Playboy Interview - February 2000
Was it already last century when Leonardo DiCaprio taught Kate Winslet to spit, then painted her naked? Leoīs movie career jumped from steerage to first class when Titanicīs romantic lead Jack Dawson became the object of desire for every girl (and her mother) from Tulsa to Tokyo. But he had a commentable career before that. After a substantial series of defiantly uncommercial dramas (a retarded kid in Whatīs Eating Gilbert Grape; an aspiring junkie in The Basketball Diaries) and some bona fide art films (he was the poet Rimbaud in Total Eclipse), DiCaprio went from Academy Award-nominated actor to full-on matinee idol. The two years since the ship sank and his star rose have seen only one starring role (the forgetable Men in the Iron Mask) and a cameo (Woody Allenīs Celebrity), but Leo remains the biggest movie star of the millenium, at least if you use tabloid column inches as your gauge.
With The Beach opening February 11, DiCaprio reconciles his current star power with his career-defining fondness for unconventional characters. Based on the cult novel by Alex Garland, The Beach is a glossy, big-budget studio film with decidedly individualist spirit, thanks largely to Trainspoting director Danny Boyle. DiCaprio is Richard, a danger-seeking American backpacker abroad who enlists a young French couple (one of whom is Virginie Ledoyen) to help him find and reach a rumored island paradise off the coast of Thailand. Last month, a day after snorkeling off the coast of Maui, an unshaven DiCaprio wore a black T-shirt and leans for our interview in the tropical paradise of the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua.
Playboy: Itīs been two years since youīve starred in a movie. What is it like to go back to this sort of movie after Titanic ?
DiCaprio: After Titanic, I really wanted to take my time and read through everything and say, I donīt want to do something that other people tell is genius. I want to find something that strikes a chord in me... that I fell thematically says something to me or speaks to me in some weird way. The Beach came along and Danny came along, and he wanted to bring me in as like a partner in this film. He wanted it to be a collaborative sort of effort. He didnīt just want me to be an actor for hire. He said: "Look, come in and weīll shape this the way we want to shape it." I just love the theme of the movie and what it says.
Pb: What does it say?
DC: Without speaking for my generation whatsoever, it just talks about how weīve been so desentisized in a lot of ways and how weīre so influenced by the media and everything is nowadays seeming more and more prepacked and predigested and pre-thought-out for us. This character goes in search of something real or something tangible, real emotion or a real experience that he can connect with on a real level. He goes travelling to Thailand and does this courageous thing and ends up finding this pirate-like utopia which seems to be the answer to all his problems and all his prayers, and in the end he realizes that paradise is essentially a false concept. There is nothing out there that will answer all your problems. That in order for something like paradise to exist, it should exist for everybody, and he realizes the kind of sacrifices that you need to make if you want to live in paradise, if you want to keep it a secret, because it canīt be paradise unless itīs a secret.
Pb: It seems like nothing you do is a secret. The tabloids report your every move. How do you shut out the insanity of the tabloids and people on the peripherie? Do you have a close group of friends you can laugh about this with?
DC: Absolutely, I laugh about a lot of situatons, and thank God I have a lot of friends who sort of keep me grounded constantly and remind me to laugh about it. Theyīve been a fundamental important part of not taking this too seriously or too hard.
I think that a lot of times thereīs a misconception about how people view somebody in my position... that your life is constantly autograph-seeking hounds or paparazzi chasing you. But thatīs the only time you see them; the only time you hear about them is when something like that happens or during a movie premiere time or media time or when the paparazzi takes a picture of them. As any human being you adapt and you cocoon yourself in your own environment. You have your family and friends and places you go and your things you do. Even in my position, a lot of the time Iīm not surrounded with that stuff, unbelievably. When I go out in public I have ways of wearing a hat and glasses and not being recognized.
Pb: Would you like your fame to be ratched down a little?
DC: It has. It has. It really has, actually. Not in the sense that... who knows if Iīm just as recognizable as I always was, but the sort of fever that came after Titanic which I had no control over and no input into and had literally no involvement with - it wasnīt me, you know what I mean - has died down. I knew after Titanic faded down that that would fade down, too. Thereīs days that you enjoy being a recognizable person, but most of the time Iīd say that you rather have your anonymity and your private life, but thereīs pros and cons to everything. Thereīs give and take with everything.
Pb: What are the pros and cons of being famous?
DC: Life is to a degree more hectic than it used to be. I have a lot more reponsability. Career-wise, all the little facets and little branches of what come along with that. Protecting this, protecting that, making sure people donīt think... whatever. Essentially, and Iīve said this before, Iīve been given a fantastic opportunity to do what I love and create as an actor and be given more opportunities than I ever was before, because of Titanic essentially, to really mold my career more so than ever before. I wouldnīt give it up for the world. Itīs an unbelievable opportunity.
Pb: What about being the sex symbol for half of humanity?
DC: That kind of stuff I donīt even think about. I donīt agree with.
Pc: But, your character in The Beach is the object of attraction for at least two women.
