Leonardo DiCaprio: The Young Lion
"I know actors who have to get drunk before they do the scenes that really scare them."
"That has to do with insecurity. If I commit myself to a movie. I'm gonna have to go through with it. I think that's sort of cool of me, actually."
"Yes, it's very big of you, Leonardo."
"Excuse me," he says. "I have to go to the bathroom." He heads in there and continues talking, not closing the door behind him, "The thing I love to do is to get into different characters. And you find with each one that there are things that make you uncomfortable. That's the part I like, to get past the unease." He comes back and flops down on the couch.
"Don't you shut the door?"
"Guess not. It's usually just me and my mom at home, so I guess sometimes I just pee with the door open. So where were we?"
"I think we were discussing swapping spit."
"Actually," he says seriously, "it's pretty disgusting when you think about it. I mean, people are so concerned about eating off the same fork as someone else, and even though you like somebody, do you know that the human mouth is one of the dirtiest things on this planet? A dog's mouth is cleaner. There's so much bacteria and slime and disgust and trapped food and bad breath in a mouth..."
"Jesus, Leonardo, keep this up and I'll never kiss my boyfriend again."
"I'm just saying," he says,
"Wait, you have kissed a girl?"
"Yes. I have," he says. "But I have to be really happy with the girl, if you know what I mean."
"Enough," I beg.
"Can't you get herpes from kissing?" he asks, as if I'm Dr. Ruth.
"I mean venereal herpes," he says.
"I give up," I say, throwing my hands in the air.
We order lunch and try to get this interview back on track. He gets the grilled chicken breast and mashed potatoes. When it comes, he cups his arm around his plate and basically shovels the food down in big gulps. He continues talking the whole time.
"Tell me about what it's like attending the Academy Awards as a nominee," I say.
"Okay, this is what I thought. The Academy Awards was a big burden for me because of my problem of speaking in front of big audiences. I'm doing a lot better with it now. but it was just this gut-wrenching fear of slipping up and doing something horrible . .."
"In front of three billion people..."
"Yeah, Or crying, or doing something that's embarrassing, because I'm such a critical person of other people. When I watch people who do that. I go, 'Oh God, what a fuckin' idiot.' And I put that pressure on myself. So I was dreading winning. It was like this weight on my shoulders for so long, and there were some people who were saying, 'Hey, you might have a chance.' And I was saying, 'No, no, I'm not gonna win." And I was convincing myself and I said, "I'm not even gonna plan a speech because I know I'm not gonna win.' And I invited my mom and my dad and my stepmom. I was so nervous and when I get nervous my palms start to sweat, and I just start to twitch, sort of like an animal. And then I came to the Awards and people start-ed telling me. You know what, you have a pretty good chance of winning tonight.' And this thing started to consume me and I started shaking in my seat and having this posed smile, and inside being petrified. And mine was the first one up, and my mom had to go to the bathroom. And they said, 'Okay, the nominees for Best Supporting Actor...' and my mom wasn't there! And I knew if my mom wasn't there, it would be terrible. I saw this guard holding my mom back. She was trying to jump through a bunch of people, and they showed the first person, and said, 'Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive.' I knew I had to do something. My mom had to be next to me. So I turned to the security guards and I mouthed, 'Let her fucking in.' And then the guy looked at me, and I said. 'I'm a nominee.' I never do that kind of shit, but I figured this was really important. And my mom just scooted by and jumped in the seal and in, like, five seconds she adjusted herself', I adjusted myself, and I was sit-ting there with this smile on my face like, 'Aw God, this is great.' Meanwhile, I'm about ready to die. And when they announced Tommy Lee Jones had won, I wanted to get down on the ground and thank God. Nobody was happier for him than me, that's the fucking truth."
"People were so blown away by your performance in What's Eating Gilbert Grape. You know those disability parts often win the Oscar," I say.
"Gilbert Grape was a fantastic experience for me. Before that, I still didn't know where I wanted to go as an actor."
"Do you know now?"
"I'm getting there, yeah. During Gilbert Grape I didn't know where I was gonna go as an actor so I didn't know what types of movies I wanted to do. I just felt like doing a movie is doing a movie. I get money and fame, and that's great, and I can act and have fun. And I was up for a movie called Hocus Pocus with Bette Midler, and I knew it was awful, but it was just like, 'Okay, they're offering me more and more money. Isn't that what you do? You do movies and you get more and more money.' But something inside of me kept saying, 'Don't do this movie.' And everyone around me was saying, 'Leonardo, how could you not take a movie?' And I said to myself, 'Okay, I'll audition for this movie Gilbert Grape. If I don't get that, I'll do Hocus Pocus.' I found myself trying so hard, investing so much time and energy in Gilbert Grape, I worked so damn hard at it and I finally got it, and it was like such a weight off my shoulders."
"Well, besides all the other great things Gilbert Grape is, it's also the movie that saved you from Hocus Pocus. That's fabulous. And so, what was it you figured out that you wanted to be doing as an actor?"
"I want to do things that are different. Not necessarily different just to be different, but something that I can get into with other actors who are quality actors and a quality director and a good script."
''Oh, that," I say, as if there aren't 20 million other actors wanting that same, easy thing from life.
