Poised for the Titanic leap
Six films after the "Titanic," its chubby-faced hero may have his best chance yet, at critical acclaim. ANAND PARTHASARATHY looks at the blossoming screen career of "The Aviator" star, Leonardo DiCaprio.
In "The Aviator," Leonardo DiCaprio with Cate Blanchett.
THIS IS going to be a long weekend for Leonardo DiCaprio, as he waits for Sunday evening (February 27) Monday morning in India when he will know if his nomination for Best Actor will translate into an Academy Award this time.
It is a feeling he is familiar with: In his very first year as an actor, at 19, he won an Oscar nomination for his role of an autistic boy in the 1993 film, "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" a gripping, performance that matched step for step, his co-star Johnny Depp.
He did not win that time and it will be no walkover this time either, though he has already bagged the Golden Globe for dramatic acting only weeks ago for the same role as Howard Hughes, in "The Aviator."
Rooting for Marty
``Anyone who tells you that they don't want their work recognised by their peers, is lying,'' he told USA Today recently. But this time, more than a personal award, Leo is rooting for his director Martin Scorsese, ``I'd love this film to be the one for Marty,'' he says. That is because "The Aviator" is not just another role for the 30-year old actor.
For 10 years, since he read "Howard Hughes: The Untold Story" by Peter H. Brown, Leo has tried to persuade a director to tackle the story of the recluse millionaire film-and-aviation-mogul. Finally he got one director Michael Mann to produce it and Scorsese, the man who had directed Leo in the violent slice of American history, "Gangs of New York", did not need too much coaxing to sign up once more.
Leo's commitment did not end with closely studying every known quirk and mannerism of the man, who in Hollywood's heyday was dating two of the biggest icons (Katherine Hepburn and Ava Gardner) simultaneously.
He confessed a few days ago that constantly aping Hughes' facial tics and his manifestations of obsessive, compulsive disorder (such as washing hands all the time), set off his own latent symptoms of the disease, long suppressed.
His German mother felt him kick before he was born and at the time, since she was looking at a Da Vinci painting in an art gallery in Italy, she named him Leonardo. He grew up in a rather seedy and rough part of Los Angeles, but a role as a homeless boy in a TV serial in the 1980s, called "Growing Pains," kept him off the streets.
His mentally-challenged Arnie Grape role was followed by that of a drug-addicted youngster in "The Basketball Diaries," and the tormented French poet Rimbaud in "Total Eclipse."
In between, he popped up as a hot-shot gunslinger in "The Quick and the Dead" a film that essentially exploited the Sharon Stone persona.
Leo may have lapsed into a character star doing only `crazy mixed up kid' parts, if Australian Director Baz Luhrmann had not rescued him by casting him as the male lead in a modern, 1996 version of "Romeo and Juliet," set in a California beach community.
This was followed by his biggest role to date as one half of the fictional star-crossed pair on board the "Titanic." Bizarrely, he almost turned down the role, thinking it was too `chocolate boxy' and weepy, but director James Cameron knew what he wanted. He felt DiCaprio was just right as the cockney lad, cheeky enough to woo a young society lady (Kate Winslet) on the rebound from a floundering engagement. It made more money than any before it and Leo was catapulted into the $20-million-a-film bracket. This was not entirely justified, if one went by the other film he made back-to-back with the "Titanic" a remake of the French swashbuckler, "The Man in the Iron Mask." Here, Leo did little except pout and look cute as King Louis XIV or pout and look angry as his unfortunate twin brother, Philippe.
The screaming teenage fans followed Leo into the theatre for his next film, "The Beach." Based on a best seller by Alex Garland, it is an uneven story about an alternate society on a remote Thai island. It did little for Leo's reputation except stir up an environment-related controversy. It did have one salutary effect: it made DiCaprio a committed Nature conservationist. His official web site http://www.leonardodicaprio.com/ is rich in conservation resources and a gateway for UNICEF's post-Tsunami initiatives.
It was left to Steven Spielberg to unearth yet another facet of the Leo screen persona: that of the happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care individual. In "Catch Me If You Can," Leo plays Frank Abagnale the youngest confidence trickster hunted by the FBI. And it contrasted strongly with the Leo one saw that same year, 2002, in the nauseatingly violent "Gangs of New York."
Will "The Aviator" the most nominated film this year finally convince critics (and award juries) that the pretty boy of "Titanic" has grown up and should be taken seriously as an actor? Next week will tell.
But it looks as if, Oscar or no, most of them are learning to respect the serious star that lurks behind the smiling visage of Leonardo DiCaprio.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu