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FALL SNEAKS | THE ACTORS

Leo's rising

THE BOYISHNESS THAT MADE LEONARDO DiCAPRIO A STAR IS GONE, REPLACED IN TWO NEW FILMS BY THE COMPLEXITY OF A LASTING LEADING MAN.

September 10, 2006|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

LEONARDO DiCAPRIO is taller in person than he appears on-screen, which is rare in a movie star. Also broader, though not to say heavier or gym-rat pumped. But gone is the weedy boyishness that turned "Titanic" into a tweener smash, that followed him through "Catch Me if You Can" and made Howard Hughes' final mental and physical dwindling believable in "The Aviator." In his A-list requisite baseball cap and shades, DiCaprio could still pass for a hipster agent, but there is something unexpectedly substantial about him.

And that, unlike his height, is very much evident on-screen. In his two upcoming movies -- Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," due out Oct. 6, and Ed Zwick's "The Blood Diamond," following on Dec. 15 -- DiCaprio at long last leaves the "coming of age" sphere and enters the world of real men, taking on roles that are emotionally complicated, roles that establish him as the once and future leading man.

"The Departed," which burrows into the Boston underworld, is vintage Scorsese, rife with grit and gore and more expletives than "Snakes on a Plane." As a cop who infiltrates a mob run by Jack Nicholson, DiCaprio stands fully baptized into the Scorsese canon, smashing gangsters in the head with beer mugs, holding fellow officers at gunpoint and going mano a mano with Nicholson in all his maniacal glory while trying to decipher the code of true loyalty.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 12, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Leonardo DiCaprio: An article in Sunday's Calendar section on Leonardo DiCaprio referred to an upcoming movie as "The Blood Diamond"; the title is "Blood Diamond." It also referred to a revolutionary group as the RAF; it is the RUF.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 17, 2006 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Leonardo DiCaprio: An article last Sunday about Leonardo DiCaprio referred to his coming movie as "The Blood Diamond"; the title is "Blood Diamond." It also referred to a revolutionary group as the RAF; it is the RUF.

For "The Blood Diamond," he spent six months in Africa, trading a Boston accent for Afrikaans to play a South African gun runner-mercenary who navigates war-torn Sierra Leone, vicious diamond cartels and moral vexations in the person of a comely journalist (Jennifer Connelly) to "help" a tribal fisherman (Djimon Hounsou) recover a diamond of unparalleled value.

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COMING INTO HIS OWN

DICAPRIO has long been considered one of the finest actors of his generation, but with these two films he seems ready to accept the Big Star mantle that "Titanic" tried to thrust on him almost 10 years ago.

"There is always a moment in an actor's life, in a man's life, when he begins to own his size," says Zwick. "When you begin taking responsibility for your opportunities, admitting the depth of your ambition, coming into a stage of mastery. And that is what is happening here."

It couldn't happen at a better time. With actors such as Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise seemingly falling off the power lists every other week, Hollywood has found itself wondering if the male superstar isn't going the way of its female counterpart -- dwindling to extinction.

"There really aren't a lot of actors who can open a movie, are there?" says Graham King, who as a producer of "The Departed" and "The Blood Diamond" admits a fair amount of bias. "I mean, there's Brad, there's Johnny and there's Leo. People are going to be amazed," he adds, speaking of DiCaprio's performances.

Talking to the man himself, however, there is no indication of some supernova about to burst. DiCaprio, 31, is still gun-shy over the explosion of fame that followed "Titanic" and does little press. "I really feel the most important part of being an actor is to keep his personal life to himself," he says. "The less I know about an actor's daily activities, the less baggage I bring to his performance."

Although he does arrive for an interview and photo shoot at the Hotel Bel-Air with a stylist and Armani in tow, when he finally sits down to talk, he seems much more like the low-key local guy he professes to be than a star with $20-million-per status and a long-standing personal relationship with Scorsese.

"The Departed" is the third film the two have done together -- after "Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator" -- and the first contemporary story. Based on the highly regarded Hong Kong film "Infernal Affairs," William Monahan's script hit both their desks around the same time two years ago. "We both read it and said, 'We've got to do this film. Immediately,' " says DiCaprio. "Usually, you have to tinker with the story or the script -- like 'The Aviator' took 10 years. But this was like, 'Let's do this, yes.' We got other people involved, and there it is."

Of course, those "other people" include Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin and, last but certainly not least, Nicholson. "OK," DiCaprio admits with a laugh, "scheduling was a bit of an issue. And this is why I am not ready to be a director -- this actor, that actor, the set, the lighting guy, the craft services. Trying to keep track of all that and keep the vision of the movie in your mind." He shakes his head. "Maybe someday. Not yet."

He had his hands full enough coping with the general anxiety that making a film generates and keeping up with Nicholson. "We all sort of rolled with it," he says. "With Nicholson you just have to play it the way he's playing it. More than any other acting experience I've had, Nicholson throws curveballs."

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