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2/97...The Juice.net (Australia)

Leonardo DiCaprio talks about being Romeo, going down with the Titanic, and whether it's worse to be really really fat or really, really old.
Date 2/97

After spending two hours with DiCaprio - first doing the interview, then just hanging out talking about this and that - it's hard to imagine how all the wild rumours about him got started. For instance, just a month before the interview, a friend told me he'd heard that DiCaprio had raped a girl and it has been covered up. Then another friend told me he'd heard that the rape story was a plan to hide the fact that the actor is gay. He's supposedly been in and out of rehab, is a recent convert to Scientology... and I forget what else. People seem determined to make him into the new River Phoenix. You know, tormented, unstable, brilliant, self-destructive. To me he seems like a sweet, canny, clear headed, sane young heterosexual guy, fun-loving but a little sad and anxious, intelligent and slightly insecure about his intelligence. He likes going to art museums, loves his family, hated all the summer blockbuster movies, adores acting, and dreams of swimming with blue whales. Why people insist on projecting all that gloom and doom onto him, I don't know. But I was determined not to perpetuate the myths, so I began the interview at square one.

In almost every article I've ever read about you, journalists ask the same questions and make the same presumptions - that you have drug problems, that you're gay and closeted, that you're a brat... Yeah, they are all kind of the same.

It always seems as if journalists treat you fair and square when they're with you, but when they actually write the articles, they start speculating and drooling all over you.

[Laughs] Yeah.

I guess that Details cover story on you last year was the most notorious.

That guy, I was really nice to him. I brought him over to my house and introduced him to my mom, and then he twisted things around to make me seem like a badass, when it wasn't like that at all.

Everyone I know thought that piece was creepy. Well, I'm going to try not to cover the same old ground, and if I get creepy, you can be a badass and thrown all your Coke over my face.

[Laughs] Okay.

Supposedly one can tell a lot about someone from what they find funny, so tell me a joke.

I just heard some good ones. Let me think. [Pause] Okay, a guy hears a knock on his door. He answers it. There's nobody there but he looks down and sees a snail. So he picks up the snail and throws it as far as he can. Three years later there's a knock on the door. He answers it, and there's this snail... And the snail says, "What the fuck was that about?" Now, you tell me one.

This one's kind of old, but... What were Kurt Cobain's last words?

I don't know.

"Hole's gonna be big."

[Laughs] That's pretty sick.

Did you see Trainspotting?

That's a great movie. I loved that movie.

Both that and Romeo and Juliet are based on works that are very dense and complex on the page, and they both make this savvy decision to neutralise the difficulties of the language by being incredibly stylised and energetic. It seemed like a great way to deal with Shakespeare.

Yeah. Some people have criticised the movie. You know, "You can't do that to Shakespeare. You shouldn't mess with Shakespeare like that." But Shakespeare was a genius. I'm sure if he was alive he would have been totally behind what Baz is trying to do. I see what you mean about the two movies. But Baz didn't see Trainspotting until a few weeks ago, so it's just a coincidence.

The movie has that wacky, surreal Australian feel, like Priscilla or Muriel's Wedding. But it's not like that, really. It's surreal, but...

The black drag queen with the white afro?

That's Mercutio. That's at the ball where Romeo meets Juliet. Romeo's on drugs, and that's him tripping out on Mercutio, who's wearing the afro as part of his costume. But I trip out on him, and it grows about three feet. That's a wild scene. In this version, the ball takes place at a club, and everybody's on drugs and dancing. It's crazy, but the movie's very real, too. I don't know how to explain it.

Romeo's a tricky role. He's so lovey-dovey. In the Zeffirelli version, the way Leonardo Whiting played him, he was such a bland, wussy guy.

Yeah. Well, at first I wasn't sure about doing this. I didn't want to run around in tights, swinging a sword, you know? But Baz convinced me to come to Australia for a week, and while I was there he figured out what his vision was and then I was really interested.

Is Romeo still a total innocent in this version?

He's pretty innocent. Well, in the first half he is. Then Mercutio dies and Tybalt dies and everything just goes wrong. I'm crying all the time in the last half of the film. I cry a lot in this movie. That was hard.

You filmed in Mexico City. Is it as hellish a place as we hear?

Well, while we were making the movie, somebody on the crew got attacked, and someone else got robbed, and somebody else got shot. And they say Mexico City has the worst smog of any city in the world. But it was nice there too, because it's not the place where tourists tend to go. It's kind of undiscovered in that sense, and some people I know from New York came down, so that was fun. There's a lot of poverty, and that was depressing but there are parts of the city that are just like Beverly Hills.

