Sunday, February 28, 2016

Hollywood's Golden Underdog: Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio Hueur Link
As far back as I can remember, Leonardo DiCaprio has been one of my favorite movie stars. The tall tale of his fans' adoration is an extraordinarily common one: young girl watches Titanic (or Romeo and Juliet), falls in love, and continuously cries out for the subsequent snubs he's received with every Academy Awards ceremony.

Rewind back to my 1997 where every friend, friend of friend, and relative took me to see Titanic - a film about two fictional passengers from opposite social classes who fall in in love on the fated ocean liner. The chemistry between the film's stars Kate Winslet and DiCaprio radiated on-screen making it easy for the world to fall head over heels. As I grew up, most movies of my teenagerdom fell to the wayside except for Titanic. Its intricate production was filed into my fandom archives under "I Will Defend This Movie Until My Last Breath". And, DiCaprio remained a hardcore favorite.

Pinpointing the exact origin of my love for his work is difficult. His good looks probably played a role a long time ago, as time has passed, his ability to move from teenage heartthrob into mature actor has become an increasingly influential quality I've admired.

My love for DiCaprio started in 1997, but the world already pegged him to become a big star in 1993. Working his way through the minefield of auditions, DiCaprio established his potential in This Boy's Life and television sitcoms like Growing Pains. At twenty years old, he was heading for a filmography filled with Academy Award nominations.

The first was as a developmentally-disabled teen Arnie in What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. This role was the start of his process by using research to get into his character's minds. It was an asset that grew more prevalent as he grew up and his roles diversified. To get into Arnie's mindset, DiCaprio spent time with developmentally-challenged children talking with them and rehearsing their mannerisms. The result is astonishing. His performance, combined with Johnny Depp as his older brother Gilbert, created a beautiful sibling relationship struggling with confinement and big dreams in a small mid-western town. DiCaprio might have spent hours learning from children similar to Arnie, but his performance is beyond an imitation. Like many of the juvenile roles DiCaprio tackled, he's youthful but has an astonishing mature presence and potential.

Unlike the world of celebrity today where young actors are pressured into becoming a brand, DiCaprio's love of acting centered on following his passion. He chose roles by the connection he felt with a director, the complexity of the script, and the work he could establishing characters. With Shakespeare and director Bahz Luhrmann's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (1996), he cemented himself as an eighties heartthrob. Over the years, however, he didn't stay in that limited box. For such a young man, his career continued to rise into a powerful force.

Titanic might have been the butt of jokes and internet memes, but the film would've never succeeded as well as it did without Winslet and DiCaprio. For the biggest blockbuster of their and subsequent generations, they both delivered sharp performances containing both a timeless youth and surprising maturity. There's something bigger and electric going on withing the screen creating a cinematic love story that's etched itself in film history.

Director James Cameron's epic was a step into a much larger world, one that almost too big for DiCaprio and Winslet to comprehend. Just in their early twenties, they were unaware of how successful the project was. Cameron's film topped the box office for nearly two years. Statistics of the film making billions at the box-office were incomprehensible to the duo who heard or about the figures their work accumulated. While money is always a plus for struggling actors, the financial growth Titanic truthfully offered him more freedom and control with his career.

Once again Oscar gold was supposed to head DiCaprio's way. Critics and audiences called it an injustice when DiCaprio didn't win for What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. But it became even bigger news when DiCaprio was left out in the cold for Titanic. While the film itself earned fourteen Academy Award nominations, his name was not among the list of well-earned nods.
“When I was eighteen, River Phoenix was far and away my hero. Think of all those early great performances —My Own Private Idaho. Stand by Me. I always wanted to meet him. One night, I was at this Halloween party, and he passed me. He was beyond pale — he looked white. Before I got a chance to say hello, he was gone, driving off to the Viper Room, where he fell over and died.That’s a lesson.“- Leonardo DiCaprio
Hollywood is not a simple town to navigate at a young age. It's easy to fall down its famed cracks into obscurity or substance-abuse issues. As the world zeroed in on his Titanic snub, not getting a nod kept DiCaprio on the straight-and-narrow with his career. Growing up with a pure love of film, DiCaprio never saw himself through Hollywood's eyes or expectations. He wasn't pigeon-held himself into a type casing corner - another trap young Hollywood stars fall into.

Where almost every role of DiCaprio's is a favorite of mine, his work in Catch Me If You Can is one of the tops. Teaming up with Steven Spielberg, DiCaprio embarked on a true story about Frank Abagnale Jr - a young teenager performing cons all over the world as a PanAm pilot, doctor, lawyer, and parish prosecutor. Tom Hanks plays the FBI agent who trails Abagnale for years, essentially making the film his as it is DiCaprio's. What's more impressive for Spielberg's motion picture is that DiCaprio gets top billing over Hanks. Dicaprio was twenty-eight years old at the time, yet his age never causes doubts about his portrayal. He truly comes across as the young boy who takes advantage of the system which ruined his father's life. Mirroring his own transition heading into early to mid- adulthood, he's delightfully exuberant and heartbreaking as Abagnale. DiCaprio's ambition after Titanic gave way to becoming a director's actor.

