How Leo DiCaprio Made It To The Top Of Hollywood’s A-ListA CHILD ACTOR WHO HAS STAYED ON THE RAILS. A MEGASTAR WHO DOESN’T WANT TO PLAY A SUPERHERO. LEONARDO DICAPRIO IS ONE OF HOLLYWOOD’S MOST UNCONVENTIONAL TALENTS. HERE’S HOW HE MADE HIS WAY TO THE TOP.
Born in a rough part of L.A., DiCaprio says he could “see this other world out there,” and he swore that if he got a shot, he wouldn’t waste it. Sure enough, at 18 he shone in This Boy’s Life, his first big role. Impressed, his co- star Robert De Niro tells director Martin Scorsese to check out “the kid.”
DiCaprio gets his first Oscar nomination, at age 19, for his turn as Johnny Depp’s learning-disabled brother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? To take the indie-movie role, he turns down an offer of “more money than I ever dreamed of” to appear in Disney’s Hocus Pocus. “I’m proud of being a young man who stuck to his guns,” he says. Though nominated three times since, he hasn’t won … yet.
Passing up the Robin role in Batman Forever, he instead chooses Romeo + Juliet, despite misgivings about being a mainstream leading man. Getting him involved “high drama,” says director Baz Luhrmann.
Blockbuster Titanic cements DiCaprio’s rep as box-office gold. But despite the spotlight, he remains tight-lipped about his private life. “I want to be like Robert De Niro,” he says. “Being discreet has allowed him to be even more credible on screen.”
He turns down the lead in Spider-Man—the part goes to former member of his posse Tobey Maguire —to star in Gangs of New York. It’s DiCaprio’s first movie with Scorsese, almost 20 years after De Niro’s endorsement. “I was so impressed by his dedication, his willingness to try anything,” says Scorsese. “Leo will do whatever it takes.”
DiCaprio plays sadistic plantation owner Calvin Candie, his first real villain, in Quentin Tarantino’s film Django Unchained. “Playing a bad guy opens you up to not having as many rules,” he says. “It takes you to your darkest place as a person and lets you indulge in that.”
His portrayal of corrupt stockbroker Jordan Belfort in the controversial The Wolf of Wall Street—his fifth film with Scorsese— wins DiCaprio some of his best reviews yet. “I want to make movies that take chances like this,” he says. “I want studios to say, ‘Hey, look at what this was able to do.’ Maybe they’ll take a chance on this kind of material in the future.”
DiCaprio, who drives an electric car, uses solar panels and donates millions of his own money to charity, is appointed a U.N. representative on climate change.
The actor teams up with Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant, an ambitious, epic Western thriller. Rumors are that his committed performance is a shoo-in for Oscar success—could it be fifth time lucky? “I don’t have any expectations,” says the grizzled veteran.