Smoking an e-cigarette with Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio has always been prepared to go the extra mile for his art, but making his latest film – a true-life survival story of a man mauled by a bear – was his most arduous experience yet. What drives Hollywood’s most bankable actor to such extremes?
There are a handful of certainties about "Leo" – as the world, like his friends, tends to call him. He is 41 years old, a Scorpio, the most bankable male movie star in Hollywood, and finally Acadamy Award Winner. Nobody can touch him: neither Tom Hanks nor Tom Cruise, not Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp or Matt Damon. If DiCaprio says he wants to be in a film, it not only gets made, but it also gets seen; in the past four years, the films in which he has starred (Django Unchained, The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street) have made collectively $1.2 billion at the box office. He has been nominated for an Oscar five times (four acting nominations and one for best film, as a producer on The Wolf of Wall Street).
He’s an environmentalist whose jet-set lifestyle leaves a huge carbon footprint. He’s a party boy, a playboy, a commitment-phobe modeliser who might, or might not, have proposed recently to his Sports Illustrated model girlfriend, Kelly Rohrbach, over dinner. The man who prowls, some 45 minutes late, into our interview gives off a very powerful message that he doesn’t want to talk about any of the above. He does this without saying a word. He doesn’t go in for small talk or niceties. He is serious, imposing even, sinking into the sofa, sighing heavily and puffing ominously on an e-cigarette. 'Leo is an enigma,’ says his Revenant co-star Tom Hardy. 'There’s something kind of magic about him.’
Who is DiCaprio?
Shot in chronological order in some extreme weather conditions (at one point temperatures on the Canadian location unexpectedly dropped to -25C), using only natural light, The Revenant’s filming process was described by one crew member to The Hollywood Reporter as 'a living hell’. DiCaprio, who spends the majority of the film in a state of tortured silence, did many of his own stunts; he was buried in snow, went naked in -5C weather, ate a raw bison liver, slept in an animal carcass and jumped into a frigid river. When I remind him of something he once said, 'Pain is temporary, film is forever’, a slow smile creeps across his face. 'Uh huh,’ he drawls, taking another puff on his trusty e-cigarette. 'I would say that this film was the epitome of that.’
From the warmth of a luxury hotel room, DiCaprio admits that the filming experience has taken on a dream-like quality, 'like a big, beautiful blur’. And yet he is adamant that any suffering that he and his fellow cast and crew members went through was undertaken willingly in pursuit of a higher cause. 'We all knew that we were a part of something pretty revolutionary. From the outset, Alejandro had an extraordinary vision: to create a film the likes of which audiences had never seen before. You don’t get those sort of results without going above and beyond the call of duty.’ Because of Iñárritu and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s absolute insistence on working with natural light, filming was restricted to an hour and a half a day, while the rest of the time was spent rehearsing and prepping shots that the director would then refuse to put on film if they weren’t absolutely perfect. DiCaprio laughs. '“No, no, there’s a patch of ground there that doesn’t look quite right.” That’s what it was like. Every day.'
'I was not the only one!’ jokes the surprisingly light-hearted Iñárritu, creator of such savage masterpieces as Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel. 'Leo, like me, is absolutely obsessed with total perfection and doing whatever it takes to get to the next level. I think we both suffer from the same disease, which is called chronic dissatisfaction.’
'I get unhappy doing things that I’m not passionate about,’ admits DiCaprio. 'Because I feel like I’m squandering this incredible gift I’ve been given to finance films. As soon as my name alone was enough to make this happen, I vowed to myself that I was going to work with directors who were changing cinema, doing something important, you know? This goes back to when I was a teenager, feverishly watching movies like Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now and saying to myself, someday, I’m going to be a part of films like this.’
Unable to focus in the schoolroom, DiCaprio flourished in front of an audience. Plus, acting seemed like a golden ticket. 'Money was always on my mind when I was growing up,’ he has said of his childhood spent in a rough neighbourhood in East Hollywood. His parents, respectively a legal secretary and a distributor of underground comic books (who separated amicably when he was one), didn’t earn much money. 'So I was always wondering how we were going to afford this and that,’ he tells me. 'Acting seemed to be a shortcut out of the mess.’
Traveling with "Mamarazzi"
From the outset, DiCaprio’s parents did everything they could to facilitate their child’s ambitions. 'I’m completely indebted to them in every single way,’ he says, his guard dropping totally, and touchingly, when the subject of his mother and father arises. 'They listened to me, you see. They listened to their kid saying, “This is what I want to do,” and they supported me unconditionally; they made me feel that all my dreams were within reach. Now I know a lot of people who have grown up in much better-off families, with much more solid family structures, who haven’t in any way had that level of love in their lives.’ One, or both, of his parents often accompany DiCaprio when he travels; So obsessively does his mother photograph him when she is with him that he has apparently nicknamed her 'Mamarazzi’.
Never, for one moment, did DiCaprio take his eyes off his ultimate goal: working with Martin Scorsese. When rumours reached him of his cinematic hero’s development of a 19th-century gangster epic called Gangs of New York in 2001, the then 27-year-old moved agents just to get closer to the project.
When DiCaprio talks about his mentor, he leans forward excitedly. 'Marty is the great director of our time, who has taught me two crucial things,’ he says. 'One, it takes a long time and a lot of patience to make a good movie; and two, film is as valid an art form as painting or sculpture. Ultimately, like any artist, I want to make lasting pieces of art; movies that people will look at and appreciate in 50 years’ time.’
Congratulations to the Oscar!
Chloe Fox / Telegraph Magazine / The Interview People