FILM TV - Italian Magazine - June 11th, 2002


Leo the Chameleon

When we see Leonardo DiCaprio in the clothes of his portrayal of con-artist, Frank W. Abagnale, in the new Steven Spielberg film, Catch Me If You Can (just finished filming) we anticipate that the actor is planning something stunning.

Frank Abagnale posed as a doctor, a lawyer, a broker, pilot for a huge airline - all of this before the age of 18 years old.

Fantastic expert of fraud and deceit, pretender, a most skillful forger between 1970 and 1974. Frank Abagnale pulled off incredible swindles, collected million dollars in phony checks and even impersonated the vice district attorney for the US District Court of Louisiana; he is the youngest person in history to be put on the "FBIís Most Wanted" list (Tom Hanks, in the film, is the FBI agent hot on his trail). He pays his debts so that justice is served.

Mr. Abagnale has published a 1980 book of memoirs from which the film is based and now he is a business adviser to prominent corporations whom utilize his fraud prevention programs.

An enigmatic and fascinating person, a chameleon delinquent who was successfully forgiven for all he did with only 4 years of jail. "The Mask is his identity" says DiCaprio, 27, whom met us on the set of the film just a few days before he flew to Cannes in order to introduce the 20 minutes of the New York saga of Martin Scorseseís Gangs Of New York of which he is the lead actor (territorial fights between bands of immigrates in 1860). "Abagnale was the Zelig of the cheats: he was like a magician: hypnotized the poor things. It is all in the presentation, in the way you face the people, as you say things, as you hide behind the web of the cheat".

He seems he is speaking closely as if the same, of his relationship with the reputation, of his approach to the acting. "The film," DiCaprio continues, "the society of the 1960s was easier to deceive: people were more ingenuous, trusted themselves more. Today the level of attention is exasperated, and the frauds are orchestrated on the Internet, hidden in cyberspace; in the 1960s it was much easier to pretend to be someone else." It comes to mind that this may be the same for DiCaprio, 27, seems to hide behind the masks of the personage and his public image. Escaping and unseizable as Abagnale (titled, Catch Me If You Can) the talented DiCaprio ("the masters" Scorsese and Spielberg do not seem immune to their fascination and spirit of the actor) seems often to defy the expectations of the public only offering unlikeable aspects of his character, selling himself as a party boy, and not to mention the disappearance from the big screen: after the phenomenon "Titanic", (1997) but before Titanic he appreciated eccentric roles in films like Basketball Diaries, Whatís Eating Gilbert Grape and This Boyís Life, DiCaprio has been given to the spot. In 5 years he has appeared in forgettable Man In The Iron Mask (before Titanic came out in the contested The Beach of Danny Boyle, and in a short autobiography role, in Celebrity of Woody Allen.)

"I have read many scripts but I have become more selective," says more relaxed, less paranoid, not inclined to analyze himself in how much of a movie star he is. "If I could I would make one film per year, and would do 100 takes for the same scene. The decision is not the strongest aspect of my character." The memories of LeoMania after Titanic. "I had nothing to do with what became of the Titanic phenomenon and with what my face has become in the world," he says, "I will never get close to that level of success again, nor do I want it, nor will I ever try to obtain it." - He still feels an uneasiness with thee interviews and the publicity. "In my opinion for an actor to have a long duration in this business depends on the public not knowing who you are. The truth is I do not want all to know who I am, what I want and what I think."

He re-enters for a moment in the module of the rough movie star. It is not strange that Scorsese has thought that the next role for DiCaprio is a biographical film of millionaire Howard Hughes a man who was eccentric and a hypochondriac. DiCaprio, until 2 years ago was still living with his German mother (his father is an Italian-American artist), in the suburb of Los Feliz in Los Angeles, where he was born and grew up. He bought an enormous style villa in the hills of Hollywood. His paycheck of 20 million dollars per film (although is appeared in a single film of success, till now), allows things outside of the common way. But as he seems, an actor not concerned to the wealth nor isolated as Daniel Day-Lewis beside which it has recited in Gangs of New York, is a life model.

"In order to convince Daniel to make the film I travelled to find him, with Marty in the outskirts of Florence, where he now lives and has become a master shoemaker," DiCaprio says, "After I spoke with him I understood why he did few films: for it takes concentration and determination. He is one who lives within the character for the duration of the film, he transformed himself over the months of the shoot. Is one consuming way to conceive the art of the recitation. Itís clear that Daniel needs long periods of mental detoxification in order for him to return to acting. I admire him a lot, also because he is unique."

For Catch Me If You Can (which possibly could have a release date close to Gangs of New York in November/December 2002) DiCaprio has had to go back to looking young: the film begins in 1965, when Frank is 16 years old, and it ends in 1975, after his escape from prison. "In order to become younger looking I had to cut my hair and to lose the weight that I had had to put on for Gangs of New York," says a smiling and relaxed DiCaprio, "the difficult part is to not show on screen my actual age!"

About Spielberg he says: "When I saw ET the first time I was a child; I perfectly recall that when I was coming out from the theatre I exclaimed excitedly: I want to do these things, I want to be an actor! I did not have an idea that I would indeed become one. Spielberg is special for the way in which he works with small adjustments that could change everything, and wonderful to me in the way in which he is open to every suggestion, just because he is sure about himself. With him I never had a fear to express my opinion."

Leo says about his career : "I am happy to work again. I stared too much time. Now I understand what kind of an actor I want to be. I would like to be generous with the public more often and with colleagues and therefore I wish myself to go on like this".

Thanks so much to Hollyp for the article and its translation from Italian !