DC: I think heīs the object of consumption. He wants to consume things around him, whatever it may be. He wants to go to the utmost he can with every experience and really envelop it and really consume it. Thatīs who this character is. The attraction between the women is all a part of that. Itīs all part of getting what he wants and then dismissing it. Contradicting himself and thinking the grass is always greener on the other side.. Thereīs gotta be something more. Heīs constantly looking for that "more" until he comes to a point where violence is something heīs completely fascinated with and has to experience one-on-one. He has to have a violent experience because thatīs the end-all of everything. Thatīs the pinnacle of a real experience, and he becomes addicted to that and wants to see it happen. Once it does happen, it transforms him.
Pb: The scene where you imagine youīre in a videogame running through the woods is truly inspired. Are you paying hommage to any games in particular?
DC: No. It was actually one of my ideas about the videogame sequence. I thought it would be a perfect idea to get into Richardīs sort of fascination with isolation and being out in the wilderness and left to his own elements as this Rambo-esque character and him having fun with it the first time. I knew Danny is so open to that (sort of) surrealist scenes and sequences to tell you about the character in the story.
Pb: Whatīs your favourite videogame?
DC: Iīve had every videogame system that there is... Iīve always liked the most up-to-date version, Iīd say, and Dreamcast is, but I think the PlayStation II is coming out. I am a videogame freak. I am a product of that generation. Iīm a product of all that stuff. I think itīs a trap that eventually once you get involved with something like that itīs hard to escape it. It does envelop you. I go through periods in a year where I donīt play any videogames, but once I get into it again, it becomes this drug in a weird way.
Pb: Speaking of drugs, is that a real marijuana field youīre running through in The Beach ?
DC: It was hemp. It was real hemp, but it didnīt havethe buds.
Pb: Did you do any "reefer research" on this project?
DC: I didnīt do any research, no.
Pb: In the "survivalist" scenes, Richard eats a caterpillar. Did you actually eat a real caterpillar?
Pb: About how many of those did you have to eat?
Pb: Did you really eat them?
DC: Iīm not going to say.
Pb: You want to do smaller films, but your profile and paycheck demand certain concessions to make it palatable to larger audiences. How do you walk that tightrope?
DC: Thatīs not a true statemnt that I just want to make smaller films, but I want to try everything. I think before I did Titanic, I did do smaller films because that was really what was available to me. Titanic was actually a break from the norm for me.Itīs something that I tried that was differnt. The Beach is definitely getting back to what I did before that...
I think if I werenīt in the position Iīm in, then the budget wouldnīt be the same on the movie and stuff like that. I think if you ask Danny, the good thing about it is it only benefits the film in the end. You have more money to do more stuff that you want to do. You can certainly make it a subversive film at the same time. Just because thereīs more money involved doesnīt mean you canīt make it an experimental, subversive film.
Pb: Still, if you were offered Total Eclipse now, where you play Verlaineīs protégé and sometime lover, would you feel any pressure against doing it?
DC: I would probably be enveloped by the whole story and the whole aspect of the character and this young man that sort of revolutionized poetry at that time and completely sent the poetry world upside down with his unbelievable poems and his wild attitude about things. I was really attracted to that character. The answer would be yes, because I continue to choose things that strikes a chord in me and that fascinates me and characters that interest me and stories that do, so yeah.
Pb: You were originally going to star in the film version of Bret Easton Ellisī NC-17-rated American Psycho, which was premiered last week at Sundance...
Pb: So, how did your name get attached to that?
DC: There was a script that I read, and I thought it was an interesting script. I liked the idea of that demented sort of character being put in that Eighties sort of upper highbrow environment in that time, but I eventually realized that it didnīt amount of anything. That it didnīt mean anything in the end. There was nothing that I really cared about when it was all said and done. I read the script and basically expressed interest in it, and then sort of during that whole hot air balloon of Titanic media, it became something bigger than what it was. People do that all the time essentially. Actors do that all the time.
Pb: Have you actually talked to George Lucas about Star Wars: Episode 2 ?
DC: I have talked to him, but thereīs no script as of yet. When I read the script, Iīll see.
Pb: What did you think of the first one?
DC: I thought it was interesting. I think thereīs more that could be done, though.
Pb: How would you characterize your relationship with Titanic director James Cameron at this point?
DC: My relationship? Weīre not engaged yet. (Laughs)
A good one. A fine one. Thereīs been a lot of misconception about all that. I think that it takes that type of personality to be able to command that type of film. You need that presence amongst thousands of different people who are doing hundreds of different jobs simultaneously, all to bring that movie together. It takes that kind of personality, and I donīt resent him for that. You know, nobody else in the world could have done that movie the way he did it, period.
Pb: Can you compare Jamesī style to Danny Boyleīs style?
DC: Theyīre polar opposites. Dannyīs an inherently sweet guy. Heīs an inherently sweet, genuine person who is really sensitive, and heīs much more slow-paced. Theyīre completely different.
Pb: If you had a map, would you live at The Beach?
DC: Iīd probably find a way to get a boat over there. Maybe have somebody check it out for me, just in case there were a group of cannibals.