Leonardo DiCaprio: The Young Lion

Oscar-nominated at 19, sought after for just about every prestige young-man role in town, Leonardo DiCaprio is exactly what he's touted to be: the most gifted new actor in Hollywood. Here he talks about his childhood in a Hollywood "ghetto," his disastrous first date, his struggle to avoid being in Hocus Pocus and his doubts about working with Marky Mark.

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Leonardo DiCaprio comes flying into my suite at the Mondrian and nearly propels himself out the window. Which isn't such a great idea, considering that we're on the 11th floor.

"Holy shit," he yells, leaning his whole torso out into the air. "No suicide bars! This is very cool."

"Whoa, boy," I say, pulling him back into the room. "It would make a great ending to the story, but not a good beginning."

With only two major features to his credit-- This Boy's Life, in which he played a cocky teenager whose mother (Ellen Barkin) marries a bully (Robert De Niro), and What's Eating Gilbert Grape, in which he played a mentally handicapped boy in a family that gives true meaning to the word "dysfunctional"--Leonardo DiCaprio has garnered tremendous reviews, considerable awe and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination (for Grape).

Now he's got two more movies coming out: The Quick and the Dead, with Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman; and The Basketball Diaries, in which he plays poet/hipster/junkie Jim Carroll. DiCaprio who is just 19 and likes to clown around like a kid, seems on the verge of major stardom.

Tall and skinny, wearing a mismatched outfit that makes him look like a scarecrow, and a haircut that appears to have been done with a bowl, DiCaprio in person doesn't radiate Hollywood cool. But ask around town, and it's his name that comes up over and over again as the perfect actor for this role or that, the guy girls want to meet, the one everyone's whispering about.

The sun is blinding us when we flop down on the couches. "Do you mind?" I ask, pulling out my sun-glasses.

"Not a bit," he says, putting on his. We look like two beatniks in a bad '50s movie.

"What do I call you?"

"Leonardo is fine."

"Do you still live at home?"

"I did until recently. I get along great with my parents. My mom and dad were divorced before I was even born, so I never knew anything different."

"Hmmmm. A happy childhood, a rare Hollywood occurrence..."

"You're right, it's not common. Usually people..."

"Are you an only child?"

"Yeah, which is very cool."

"I've never heard anybody say that. Everybody always says, 'Oh, I really missed having sisters and brothers,' or 'I never blah, blah, blah.'"

"No, I loved it," he says. "They allowed me to do so much stuff I wanted."

"Were you a Hollywood brat?"

"No way. Far from it. When I grew up, I lived in the ghettos of Hollywood. Right near the old Hollywood Billiards. It was the crack and prostitution crossroads of L.A. My mom came to this country from Germany when she was very young. She met my dad in college. They moved out to L.A. because they heard it was such a great place and then my mom became pregnant. They moved right into the heart of Hollywood, because they figured that's where all the great stuff was going on in this great town. Meanwhile, it was the most disgusting place to be."

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