As anyone who owns a TV, has driven by a billboard, participated in social media, or has taken a tenth-grade English class, knows: Leonardo DiCaprio is easily the most sought-after man around these days. Sure, some of us are more excited than others to see Leo and Carrie Mulligan on the big screen in Baz Luhrmann’s splashy adaptation of The Great Gatsby, but this isn't just a glittery spectacular. In many ways, this is a culmination — of a highly anticipated movie that suffered from many delays, of the reemergence of a director whose films helped shape a generation, and the big-screen, modern adaptation of one of the most celebrated novels in the canon. Most importantly, however, after a string of critical successes, it is a Leonardo DiCaprio Movie, caps intended.
But for Leo, the idea of playing Jay Gatsby wasn't a given. He recently told reporters how fans regularly tell him Gatsby is their favorite book and that the pressure to not screw it up was enormous. Yet, working with director Baz Luhrmann 17 years ago on Romeo + Juliet certainly helped convince him — along with having his BFF Tobey Maguire along for the ride as his wingman, Nick Carraway.
So, forgive us for feeling a little proud to have gotten the opportunity to chat with the most popular — and enigmatic — guy in the room. A bit like Gatsby himself....
How important is fashion for you? And how important are appearances to you?
"I think I have very little fashion sense in my own life. To tell you the truth, I give it very little thought to it, if I am being very honest — and I am. (Laughs.) I have never been a fashionista or someone who puts a lot of thought into what I wear, and I dress to be as comfortable as I possibly can. And of course, when I have to do premieres and be out in public, I want to dress appropriately."
Was that a concern, with this role? That you'd have to be a good-looking guy?
"No, it wasn’t a concern at all, really. I basically did to the best of my ability everything that I could to investigate Fitzgerald’s words and his imagery that he created for who Gatsby was. And anything that was right for the character is what I tried to achieve. I mean, we were pretty meticulous about every stitch of clothing that Gatsby had, the way he wore his hair, the type of suit that he had."
In the last few years, didn't you kind of avoid this type of "handsome" role?
"Not at all, no. Really, I mean, this is fitting for the character. And people have asked me if I avoided romances or love stories...not at all. The only pre-requisite or criteria that I have for doing anything is, is there enough there to do? (Laughs.) Is there enough dimension to the characters, is there enough? Otherwise, I become bored as an actor."
Did you have any hesitation or reservation taking on such an iconic American character?
"Sure, yeah. You know, the truth is, it is a very risky undertaking. Everyone has got their version of The Great Gatsby, when people go into the theater. I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and have said this is their favorite book of all time. So, they are going to want to see you dramatize things that they have got stuck in their head. But, the partnership of having Tobey involved — and Baz — both people who I have known for over 20 years, as trusted sort of collaborators, [helped]. But yeah, there was a tremendous amount of hesitation initially, but it was really that partnership and that trust [that convinced me to do it]."
Gatsby talks about fame, and of course, you have experienced that in spades, in Hollywood. Do you connect to the character on that level?
"Well the truth is, my life is much different than Gatsby’s. I have grown up with great family and friends surrounding me. Gatsby is somebody who erased his past and left all of his connections to his humble beginnings so he could re-invent himself as this great oligarch of West Egg. He doesn’t want to connect with anything from his past. But I do identify with the ambition — and I think certainly everyone does — with the idea of him becoming this dreamer, somebody that has manifested this image of what he wanted as an adult and worked tirelessly and had such great ambition to become that. He is the manifestation of his own dreams."
Speaking of dreams, are you thinking about marriage now that you are close to be 40?
"I take it as it comes. We'll see what happens in the future. I don't try to determine what the future will be. I take it day-by-day."
Recently, you mentioned that you are more comfortable now than you have ever been. Is it because you are turning 40 soon?
"Two more years, and I am holding onto my 30s desperately! I suppose it’s something that comes with age. I have grown up in this industry, I have been acting ever since I was 13 years old, ever since I really have known Tobey, I have been acting. So, in a lot of ways I have grown up on screen and in the public eye. And I suppose I don’t know where or when I said that, but yeah, I do feel more comfortable than ever before. And it’s just in the realization that it’s just sort of been this grand journey to fulfill my childhood dreams in a lot of ways. I lived in Hollywood, I was somebody that knew about the industry, I wanted to become an actor. But I was like Nick, I was within and without and I never felt like I belonged. And I got my foot in the door and from then on it felt like I was winning the lottery — and I am just so excited to be able to do what I do and that it’s been this long journey."
The Great Gatsby opens this weekend.
Photo: Picture Perfect/Rex USA