Are there good clubs there?

There are some clubs. We didn't do that so much. We were more into silver.


[grins] Silver.

In what sense?

We got into buying silver. You can buy these bracelets and necklaces and things, and these guys will etch your name into there, or these skulls. We'd go out into the city wearing all this silver and people thought we were ridiculous. [Laughs] I haven't worn them out here but they're nice to have, you know?

What kind of music do you like?

I like rap. Nas, Wu-Tang, that sort of thing.

Are you political?

Not really. I try to stay out of that because it's so damn confusing. I sort of want Clinton, because I don't think he's that bad. [Laughs] He seems like a nice-guy President.

Are you religious?

Haven't been brought up that way. But I have a weird karma thing. Like, I used to be able to steal bubblegum and stuff when I was younger, but I'm ridiculous with it now. It's not because I'm getting money now. It's because I always think that when I go outside, something terrible is going to happen.

All that, and you're not interested in Buddhism?

My brother is, and he's constantly preaching to me. I'm curious about it. I want to get into it, but I want to know a lot more about it. But, yeah I'd say it was the best religion. [Laughs] There I go with my big thing: "I'd say Buddhism is the best religion." [Laughs] In bold print.

Here's a hypothetical for you: would you rather be really, really, fat or really, really old?

You mean old looking?

No, old. Either you're 95 years old or you're your age and weigh 500 pounds.

I'd be really fat, and go out like Biggie Smalls every night, you know what I'm saying? I'd have people wheel me into places. I'd have a woman on each leg. I'd go out like a rock star if I was that big. Yeah, I'd rather be fat. I mean... really old? Man.

I found the question harder to answer than you did. Maybe because you're older than me.

Well, I did Gilbert Grape, and Mama was pretty big, but she was just the sweetest woman that I have met in my entire life. I still talk to her every once in a while. And I have a friend who's... pretty large, and who I hang out with everyday, and he's the sweetest guy ever. I really like to have sweet people around me. I can't stand badasses. There's too many of them, especially my age in LA. I like to get to know people, and you have to peel so many layers off those people. Just give me someone who's relaxed and cool to hang out with, even if they're not studs.

Well, a lot people must want to be your pal.

I have a good group of friends, people I've accummulated over the years. Some I've known since elementary school, some I've met recently. They're just a good group of guys and gals. And I think they like me too.

But you're never sure.

You're never sure. No, I know they like me. Because it's not really about that, you know? Our friendships are completely separate from everything else. I hardly know anybody who's in showbiz. It seems like I do if you read the press, but I really don't.

I get the feeling that Total Eclipse, about the relationship between French poet Rimbaud and Verlaine, was a rather discomforting experience for you. It wasn't very well liked.
People hated it.
When I was a teenager, Rimbaud was my hero.

Really? That's cool. Yeah, I wanted to do the part because Rimbaud was such a badass, but he was a genius, so he had the goods to back it up, you know? I think the only people who liked Total Eclipse were people who like Rimbaud. But then, a lot of people who liked Rimbaud hated it too. I don't really know what to say about Total Eclipse. The movie was made in France. Over there, Rimbaud's like James Dean, but over here people really don't know who he is. And I think maybe the film didn't explain enough.

The way people reacted to the film, you'd have thought the whole movie was just a frame around the scene where you and David Thewlis, who plays Verlaine, kiss.

I know, I know. It was crazy.

And Total Eclipse came right on the heels of The Basketball Diaries, another film nobody liked much.

Yep, but you know what? It doesn't really bother me what people think.

Before those movies came out, you were seen as the brilliant young actor, the Academy Award nominee, and then suddenly you were supposedly a junkie, and you were gay. Assuming that neither of these rumors is true, that must have bothered you.

Sure, But I'm really glad I did those movies. I'm proud of my work in them. In five years nobody will remember any of that, or the bad reviews, and my work in them will be seen as part of all my work. I'm not worried about that, I just think people expected me to go a certain way with my career, and I didn't do it. I didnt do the next John Grisham movie.

Did it make you gun-shy?

No, I want to keep doing different things. But I want to say this: I don't do drugs. I've never done drugs in my life. I'm just not interested. And if any of my friends starts doing drugs, they're going to hear about it from me. What people don't realise is that half the reason I did Basketball Diaries is because of the whole heroin craze...

It's amazing to me, what with all the rumours about you, that you trust people at all.

