Leonardo on Arthur Rimbaud



(Excerpt from "Fresh Blood" - an interview given to Jesse Green - New York Times - in 1995)

Basically it's about stepping into the unknown," DiCaprio says. He's calling from the Paris shoot of "Total Eclipse," a project directed by Agnieszka Holland that his father recommended. In it, he plays the poet Rimbaud, who by age 19 had shocked the literary elite of his time as much by his gorgeous, surreal verse as by his affair with his mentor, Verlaine -- who was 10 years older and eventually shot him. Rimbaud survived to renounce his gift, run guns in Africa and die in agony. Dead gay poets?

Erotic violence? Sounds like a DiCaprio project.

"To be that courageous!" DiCaprio continues. "Rimbaud wasn't blase about anything. He did things that were unheard of! If I could just scratch the surface of that -- I don't mean to compare myself with him. But I identify with.. . ."

It is almost too obvious to say what he identifies with. Rimbaud was utterly untutored in his art, except by the experience of making it; DiCaprio's theatrical education consists of having read 10 pages of "some Russian book with drama masks on the cover." Though the gossip columnists have not yet spotted DiCaprio urinating on guests at a dinner party as Rimbaud did, he has the same bad-boy reputation. More to the point, Rimbaud had a gift, which was also his undoing. When I'd asked DiCaprio, back at the Royalton, if he had "a gift," he'd cringed into the puffy white sofa.

Eventually he admitted that he did, though it pained him to sound like a Hollywood idiot. Now I ask if the gift is a burden. "How could it be a burden?" he snorts. "Then don't use it. I can't! I can't ignore my burden!" -- the voice of the weasel emerging agaain.. "Yes, I have big social problems. I can't sit down and have long conversations about a croissant. I feel like an alien in life, like my father says. But I'm not going to sit here and tell you the dark stuff. It's there, but it's for me. People want to know about it, they want companionship in their victimization -- that's the burden! I can relate to that need. But I'm not going to feed it.

"And it's nothing I can't handle. Thinking about Rimbaud, it seems that artists aren't sure if they're truly artists unless some big disaster happens. I pray that won't happen with me. I respect the gift, but acting is not the biggest deal in the world. If the gift means disaster, I won't go there. There's no guarantees, but I won't be ending up like Rimbaud. You mark my words. So if you hear of any incident about me -- a fight, a change of clothes, a little extra gel in the hair. . . ." He resists the weasel voice, but just barely. "Don't believe it till you talk to me."