Leonardo DiCaprio (born on November 11, 1974) is an Academy
Award-nominated American actor well known for roles in blockbuster movies like
Titanic (1997) and The Aviator (2004), and was famed for his far reaching global
celebrity influence dubbed as 'Leo-Mania' in the late 1990s.
Leonardo DiCaprio was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of George DiCaprio, a half Italian-half German distributor of comic books, and Irmelin Indenbirken, a former legal secretary who was born in Germany. His name allegedly came about because his pregnant mother was standing in front of a Leonardo da Vinci painting at a museum in Italy when he kicked, which made her decide to name him after the famous artist. His parents divorced when he was a year old. He grew up in Echo Park.
At age five, Leonardo DiCaprio appeared on his favorite television series, Romper Room, and was
almost fired for misbehaving. He attended John Marshall High School in Los
Angeles. He was rejected by an agent early in his career for having a name that
sounded too foreign, suggesting that it should be changed to Lenny Williams, but DiCaprio refused.
His acting career began in 1990 when he was cast in the role of Garry Buckman on the TV version of the hit film Parenthood, where he met his best friend Tobey Maguire while working on an episode. In that same year, DiCaprio appeared on the soap opera Santa Barbara in the role of Mason Capwell (in flashbacks as a teenager). From 1991 to 1992 he had the role of Luke Brower, a homeless boy, on Growing Pains.
However, Leonardo DiCaprio is most famous (and respected) for his roles in motion pictures. His debut role was as Josh in Critters 3 (1991), a film that was released straight to video.
Two years later, Leonardo DiCaprio's break-through came with the role of Toby in This Boy's Life (1993) co-starring with Robert De Niro and Ellen Barkin, which led the New York Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics to name him runner-up for Best Supporting Actor. In the same year he also convincingly portrayed a mentally handicapped boy in What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993). The role earned him an Academy Award nomination.
The black-and-white movie Don's Plum, a low-budget drama featuring the actor and some of his friends (including Tobey Maguire) was filmed between 1995 and 1996. Its release was later blocked in the United States and Canada by DiCaprio and Maguire, who argued they never intended to make it a theatrical feature. Nevertheless, it later premiered on February 10, 2001 in Berlin.
In 1996, Leonardo DiCaprio also played the male lead in Romeo & Juliet, a slick and updated modern-day version of Shakespeare's play, directed by Australian director Baz Luhrmann.
The move from 'star' to 'superstar' came when DiCaprio played Jack Dawson in Titanic (1997). The highest grossing movie ever, it tied with Ben-Hur (1959) for receiving the most Academy Awards. Though DiCaprio himself was not nominated for an Oscar, over the course of the next few years he would become a household name worldwide, synonymous first with labels like 'teen heartthrob' or s-- symbol with his dewy cheeked and saccharined faced looks. With a status that spawned fantasy crushes and hysteria worldwide, E Online described him as the most gorgeous celebrity on the planet, while his co-star Kate Winslet said she agreed with others in deeming him the "most beautiful man on earth". At the peak of his celebrity in 1998, DiCaprio fronted scores of magazine covers ranging anything from Vanity Fair to Rolling Stone, and was once the most searched for personality in the early years of the Internet. Indeed, thousands of fans would fill message boards and chat rooms, discussing his romances with scores of celebrity models like Gisele Bundchen while sharing such minutiae as Leo's shoe size or his favorite comic book characters. Ironically, DiCaprio agreed to play the spoof role of his real life 'teen idol' persona during this period, in Woody Allen's satirical parody, Celebrity.
Perhaps overrun or over hyped by fame from what became known as 'Leo-Mania' the world over- from the shores of Thailand all the way to Afghanistan (where the government there banned 'DiCaprio style' haircuts amongst the youth), what came apropos with fame were tales in the tabloids of excesses and indulgence. Indeed, in 1999, there was not a week without DiCaprio making some form of scandalous headline or another across the globe. Time magazine summed up the fame superhighway and its rappings in an interview with the actor in 2000, reporting: 'DiCaprio still thinks of himself as an edgy indie actor, not the Tiger Beat cover boy. "I have no connection with me during that whole Titanic phenomenon and what my face became around the world.", also commenting "I'll never reach that state of popularity again, and I don't expect to, It's not something I'm going to try to achieve either."
Nonetheless, the headlines and controversy failed to let up, peaking when he starred in a project by Danny Boyle based on Alex Garland's backpacker culture classic, The Beach that year. The project was hyped as a result of it simply being DiCaprio's first movie since Titanic, but because of controversial clashes with the Thai authorities over the use of the pristine island pairing of Ko Phi Phi in 1999, the film garnered more bad press than expected. It was reported that permission granted to the film company to physically alter the environment inside Phi Phi Islands National Park was illegal. In the end, the film also did not score as well as expected at the box office, losing both mainstream commercial appeal due to its content and also the purists and fans of the original novel, who claimed it did not do justice to Garland's work. Nonetheless, according to an article by Stephen Thanabalan for Lonely Planet Travelogues, the film's ensuing influence did commercialize and place a confirmation stamp on the phenomenally increasing popularity of backpacking, and served to market it to a mainstream audience who were the next generation of young people eager to trot the globe by means of this adventurous, cheap and (by now) exciting rite of passage.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese and Cameron Diaz at Cannes, 2002In 2002, DiCaprio began a concerted shift away from his stereotypical image and moved to engage himself with critically acclaimed directors by starring in two epic movies; Catch Me If You Can (directed by Steven Spielberg), and Gangs of New York (directed by Martin Scorsese). Both films were very well received by critics. Forging a collaboration with Scorsese, DiCaprio most recently starred in the award-winning Scorsese-directed film The Aviator, portraying the eccentric Howard Hughes.
Leonardo DiCaprio continues his run with Scorsese (some claim him to be Scorsese's 'new De Niro') in the upcoming movie, The Departed (2006) as a tense undercover cop in the Boston mafia. He is also reported to have purchased the rights to 'Blink,' Malcolm Gladwell's book on the power and validity of first impressions, in order to produce a film based on it. As of 2005, he is slated to play the pre-U.S president Teddy Roosevelt in a biopic of the president's early life and war service with the Rough Riders.
Recently, Leonardo DiCaprio has taken to political issues. He is especially fond of environmental causes and has devoted a great deal of his time and money to such issues. His official website (see link below) provides more information on the subject.
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