I don't really. Like I had a friend who I did a short film with recently who slandered me. I was trying to do a favor for him. His name's R.D. Robb. It's scandalous. It was originally a short film, and then he tried to make it into a feature. I worked one night on it, and I heard all this stuff about how he was going to pit the press against me if I didn't go along with him and do the feature. I just did it as a favor you know? And then all this stuff happens and you ask why. Why be nice if that's going to happen?

The editor wanted me to ask you something. Answer or not as you see fit.

Let me guess, sex and drugs.

Well, you tell me. In Vanity Fair, Alicia Silverstone is asked about you, and there's an implication that you and she were romantically involved at some point and she says something like, "I don't even want to talk about that guy," meaning you. So...

Right. [Sighs] Alicia and I did our first movies about the same time. We're not really good friends or anything but we knew each other. I'm sure she was asked that question, and she thought it was ridiculous, so she just said, "I'm not even going to answer the question." Just like I would.

An actor I know told me that for him, acting was like being in a trance.

I've heard people say that. I never took acting lessons, so I don't have a way to think about it like that. I know some actors get sort of lost in what they're doing. I'm not like that. I like to know eveything that's going on around me when I'm acting. I think of myself as the camera. I'm watching myself act. I'm trying to see how what I'm doing looks from the outside.

That's interesting. It seems like it would make you feel really self-conscious.

I feel self-conscious all the time anyway.

After Total Eclipse and The Basketball Diaries, you're seen as a real risk taker. You must get a lot of weird scripts.

You're right, I do. But I don't mind. I'm always look for something different.

Did you know John Waters wrote a film thinking of you for the lead? It was called Cecil B. Demented, and you would have played an avant garde super-8 filmmaker who kidnaps a major movie star and forces her to star in his super-8 film. But the film didn't happen for whatever reason.

Yeah. I had dinner with John a couple of weeks ago. He's one of the people who's really doing it, and I admire him a lot. And he's just hilarious. He tells the best stories.

So, do you have any small, risky films in the works?

I have one thing in the works, but we'll see.

Is that your project, The Inside Man?

It's not my project. It's just... This project came along, and I really liked it and I took it to Michael Mann because I loved Heat. He's such an intelligent guy. He's like a computer, he knows so much. So he's interested, and it's in the works, and we'll see. I don't really want to talk too much about it right now. But I have this huge movie coming up.

James Cameron's Titanic.


You seem a little nervous about it.

No, it's just that I've never done anything like this before. I never planned to do a movie like this, but I agreed to do it, and it should be interesting. It's a huge movie, a $126 million budget and a six month shoot. Jim Cameron says he wants it to be a Doctor Zhivago type of thing. It's an epic love story that goes backwards and forwards in time.

Did you go down with the ship.

[Nods] Dead.

Cameron's films are amazing, but I don't think of them as places where actors get to shine much. It's more like they become parts of the machinery. But maybe Titanic won't be so special affects-oriented. It is. Huge special effects. I don't know, I'm just going to do it, and we'll see.

Well, you're here.

Yeah, I'm here. It was a tandem thing, and I jumped out of the plane, and I pulled the chord, and my 'chute didn't open'. And you know it's not like a video game where if you mess up, you lose a quarter. [Laughs] This is your life, the whole trip down I didn't cry. I wasn't weirded-out by it. I was just depressed. [Laughs] Let's see, this year I also went scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

I've always wanted to do that.

Oh, God. It's like space. It's the best thing you could ever do. Better than anything.

I saw the IMAX film about it.

Yeah, the one Meryl Streep narrates. That was trippy. Did you see that ill sea creature at the bottom of the ocean that was about a mile long? How trippy was that, bro? When I was young, I had this thing where I wanted to see everything. I used to think, "How can I die without seeing every inch of this world?"

Do you ever pick fims because they're going to be shot in exotic locales?

Nope. Otherwise I wouldn't have chosen Mexico twice. I'm going to spend a year of my life in Mexico.

Isn't Titanic being filmed there?

Yeah. Rosarito Beach. Garbage everywhere.

At least you're in a profession where you get incredible opportunities, like being able to travel a lot.

It's fucking cool. I really love acting. I love it when it's really about acting. I love it when you get to create stuff, and collaborate with a director. You feel like what you're doing is not going to waste. It's in the archives. It's going to be there for years. Pain is temporary, film is forever. [This Boy's Life director] Michael Caton-Jones told me that.

Then you'll get old and you'll have pain all the time.

Mmm-hmm. [Pause] My grandpa just died last year. That was a big depressing thing. And my dog died. Our household dog. Last year was like the year for misery. But this year, so far, I have to say I'm liking it a lot.

No complaints?

No complaints.

Dennis Cooper