An introduction from a fellow co-star Robert DeNiro inspired director Martin Scorsese to join forces with DiCaprio. Their film-making partnership was the start of a solid collaboration - one that would deepen DiCaprio's maturity as a performer.

Though Gangs of New York was panned by audiences for its length, DiCpario and and Scorsese came out with guns blazing as a team not to mess with. Every time they've united, DiCaprio's performances grow more diverse and further solidified his capabilities in the dramatic genre - The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street, and a rumored adaptation of Devil in the White City. DiCaprio earned three Oscar nominations.

How can one even describe a career like DiCaprio's? His genre type is often drama, but he manages to churn out a variety of brilliant and complicated heroes, anti-heroes, and one straight up sadistic villain.

The Departed - As an undercover state trooper Billy Costigan, infiltrating an Irish mob boss's territory, DiCaprio's troubled protagonist nearly loses his sanity. If you looked up the cinematic definition of someone being on edge, it'd be this performance. Always looking over his shoulder and staying under the radar, his anxiety and fears emanates through his every desperate move. The movie might be considered an ensemble, and was by the Academy at the time of its theater release, which resulted in none of the actors garnering nominations. Instead, DiCaprio was recognized for the less comparable Blood Diamond that year, even though he steals this show.

Revolutionary Road reunited Winslet and DiCaprio. Long gone is the youthful jump into true love from Titanic. They're all grown-up actors portraying Frank and April Wheeler, an idealist married couple struggling against conformity in the 1950s. DiCaprio's Frank tries to keep his down against Winslet's exquisitely at-the-end-of-her-rope, no-holds-barred April. Their hopes are reduced to vitriol animosity. Every argument is like a verbal boxing match. There's so much nuance to their shattered dreams and heated hopelessness quarrels, it's hard not to be feel just as exhausted as they are.

Django Unchained finally pushes DiCaprio into his first role as the deplorable Calvin Candie, a cruel plantation owner lured into a botched deal by a German bounty hunter and a freed slave. In the midst of his bigotry and hate-filled soliloquies, DiCaprio as Candie is so far removed from what he normally plays. He's brilliantly unapologetic, callous and sadistic.

The Revenant - Though the extreme circumstances of the film's shoot has overhyped the film's brilliance, DiCaprio as Hugh Glass is truly masterful. The film itself is no doubt brutal, taking the characters through the barbaric hells of the early dog-eat-dog 1800s. Glass is motivated to avenge his son's murder, but his perseverance is etched in unspeakable grief. Most of DiCaprio's performance is silent after Glass survives a crippling bear attack. His role is almost entirely without dialogue, so his motivation is expressed all through body language and emotions. DiCaprio expresses the grimmest pain, revenge, and heartbreak with subtly and sensitive conviction. In a long career filled with characters blooming between boyhood and adulthood, DiCaprio achieves a mature display of his talent.
Frank Wheeler / Revolutionary Road
I've already gone on and on about DiCaprio's roles I love and probably haven't scratched the surface. Each one speaks to me in a unique way. One way the connection with DiCaprio's work is so strong is because of his fervent love of cinema.

DiCaprio's apprecation for film goes beyond his own process. He teams up with directors who will take what he can offer to another level. He's gone to bat for the movies he's made because he's so invested in seeing them come to fruition from Gangs of New York to Wolf of Wall of Street. From Spielberg to Scorsese, he's tacked Christopher Nolan, Clint Eastwood, Sam Mendes, Quentin Tarantino, and Alejandro Iñárritu to his filmography. DiCaprio is aware of his role as an actor and loves to team up with leaders who have a vision for their story.

To get into the heart of his characters he loves to unearth their psychological blocks - from taking on OCD tendencies to surviving extreme elements to researching dream analysis and mental illnesses. Overall he appreciates the process of building characters and film-making. If the media didn't go hog wild on the extremities of a film's production, I don't think we'd ever guess which process behind his performances was full of obstacles or not. The impossible obstacles set around The Revenant doesn't dim the same amount of skills he had with a quieter production like Revolutionary Road. He may have a preference for drama but he's never phoning it in.

Even if someone isn't a huge fan of his, it's hard not to like him. His pursuits of activism off-screen don't tarnish his credibility or a deep-seated attraction to see his movies. Audiences recognize his work by the heart he puts in it; he's never not honored to be a working actor. That's an important quality in a place like Tinseltown where it's notorious for driving people out with hype or a deriding critical eye.

Almost every other time DiCaprio makes a film, we all cry out for him to be nominated for an Oscar. He's come close on nearly five occasions. Ever since Titanic he seems to have won everyone over. He managed to shed the expectation and limitations of heartthrob and morph into one of the best actors of his generation. He didn't stay where Titanic left him with the world howling over his Oscar snubs.
“You learn after you`ve been in the business for a while that it`s not getting your face recognized that`s the payoff. It`s having your film remembered.“- Leonardo DiCaprio
A passion that began at eleven years brought on a dedication to make it happen for real. And, to make his career good. He just tries to do good work and people see that. Even his least-critically panned movies aren't bad enough to be memorable or lessen his credibility. All the titles of being a heartthrob or one of the best of his generation don't seem to matter a hill of beans in this crazy world. DiCaprio has somehow remained DiCaprio. And honest-to-goodness, Hollywood's golden underdog.

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