"With The Quick and the Dead, I really had to think it through for a long time. It was honestly not my idea of the type of movie that I wanted to do next, I turned it down like at least 10 to 20 times. Then on the last day they said, 'Hey look, they really want you, and this is the last day you can have the role, because they're gonna hire somebody else.' Everyone around me was saying, 'Look, this is a good movie.' I had this thing about not doing big commercial movies because all the big commercial movies, not all of them, but most of the mainstream movies are just pieces of garbage that have been done over thousands of times. But then I looked at The Quick and the Dead, and I thought, Okay. Sharon Stone's in it, and I think, disregarding her superstardom, the woman definitely has something going on, and Gene Hackman's in it, and Sam Raimi is a completely innovative director. My character's somebody that's so completely insecure in himself that he has to put on a show to dazzle everybody, and that to me started to become interesting. But the kid was cool at the same time, he developed this thing about being cool, he wasn't afraid of anybody, except for his father, Gene Hackman. So I thought, Look, I'm not working, I could do some-thing different and I can have fun with this movie and why not? So I did it, and there's a difference between doing something that's main-stream and big budget and schlocky, and doing something that's main-stream and big budget and has something interesting in it. I just went in there, I did what I had to do, and it was fun and I'm glad I did it."
Whew, this boy can talk. "How'd you decide to do Basketball Diaries?"
"The Basketball Diaries was the first time where I actually read a script and I didn't want to put it down. Then I met Scott Kalvert, the director, who hadn't done a movie before. He had done these Marky Mark videos. So that was a bit of a problem. I wanted to do this movie, but I didn't want it to turn out to be some After School Special about drugs, which is what it could have turned out to be. But when I met Scott, he seemed like a cool guy. He didn't have all the Hollywood director shit going on. And he was willing to listen to my opinions. I'll tell you this story. We were looking for someone to play this kid Mickey, and Scott wanted to bring in Marky Mark. He'd worked with him and really liked him. And like any normal human being. I freaked out. Because I figured somebody who's a singer like that, which is not necessarily music I'm a fan of, was not right for the part. I told Scott no, we can't audition him. He said, 'I worked with Marky and you gotta stop thinking that he's gonna pull some macho thing with the film, he's not like that. When you get to know him he's a really cool guy." And I said no, no, no, absolutely not, I don't care, there's plenty of cool people out there, just find one of them. But I finally thought about it and I said, 'Look, I know if I had done something [like] what Marky Mark did, and got a bad reputation like he does, I'd feel really bad if some young actor wrote me off just because he was in a good place in his career.' We had read so many kids for the character, but everyone just didn't get it. They were putting on this false toughness and this false street thing which just didn't work. And so I met Marky and as soon as I met him I wanted to find something wrong with him, because I had this fear of what other people were gonna think of him and what I'm gonna think of him, like he's gonna do something terrible in the movie. But as soon as he came in he was really cool and he said hello so matter-of-factly, and did the scene and I couldn't help but be charmed by what he did. He brought an element of reality to it, and he brought an element of being truly street, because that's what he is. And he was the best person for the role by far. But I still had this problem, I didn't want to admit it. And finally I got myself to say, 'Okay, he's the best person for the role, I can't see anyone doing it much better than him. He's Marky Mark, so what? We'll do it.' And I got a lot of shit from everyone about it, but you know what? He's great and they're all gonna have to admit they were wrong."
"When you guys were shooting in New York, there were stories in the paper all the time about how you and Marky Mark were out on the town..."
"It's funny," he says. "Here I am doing this film that deals with this kid who has nothing going wrong for him, but gets trapped in this world of drugs. And his whole life completely changes. He pushes off everything in his life just for this heroin addiction. And I don't do drugs! At night, Marky and I would go out. New York, it's a fucking hard town, huh? Let me just tell you about all this shit that was fabricated and ridiculous. Me and Marky did go out on the weekends and have a good time at clubs. That was all, but they warn to escalate it to something different, which is what the tabloids are all about. Supposedly we were at the same club one time that Derrick Coleman was at, the basketball player. He's like seven feel tall or whatever. But supposedly I get into a fight with Derrick Coleman. I never even saw the guy, but supposedly I get into a fight with him and I argued with him about something, which would be completely beyond the realm of possibility. Marky supposedly comes to save the day and helps defend me. We all gel in a fight with Derrick Coleman."
"And beat the shit out of him. I hope," I say.
"No, it just said we got into a big fistfight. And I could just see my little skinny white self fighting with this guy. So they wrote up a lot of garbage about us, which is cool, I guess. What the hell."
"The rumor around town was that you were the new River Phoenix."
"If they mean that I was in trouble, that's total bullshit. I've always liked River's work. I'm discounting the drugs and whatever he did in his personal life, because the drugs weren't who he was. But as far as his acting and as far as who he was as a person, I respected him a lot, I think I'm different from him. but I hope that I can somehow be thought of as someone who is unique and thoughtful, someone whose work will be respected."
"I think that's it," I say, standing up.
"'Wait," he says. "Did we go over everything? We didn't talk about what I think about acting, but who cares about that shit anyway? Okay, I guess this is really it."
I expect him to just sail out the window, but like a mere mortal, he leaves through the door.
Martha Frankel interviewed Roman Polanski for the Jan./Feb. Movieline.