Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio was destined from the beginning to be a wild and spirited boy. He received his first name after swiftly kicking his mother from her womb as she admired a Leonardo DaVinci painting in the Uffizi. He was born in Los Angeles, CA on the eleventh of November of 1974 to George and Irmalin DiCaprio. Leo was an only child (though he does have a stepbrother named Adam), and his parents divorced each other within a year after his birth.
His mother is German and his father is Italian, and their backgrounds had a major influence on his upbringing. His father produces underground comic books and comic arts out of his garage. His mother was a legal secretary (before she began managing Leo's affairs.) They might be best described as liberal, pot-smoking hippies: "Whatever I did would be something they'd already done. I mean, my dad would welcome it if I got a nose ring." He remembers such household guests as comic-book artist Robert Crumb, writer Charles Bukowski, and novelist Hubert Selby, Jr. visiting as a child. "We're not the hippie family who only eats organic and the children meditate and go to a school of the arts. But we're not apple-pie and Republican, either."
Leo was educated at the Center for Enriched Studies and John Marshall High School, both in LA. He often cheated in school (especially in math), and seemed more interested in entertaining his classmates than in doing his homework. "School, I never truly got the knack of. I could never focus on things I didn't want to learn. I used to, like, take half of the school and do break-dancing skits with my friend in front of them at lunchtime."
But his troubles concentrating in school didn't stifle his acting dreams. Leo's acting debut was on the television show Romper Room, at age five. Booted from the set because of his uncontrollable behavior, it would be eleven years until he would land a big-screen role. At age ten, on the way home from a casting call where he had just been callously rejected, he cried to his father, "Dad, I really want to become an actor, but if this is what it's all about I don't want to do it." Leo recalls his father put his arm around him and said, "Someday, Leonardo, it will happen for you. Remember these words. Just relax."
When searching for an agent Leo was further discouraged by the commercialism of the industry, exemplified by an attempt from one agent to alter his "wrong" haircut and change his ethnic-sounding name to Lenny Williams. He was finally signed at the age of fourteen, and struggled to break into the movie industry through obscure commercials and educational films such as "How to Deal With a Parent Who Takes Drugs" and "Mickey's Safety Club." He took part in over thirty commercials in all, and eventually procured guest appearances on such television shows as Lassie, The Outsiders, Roseanne, and Parenthood. Though he was cast in his first movie in 1991, Leo would rather forget his minor and embarassing contribution to Critters III altogether. At sixteen, he finally landed a successful, regular role as a homeless boy in the teen sitcom Growing Pains that lasted for a year. Though only a small part, Leo's performance proved he had great potential; he easily outshined the rest of the cast.
His big break was undoubtedly his leading role as Tobias Wolff in This Boy's Life. Though Leo's natural, brilliant performance in this "coming of age" movie didn't hit home at the box office, he gained instant recognition as a talented rising actor. Leo received a few prestigious awards for his performance (see below) and herein began his rise to fame.
Now given the opportunity to be picky about his roles, Leo chooses them carefully. He welcomes help from his father in sifting through the facile, mainstream roles most actors gleefully accept. Leo has turned down such commercially popular roles as Robin in Batman Forever, and continues to look for the more challenging "dark roles such as Arnie Grape, the mentally handicapped teenager in What's eating Gilbert Grape, the drug-troubled Jim Carrol in Basketball Diaries, and the homosexual French poet Arthur Rimbaud in Total Eclipse. "I want to take my time with each role and that's how you plan a long career rather than doing it all at once in a big explosion. I turned down a lot of movies about death and a few cheesy little comedies as well."
With the electrifying and modern-day adaptation of Romeo and Juliet by Baz Luhrman, DiCaprio finally began to reach out to a larger audience. He also worked again with Robert de Niro as the rowdy son of Meryl Streep, an unstable and insolent teenager. However, his career didn't truly explode until Titanic, the blockbuster movie that landed no fewer than eleven Oscars. His good looks and outstanding acting skills made this romantic lover of the third class an instant idol around the world. Though Leo wasn't among the Oscar nominees for Titanic, he remained busy with promotional tours and starring in his new movie, The Man in the Iron Mask. After a short role in Woody Allen's Celebrity, Leo played the role of an American backpacker searching for a secret island in The Beach.
He just finished the shooting of Martin Scorsese "Gangs of New-York", with Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day-Lewis and he is signed to star in "Catch me if you Can" next year, as the youngest criminal to ever land on the F.B.I.'s 10-most-wanted list. He now has his own Los Angeles-based production company, Appian Way and with Initial Entertainment Group, he will develop projects in which he will serve as producer and/or star. The first one could be "Alexander", directed by Martin Scorsese.
Leo is a favorite of many professional and amateur critics because of his unique ability to play the "boy/man" border with such ease and natural spontaneity. Though 27, Leo's boyish looks allow him to apply his learned experience and charm to younger roles that many of his competitors cannot handle. "The best thing about acting is that I get to lose myself in another character and actually get paid for it. It's a great outlet. As for myself, I'm not sure who I am. It seems that I change every day."Gangs of New-York (Fall 2001) The Beach (2000) Don's Plum (1998) Celebrity (1998) The Man In The Iron Mask (1998) Titanic (1997) Marvin's Room (1996) Romeo and Juliet (1996) Hundred and One Nights (1995) Total Eclipse (1995) The Quick and the Dead (1995) The Basketball Diaries (1995) This Boy's Life (1993) What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) Critters III (1991)