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. So the tall tale of his fangirl's adoration might be an extraordinarily common one. Young girl watches Titanic (or Romeo and Juliet), falls in love, and weeps glorious sobs every time he is not nominated or doesn't win at the Academy Awards.

Rewind back to 1997 where every friend, every friend of friend, every 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 Kate Winslet and DiCaprio radiated on-screen, so it was easy for the world to fall in love with them.

As I grew up, most movies of my teenagerdom fell to the wayside except for Titanic. It's intricate production was filed into my fandom archives under "I Will Defend This Movie Until My Last Breath". DiCaprio stayed a hardcore favorite.

It's difficult for me to pinpoint the exact origin of my love for his work. His good looks probably played a role a long time ago. As time has passed, I think it's more than his appearance or worldly movie star status. It's his ability to move from a teenage heartthrob into a mature actor, his pure passion for creating good movies, and his unobtrusive off-screen personality.

My love for DiCaprio started in 1997, but the world was already head over heels for him in 1993. Working his way through the mind-field of auditions, DiCaprio established his potential in This Boy's Life and television sitcoms like Growing Pains. At just 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: using research to get into his characters' minds. It was an asset that grew more prevalent as he grew up and 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 towards 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 credibility.

Unlike the world of celebrity today where most young actors are pressured into becoming a brand right off the bat, DiCaprio's love of acting was always about following his passion. He chose roles for the presence by the director, the complexity of the script and what he could do with his characters.

With Shakespeare and director Bahz Luhrmann's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (1996), he cemented himself as an eighties heartthrob. Over the years, he didn't stay there. For such a young man, his career continued to rise into a powerful force of acting in the industry.

Titanic might have become the butt of a lot 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 his or most actor's careers, they both delivered sharp performances full of youth and maturity. There's something bigger and electric going on the screen, indefinitely creating a cinematic love story that's gone down in film history.

The 1997 epic was a step into a much larger world - almost too big for DiCaprio and Winslet to comprehend. Just in their early twenties, they were unaware of how successful the project was. James 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 young duo. What it did give him was more freedom of control with his career.

Once again Oscar gold was supposed to be going DiCaprio's way. Many 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. This was the next big movie I remember seeing in theaters and being completely blown away by what he could do. It's probably the next big one after Titanic, but so many of his later roles compete for this title too.

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 motion picture is that DiCaprio gets top billing over Hanks.

Even more crazy at that time was that DiCaprio was twenty-eight years old, yet his age never really 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 bosses' 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, fears, even insomnia emanates through his every desperate move. The movie might be considered an ensemble, and was by the Academy at that time, resulting in none of the actors garnering nominations. Instead DiCaprio was recognized for the less comparable Blood Diamond that year, even though he steals the show for The Departed.

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 freed slave. Tarantino creates a villain second most hated to that of Hans Landa from Inglorious Basterds. 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 love for film goes beyond his own process performances. 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 on Christopher Nolan, Clint Eastwood, Sam Mendes, Quentin Tarantino, and Alejandro Iñárritu to his filmography. DiCaprio is seemingly aware of his role as an actor and loves to team up with leaders who have a vision for their story.

I think you can tell the difference between an actor who just shows up and reads lines versus one who viscerally loves what they do and wants to do it well. 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.

Way back when, DiCaprio didn't have to do What's Eating Gilbert Grape? when Disney was knocking on his door with a truckload of cash. He didn't feel compelled to do Titanic but was intrigued by Winslet and Cameron's vision for the film. Time and time again, DiCaprio like many actors are faced with choosing a paycheck over a passion project. Though the zeroes in his salary have doubled, even tripled over the years, DiCaprio still chooses a love of film, a director's story, or the intrigue of a character's journey over a pretty penny - okay, millions of pretty pennies.

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.

It's one of the reasons why I love watching his work repeatedly, no matter the role. 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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