When I think of Leonardo DiCaprio, the first image that flashes is always Leo as he once was: floppy haired, with mischief radiating from his half-smiles. He's Romeo from Romeo + Juliet and Jack Dawson from Titanic (which turns 20 this month) — the endearing, childlike rascals who experience transcendent love before meeting early deaths. Though Romeo and Jack were bound for tragedy, it was clear, even back then, that DiCaprio’s career had a long, long future.
This is the same long future DiCaprio loves to mention whenever interviewers ask him if he’s going to settle on one of his many model girlfriends and get married. When asked that question on Oprah in 2004, he answered: “Right now I’m just too happy doing what I’m doing. That’s all in the future.” On Extra in 2013, at the age of 39, he deflected admitting reform to his personal life much in the same way: “I take it as it comes. We’ll see what happens in the future.” As he explained in a 2013 Esquire interview, his main concerns have remained consistent throughout his career: which movie to make, and which model to date. Clearly, unlike women actresses in his peer group, age has been no obstacle to DiCaprio's career or his sex appeal. DiCaprio seemingly has no expiration date. At 43, he's still getting away with being a member of the raucous, womanizing "Pussy Posse" he'd been a part of during his Titanic days.
So if Leo (and his habits) haven’t changed over the years, then what has? His role choices, that's what. As a young man, DiCaprio had a penchant for playing troubled teenage boys (This Boy’s Life, The Basketball Diaries, Marvin’s Room). As DiCaprio has gotten older, his roles have fallen into another pattern. DiCaprio now loves to play wealthy, eccentric (mad)men, spiring towards their own dooms.
Is it a coincidence that these roles align so neatly with the image of his personal life we receive from interviews and the paparazzi trail? Besides eating raw liver for The Revenant, DiCaprio has largely avoided the extreme physical transformations that are often precursors for Oscar nominations. Unlike Christian Bale, who just gained weight and went bald to play Dick Cheney, DiCaprio seems all right playing characters that seem to be just really, really extreme versions of himself.
Of course, we don't know DiCaprio. But here are all the times we thought Leo was playing an individual from the same suave nesting doll: Rich, restless, and ambitious. If that isn't a way to describe DiCaprio, then what is?
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