“Don’t think for a moment that I’m really like any of the characters I’ve played. I’m not. That’s why it’s called ‘acting’.”
“Be thankful for the hard times, for they have made you.”
It would only be fitting to honor Leonardo DiCaprio, for today is also the talented actor’s birthday. Born on November 11, 1974, DiCaprio was born into a poor family in Los Angeles, California. Alleged by his mother, DiCaprio kicked for the first time in his mother’s womb, as she was looking at a painting of da Vinci in a museum in Florence, Italy. This earned him the name of the Italian polymath, Leonardo daVinci.
“My mother is a walking miracle.”
At the tender age of one, DiCaprio saw his parents split. DiCaprio’s father was a writer, publisher and distributor of comic books. After the divorce, DiCaprio lived with his mother. Sources allege, his parents had agreed to live next door, so as to not deprive DiCaprio of his father’s presence. It is however also known that he moved with his mother to several neighborhoods in Los Angeles as she worked several jobs to earning her living.
Early inclination towards acting
“School, I never truly got the knack of. I could never focus on things I didn’t want to learn.”
DiCaprio attended Seeds Elementary School and then John Marshall High School. He is also known to have attended Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies for four years. DiCaprio was however averse to school education and has known to hate attending the public school. He finally dropped out of school in his third year and earned his general equivalency diploma (GED).
Since a very age, DiCaprio developed liking for acting and often urged his mother to take him for auditions instead of working on improving their financial situation.
“I got attention by being funny at school, pretending to be retarded, and jumping around with a deformed hand.”
DiCaprio was known for his talent of imitating people and impersonating characters. Since a very young age, destiny was pushing DiCaprio towards the career of acting. At the age of two, he performed at a festival with his family. His dance performance on stage was received with an enthusiastic applause from the crowd, which perhaps drove him further to strive towards building a career in acting.
“The good thing about acting is that it always keeps you on your toes… It’s not like any other job where you can go in and do the same thing as yesterday.”
DiCaprio fondly thinks back on his time at the age of 14 when he first started appearing in commercials. He refers to his roles in Matchbox cars by Mattel, Bubble Yum, Apple Jacks and Kraft Foods to be first experience in acting. In 1989, he was also part of two episodes of the television show The New Lassie.
“If you have done the very best you can, worrying won’t make it any better. If you want to be successful, respect one rule.”
In the beginning, DiCaprio had a tough time finding an agent. As a result of which he was jobless for a year and a half. During this time, he was even suggested to change his name to Lenny Williams in order to appeal more to the American audience. Some sources allege, he tried to work his way through 100 auditions. During this period of his career, he had begun to self-doubt and perhaps even quit acting. His father however is known to have played an important role in encouraging him and not letting lose hope.
“I’ve always been spontaneous and outgoing… I’ve tried lots of things so I’ve got some good life experiences, which is great ’cause it means I’ve got lots of material to work with as an actor.”
During the 1990s, he had started getting regular work in television and first began with the role in the pilot of The Outsiders. He also featured in one episode of the soap opera of Santa Barbara. DiCaprio later got a notable break in Parenthood, which was a comedy film earlier.
For Santa Barbara, DiCaprio earned two nominations at 12th Youth in Film Awards as the Best Young Actor in a Daytime Series and Parenthood got him the nomination for Best Young Actor Starring in a New Television Series.
“I like to be able to play a character and act out a lot of things which I can’t or don’t do in my normal everyday life.”
The years from 1991-1996 was the prime years for DiCaprio. This period brought him major breakthrough projects. The low-budget horror direct-to-video film, Critters 3 was DiCaprio’s debut film. While speaking about his debut performance, DiCaprio refers to the experience as “possibly one of the worst films of all time. I guess it was a good example to look back and make sure it doesn’t happen again”.
Later good projects followed. Growing Pains, the Poison Ivy film series, this Boy’s Life. In 1993, DiCaprio’s role in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape gained him critical acclaim. He also bagged the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor along with nominations for Academy Award and Golden Globe Award.
“I really am motivated by being able to work with great people and create a body of work that I can look back and be proud of.”
Janet Maslin, the critic for the New York Times wrote in praise of DiCaprio, “The film’s real show-stopping turn comes from Mr. DiCaprio, who makes Arnie's many tics so startling and vivid that at first he is difficult to watch. The performance has a sharp, desperate intensity from beginning to end.”
Films like The Quick and the Dead, Total Eclipse, the biopic, The Basketball Diaries, Romeo+Juliet also kept DiCaprio in the limelight. The Shakespearean romantic tragedy made a worldwide box office of $147 million. DiCaprio also achieved a Silver Bear for Best Actor at Berlin International Film Festival in 1997 for his role.
His role in Marvin’s Room also attracted critic’s attention. “The deeply gifted DiCaprio [...] keeps right up with these older pros [Keaton and Streep]. The three are so full-bodied and so powerfully affecting that you’re carried along on the pleasure of being in the presence of their extraordinary talent.” Wrote Lisa Schwarzbaum on Entertainment Weekly.
Titanic: the sail to stardom
“A wrong connection will give you shock throughout your life, but the right one will light up your life.”
From what the film did to DiCaprio, who can now believe that DiCaprio had doubts about doing the film in the first place. With the production budget of over $200 million, Titanic became the most expensive film ever made. Furthermore, it also became the highest-grossing film made and crossed more than $2.1 billion in the box office worldwide. The film not only earned 11 Academy Awards which was the record number for any film, but it also made DiCaprio an international name. For Titanic, DiCaprio was nominated for Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.
On Titanic’s success, DiCaprio wrote, “I have no connection with me during that whole Titanic phenomenon and what my face became around the world [...] I’ll never reach that state of popularity again, and I don’t expect to. It’s not something I'm going to try to achieve either.”
John Hiscock of The Daily Telegraph even compared DiCaprio’s success and fame to that of the Beatles’ from the 1960s.
For the film American Pyscho in 2000, DiCaprio allegedly charged a fee of $20 million. He however left the project and worked in the lead in The Beach instead.
“Pay close attention to people who don’t clap when you win.”
DiCaprio is known for his work in documentaries, biopics, dramas and production. Apart from that he is one of the few actors who plays an active role in participating in the climate change movement. For his dedication for the environment, DiCaprio donated $1 million to the Wildlife Conservation Society at Russia’s tiger summit. Further in July 2016, his foundation presented $15.6 million to protect wildlife.
“Everybody has gone through something that has changed them in a way that they could never go back to the person they once were.”
DiCaprio’s contribution to philanthropic activities is also immense. He has made notable contributions to several organizations including donations for LGBT community, relief funds for earthquakes, and for institutions from his childhood home.
“To join the top 1% you have to do what the 99% won’t.”
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