Leonardo DiCaprio: The Young Lion

"Someone told me you had problems in school." I say.

"Who?" he asks, narrowing his eyes.

"I have my sources," I tell him.

"I cheated a lot," he says without a blush.

"I always wanted to cheat," I say, "but I was too spaced out."

"It's a very unique art, I think," he says, sitting up and getting into character. His whole demeanor changes as he slouches and becomes inconspicuous, his eyes darting around to see the imaginary teacher. "It has to do with being aware of how the teacher is, first off, and seeing how much they notice, and the time that they do notice and the time they don't notice, and just pinpointing the times when they don't. And being hidden by other people's faces, and having somebody next to you who you're friends with and is extremely smart. I have to commend this guy named Mustafa, who probably helped me through three or four classes completely, just because I sat next to him every time, and I got to copy the homework right before the class started. If I had problems on a test, I'd just look over, and Mustafa would show me his paper and I would write it down.

"You gotta know about people." he continues, "and how they operate. I had a rough time in school. I just never got over the fact that we weren't allowed to learn what we wanted to learn. But then I asked myself why can't I just create a space for myself where I don't have to do math? Because I'm not good at it and if I have a problem on my taxes, I'll get a tax man." He looks at me as if this were the most obvious point in the world.

"Easy for you to say," I say, "Now you're out of school, you're making a lot of money, doing a lot of movies, you can do anything, meet anyone, go anywhere, fuck anyone, buy anything..."

A warm grin spreads over DiCaprio's face. "Yeah," he says. "That's true."

"And?" I prod him. "

And what? It's great!"

"Were you popular as a kid?"

"Among my peers? No, I never was. What I would do in order to be popular was, I would put myself on the line and joke around and be wacky and funny, and I was always known as the crazy little kid. I did impressions, all of it. Then I realized that that's not what I want to do. I don't want to be a comedian to please other people."

"And now people think you're cool just because of who you are," I point out.

"Which is cool," he retorts.

"Okay," I say, laughing despite myself, "let's talk about your movies. In the book The Basketball Diaries, Jim Carroll does unbelievable things to support his drug habit. He's really the first out-of-control grown-up you've ever played."

"I'll say," he says. "I had to do all kinds of things I've never done. I had this one terrifying scene where I was supposed to stand in front of a really big group and read poetry. I have this thing, which I've pretty much cleared up, but I hate speaking in front of a large audience. I don't know where it came from..."

"From deep inside your soul," I say sagely.

"Probably. So in this scene, I was messing up over and over again, and Lorraine Bracco was the only person who was getting on me, saying, 'You can do it, you can do it.' And I finally ended up doing it right. She's the best woman I've ever worked with. Woman, as far as older than me."

"Who's not?" I ask.

He ignores me, "And Bruno Kirby, which was a thrill, because I loved him in When Harry Met Sally... That was the movie I saw on my first date."

I sit straight up. "How old were you? Where were you? What'd you wear?"

DiCaprio closes his eyes. "I went out with this girl named Cessi, this little Spanish beautiful girl. I was in the eighth grade. We had this beautiful relationship over the phone all summer, she was away, and we were so close and so bonded and we'd tell each other everything. And then she came home, and we went out to the movies for the first lime, and, oh God, I wanted it to be so perfect. So I put on my light-blue turtleneck, which I thought was cool at the time. It was a turtleneck I bought from Kmart or something. When I saw Cessi, I was petrified and I couldn't even look her in the eye or speak to her."

"After telling her your deepest thoughts on the phone all summer?"

"Exactly. That's the way humans are. And then we saw When Harry Met Sally... and I couldn't move, I couldn't look at her in the seat or any-thing. But the movie took me away. For two hours I was at peace because she was watching the movie and I didn't have this responsibility on me to be Superboy. And then afterwards, I remember eating a French dip and I was trying to get some control of the situation. So I was trying to not put her down exactly, but I was looking at her like she was ridiculous while she was eating this French dip. And she was really shy. And finally she said, 'Do you have a problem with me eating this sandwich?' And I said, 'No, no, not at all.' But I was acting really weird. And that was our last date. I was in love with her for a year after that but I couldn't go near her, because I was so mortified. So that's my first-date story."

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