war on terror

The 'Titanic' leading man stars as a CIA agent in Ridley Scott's 'Body of Lies.'

by Barry Koltnow


Some actors would have been content to appear in 22 episodes of the sitcom "Growing Pains."

Not Leonardo DiCaprio.

He wanted more from his acting career. In fact, he wasn't even satisfied after he became a superstar in "Titanic," the biggest-grossing movie of all time. He decided he also wanted an interesting career

To that end, the three-time Oscar-nominee has sought out the best directors in Hollywood, and his résumé reflects that strategy - Steven Spielberg in "Catch Me If You Can," Martin Scorsese in "The Aviator," "The Gangs of New York" and "The Departed" and Woody Allen in "Celebrity."

Now, he has jumped on the Ridley Scott express to star as a CIA field agent caught up in Middle East intrigue in the spy thriller "Body of Lies," which opens Friday.

He stars opposite Russell Crowe, who plays DiCaprio's unscrupulous boss. This is the second pairing for the actors after the 1995 Western "The Quick and the Dead."

In this interview, DiCaprio, 33, explains what he wants out of a career, how he took advantage of "Titanic" and the way he deals with the paparazzi in a celebrity-obsessed world.

As usual, he wouldn't discuss his personal life, but we know for a fact that he dates a lot of models.


ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: There seems to be a public perception of you that you are this laid-back guy who is not very competitive and thinks more of art than commerce.

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: I think that's true.

OCR: My question is that as "The Dark Knight" started to challenge "Titanic" this summer as the biggest movie of all time, did your competitive juices start flowing?

LEO: Honestly, I think it's inevitable that some movie will pass it financially.

OCR: But when "The Dark Knight" fell short of the mark, didn't you well up with pride and feel like giving somebody a high-five?

LEO: I heard rumors that it may pass "Titanic," but at the end of the day, I really didn't pay much attention to it. But somebody did tell me later that it came close but didn't do it, and I thought that was OK. I wish I could tell you that I was more competitive than that, but I'm not. Sorry.

OCR: That's OK. So I guess you don't care about opening weekend box office numbers, either?

LEO: A lot of my movies have been slow in their opening weekends, and got what they call "legs" later. But maybe I should be more conscious of what mass audiences want to see, or what they don't want to see. Since "Titanic," I've gotten these tremendous opportunities to be in some interesting films, and I'm just getting to be the kind of actor I wanted to become.

OCR: Do you think you took full advantage of your position in the industry following "Titanic"?

LEO: I don't think I squandered the opportunity, and I'm happy about that. I also think I didn't abuse the position by taking every big movie that was offered me. I think I've been selective in what I've done.

OCR: With the exception of "Titanic 2," which I'm sure some bright studio executive wanted to make, were there a lot of big, splashy movies that you could have done after "Titanic"?

LEO: There have been a lot of those offers. But, after a while, you realize that it's a lot of hard work and you don't want to spend the time, energy and effort on movies that don't interest you. And when I say hard work, I know it sounds silly because I'm in a blessed position, but you leave home for five months and you put your friends, family and life on hold, and it is exhausting. So you want that experience to be fulfilling and worth what you put into it. You also hope that all that effort went into making something that will be a memorable piece of art that might last beyond that month. That's the objective.

OCR: Is your legacy that important?

LEO: No … well … yes … sure …of course. Any artist wants his legacy to be important. I remember the exhilaration I felt when I was 16 years old and just got my first major role with Robert DeNiro in "This Boy's Life." I said to myself: "Oh my god, I have to learn about movies. I have to learn about the history of cinema." So I went on my own crash film course and rented every great movie ever made, and watched them over and over again for weeks. There were a few that stood out and inspired me, and that's why legacy is important.

OCR: Could you give me an idea of the movies that inspired you?

LEO: I remember "Taxi Driver" being one. And "Lawrence of Arabia," "The Bicycle Thief," "8 ˝," "The Third Man." There's a long list.

OCR: And what did you get out of this crash course?

LEO: These were films that were, in some cases, 50 years old and they still affected me emotionally. That's pretty powerful stuff, and I didn't know until then that that stuff was possible. Once I knew that, I felt I should at least try to pick films that might have that kind of impact.

OCR: It seems to an outsider that your plan to accomplish that was to follow the director. You've worked with the top directors in the business.

LEO: Yes. That's been my kind of mantra of late. The director is the most fundamentally important element to moviemaking.

OCR: And that brought you to Ridley Scott?

LEO: Absolutely. Ridley has made a masterpiece in every genre, whether we're talking about "Alien," "Thelma & Louise," "Blade Runner" or "Gladiator."

OCR: Was the political nature of the film a lure or a deterrent?

LEO: I know that, traditionally, films on this subject have not done well, but the thing that is unique about this film is that I don't think it has a political agenda. We aren't telling people how to think or feel about the war on terror. We told a realistic story as best we could, considering that the CIA is a secretive organization. I think the movie stands on its own as an espionage thriller. It just happens to have a backdrop of the war we're in right now.

OCR: Do you think it's critical of the government?

LEO: Oh, I think it's critical of the government. I think it's critical of the war. I think it's critical of the Middle East. And it's equally critical of everyone.

OCR: I hear that you're a big fan of Sarah Palin?

LEO(laughs): Boy, everybody's been asking me about her. She's such a hot topic.

OCR: You actively campaigned for a candidate last time. How active are you this time?

LEO: I'm more interested in just getting out the youth vote. If they come out, we'll get a real representation of who should be our president.

OCR: Are you sorry you campaigned last time?

LEO: No, but I'm sorry he didn't win.

OCR: Is getting out the youth vote a good use of your celebrity?

LEO: I hope it is.

OCR: There are some people who believe that actors should stick to acting, and keep their politics to themselves.

LEO: That's why I'm focusing on the youth vote and not campaigning for a particular candidate. Nobody wants to be told what to think, particularly from somebody they feel isn't qualified or doesn't understand their lives.

OCR: Outside of the money, travel and fame, what are the perks of your job?

LEO: There are a lot of perks, and not many downsides. I'm very fortunate, and I know it. I came from a childhood that was not privileged. I've been very lucky.

OCR: Is it so interesting that it balances out the negative stuff, like not being able to go out on a date without being hounded by the paparazzi?

LEO: There are ways to lead your life.

OCR: Like how?

LEO: Don't go to the intersection of Robertson and Melrose, where all the paparazzi hang out.

OCR: Do you ever get used to being followed?

LEO: Never. No matter how long you're a paparazzi target, you never get used to it. All you do is adjust to it. You look over your shoulder all the time and be alert.

OCR: Is that any way to live?

LEO: It's my decision to live in L.A., and that's how you have to live here. If I lived on a ranch in the middle of Montana, I wouldn't have to live like this.

OCR: So why live here?

LEO: This is where my family is. This is where my friends are. This is an interesting city, and I want to live an interesting life in an interesting city.