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Leonardo DiCaprio investigates J. Edgar Hoover in 'J. Edgar'

The actor, generating award buzz for his performance in the Clint Eastwood film, finds the longtime FBI director fascinating and frustrating.

November 17, 2011|By Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times

"If somebody says to you, 'You weren't at all like yourself,' that's the greatest compliment you can pay an actor," said Dench of DiCaprio. "If you get to play a monster or a really unpleasant person, ooooh, lovely. [DiCaprio's] concentration is paramount. You kind of feel that he's got the whole thing in the palm of his hand that he knows exactly how the scene should be played and that he's totally committed to it.... But then suddenly there's a wonderful outbreak of relaxation and a laugh and a joke."

When DiCaprio expressed interest in the role, a typically succinct Eastwood said his reaction was, "That's a good idea. That'd be great for him. He's a smart guy. He saw that it was going to be an interesting character, and then we went about it."

"J. Edgar" is the kind of movie — a $35-million adult drama — that doesn't get made by a studio today without the help of a bona fide star. DiCaprio, a three-time Oscar nominee, dramatically cut his fee for the part and is the keystone of the studio's awards season push.

DiCaprio's first major film role was as a rebellious teen in 1993's "This Boy's Life." "My first movie was with De Niro," he said. "I was 15 and I said, 'Oh, my God, he's not just saying the lines, he's improvising and he must have thought about this a lot. To see the preparation and the specificity, but also the ability to react to other people, the ability to discover stuff in the moment…"

He went on to make a creative mark in offbeat independent parts — a mentally disabled boy in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," for which he received his first Oscar nod, an athlete addicted to drugs in "The Basketball Diaries." Since 1997, when he broke hearts and box-office records around the world in "Titanic," DiCaprio has been in the enviable position of being able to work with top-tier directors like Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle.

With roles in "Gatsby" and Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" on the way, his career is showing no sign of slowing. And with director James Cameron planning to re-release "Titanic" in 3-D next year, many moviegoers will be reminded of why they fell for him in the first place

Reflecting on how he has grown since making "Titanic" with costar Kate Winslet, DiCaprio said, "Kate and I never expected in a million years that it would be that kind of a success, didn't know what we were getting ourselves into… It empowered us in a lot of ways; we got to make films and finance them based on our name. Being able to do that with almost any type of movie you want to do is a huge privilege. It's been a huge gift."

rebecca.keegan@latimes.com

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