[AWARD SHOWS] Leonardo DiCaprio's a "Drama King"
- Drama king
Leonardo DiCaprio works the dark side in two roles that make him an
award season double threat.
By John Horn, Times Staff Writer
Leonardo DiCaprio is so prominent in the season's top films that his
fingerprints are even on "The Good Shepherd," in which he doesn't
Toward the end of the upcoming Matt Damon drama, a CIA agent
discovers that a woman he helped dispatch is pregnant. It's a small
turn, but it makes the scene and the agent's actions more
emotionally resonant. Yet the "Good Shepherd" pregnancy line wasn't
in Eric Roth's screenplay, nor was it dreamed up by either Damon or
director Robert De Niro.
Instead, the plot twist was suggested by DiCaprio when he was
considering starring in the film. De Niro liked DiCaprio's idea so
much he kept it in the finished film, even though DiCaprio ended up
passing on the project.
Dramatic weight appears to come very naturally to the 32-year-old
DiCaprio. He doesn't make very many movies: While Damon, for
instance, has appeared in 10 films (including cameos) over the last
three years, DiCaprio has acted in just three. But those three this
year's "Blood Diamond" and "The Departed" and 2004's "The Aviator"
are all substantial works with serious ambitions.
Critical reaction to the actor's two new films has been so strong
("Blood Diamond" opens Friday ) that DiCaprio finds himself in the
enviable if not awkward position of potentially competing against
himself for awards recognition: Even though there may be more coins
in your pocket than there are Golden Globe voters, the small
membership of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has determined that
DiCaprio's performances in both "The Departed" and "Blood Diamond"
will be considered lead roles. Oscar voters may reach a similar
"We're in the process right now of figuring it out," DiCaprio
says. "But you leave it to the public to decide what kind of
performance you gave. I'm really proud of both of these movies."
Even though the two films are filled with over-the-top action scenes,
it's their quietest moments that make DiCaprio the most proud.
In "The Departed," he mentions a favorite scene in which his agitated
undercover police officer, Billy Costigan, reveals his
vulnerabilities to a therapist named Madolyn (Vera Farmiga). He wants
Valium; she wants him to talk. So he threatens to take his medication
into his own hands.
"I mean, a guy comes in here against every, every instinct of privacy
and self-reliance he has, and what do you do?" Costigan asks
Madolyn. "What do you do, huh? You send him off on the street to
"It's hard for me to be objective about my performances," DiCaprio
says. "It's so hard for me to say what scenes were the most
authentic. I need six years to process that." But in the therapist
sequences, he says, "I felt like I did convey the emotional conflict
the angst of feeling lost."
It's a similarly reflective moment in "Blood Diamond" that DiCaprio
feels represents his best work in that film. He singles out a
conversation his diamond smuggler, Danny Archer, has with American
journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly). "Sometimes I wonder,"
Danny says, "will God ever forgive us the things we've done to each
other? Then I look around and realize, God left this place a long
DiCaprio shrugs as he thinks about the scene. "That's one of the
hardest things to do," he says. "To talk about yourself as a
character. So that's what I try to concentrate and focus on. Because
if you don't buy that, you don't buy the rest of the movie."
To make sure the audience buys the rest of the movie, DiCaprio also
prepares exhaustively. For "Blood Diamond," he spent weeks in
military training, and an equal time researching local accents and
"He's got a curious mind, and he always wanted to know more,"
says "Blood Diamond" director Ed Zwick. The director says you can
even tell by the way DiCaprio shoulders a gun that he was fully
prepared. "Great actors, by osmosis, assimilate the behavior of the
people they are playing the bush craft, the weapons. It's
intangible, but it's not," Zwick says.
DiCaprio says he can't do it any other way. "If I didn't have pages
of slang, then it would be a pretty uncomfortable experience it's
like the nightmare of arriving at school without any clothes on," he
says. "And that's why it's hard for me to go from a movie to a movie"
without time off between projects.
That said, DiCaprio appears to have little trouble moving from one
director to another. "Their processes are obviously very different,"
he says of Zwick and "Departed" director Martin Scorsese. "But it's
hard to talk about their differences."
After a few seconds reflecting, DiCaprio says, "Marty's not afraid to
sit there for days on end, just to get a scene right."
Zwick, he says, is equally focused on the end product. "He didn't
want to pull any punches with this movie," DiCaprio says. "He wanted
to hit people over the head with the message."
And just as De Niro was willing to hear DiCaprio's script ideas,
Zwick listened to what the actor had to say. "I said, 'Look, I don't
want this movie to have a sugar-coated, happy ending,' " DiCaprio
says. "And Ed was very secure in saying he was not going to make me
It takes courage to ask a filmmaker to make you unlikable. But that,
perhaps, is what separates DiCaprio from his peers. To be good, he's
willing to be bad.