Leonardo DiCaprio began his acting career in the early '90s and has become a household name in the film industry. The American actor and producer burst onto our screens in TV commercials, going on to appear in TV series and making his film debut in 1991 in 'Critters 3'. DiCaprio found international fame through 1997 movie 'Titanic' and has gone on to be an established Hollywood actor. The environmental activist set up the 'Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation' in 1998, showing his passion for climate change and protecting the world we live in.
Leonardo DiCaprio was was born in Hollywood, California, being the only child of George DiCaprio – who was half Italian and half German – and his mother Irmelin Indenbirken. Leonardo always refers to himself as half-Russian considering his maternal grandmother was born in Russia. His parents attended the same college where they first met, with them later relocating to Los Angeles. The actor’s name was as a result of his mother’s visit to a museum in Italy where she saw the Leonardo da Vinci painting. It was there when baby Leonardo first kicked, so the little Dicaprio was named after the painting. When he was one-years old, his parents separated with Leo going on to live mostly with his mother. Dicaprio and his mom lived in many neighborhoods around Los Angeles, such as Echo Park and later in Hill Hurst Avenue in 1974. During early schooling, Leonardo was enrolled at Seeds Elementary School, currently called UCLA Lab School. He was later enrolled at John Marshall High School but he later dropped out during his third year. He went to spend time with his grandparents in Germany after gaining a general equivalency diploma and learned to speak some German and Italian.
His career dates back to when he was featured in TV commercials and educational films. When he was five-years old, he was featured in television series Romper Room, with the cast line up mainly being children. Leo had to be removed from set due to his destructive nature to the other kids. After his removal, he chose to follow Adam Farrah, his step-brother, and go into television commercials. He was given a chance to do an advertisement at the age of 14 for Matchbox Cars. A short-lived TV series based on the movie Parenthood marked his breakthrough in television in 1990. He later had parts on several shows including The New Lassie, Roseanne and a brief stint on soap opera Santa Barbara in the role of Mason Capwell. His part in Parenthood earned him a nomination for Best Young Actor at the Young Artist Awards.
His major breakthrough in the film industry came in the years 1991 to 1995. He got a role in Critters 3 which was a comedy and sci-fi horror film released in 1991. His role saw him play the step-son to an evil landlord. Growing Pains, an ABC sitcom, later featured him as a recurring cast member playing homeless boy Luke Brower who is adopted by the Seaver family. In 1992, Leo’s film career really kicked off when he was chosen by Robert De Niro out of 400 other teenagers for the lead role in This Boy’s Life.
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was Dicaprio’s next film in 1993 co-starring alongside Johnny Depp. Director Lasse Hallstrom was impressed by how observant DiCaprio was. He admitted he wanted to have a non-good-looking actor for the role but eventually chose Dicaprio who appeared very attentive through the entire audition process. The film emerged successful considering its high-value budget of $11 million, being the pathway to success for Dicaprio. The film got nominated for a Golden Globe as well as an Academy Award and National Board of Review Award. Critic of The New York Times Janet Maslin was impressed by Dicaprio’s thrilling performance describing it as ‘captivating and original from the start to the end of the film’.
In 1995 DiCaprio appeared in The Quick and the Dead film, a western film by Sam Raimi. Sony Pictures were hesitant about Leo being cast in the film and weren’t sure whether to pay him. Co-star Sharon Stone decided to pay Leo’s salary herself. The film grossed $18.5 million U.S dollars and received mixed feedback from critics. His next work was Total Eclipse. Actor River Phoenix was originally meant to play his part, but after he died suddenly DiCaprio stepped in to replace him.
Don’s Plum, a short-film, was Leo’s next venture which he featured in as a support for upcoming director R. D. Robb. The movie’s release was blocked after Robb tried to release it as a feature film, with Dicaprio and Maguire Tobey going to court defending that it was never their intention to have it as a theoretical release. However, in 2001 at the Berlin International Film Festival, the film was officially launched and was surprisingly loved by many. The Basket Ball Diaries was Leo’s next movie in 1995.
The following year, DiCaprio starred in Romeo and Juliet directed by Baz Luhrmann’s taking in $147 million at the box office. In the same year, the actor appeared in family drama movie Marvin’s Room. The Jerry Zak’s film was about sisters who were reunited after 17 years of separation, and it was formally a stage play of Scott McPherson. The two sisters’ roles were acted by Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep. Starring as the character of Hank, Dicaprio’s character was a troubled boy who was sent to an asylum after burning his mother’s house down.
In 1997, he starred in one of the most successful movies of the time; Titanic. He played the penniless Wisconsin man Jack Dawson who wins tickets for third-class on the famous ship that later sinks. Director James Cameron believed in DiCaprio’s acting talent and encouraged him to take on the role. Titanic emerged as the highest-grossing film earning more than $1.840 billion in the box office, and hasn’t been beaten to this day. This role upgraded DiCaprio to a highly-established movie star who was loved by young women and female teenagers all over the world. He graced the cover of several magazines and many of the books that were written about him made The New York Times Best Seller top list. When he was not among the nominees for 70th Academy Awards, over 250 of his fans protested against Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for not nominating him. Dicaprio states that there is no level of fame he will ever reach again as that of Titanic.
In 1998 he made a self-mocking cameo in Woody Allen’s movie Celebrity, as well as other roles in King Louis XIV and The Man in the Iron Mask earning him a nomination for the ‘Worst Screen Couple’ at the Golden Raspberry Awards for both the films. In the year 2000, he appeared in The Beach, a drama film where he starred as an American tourist searching for a serene lifestyle in the Gulf of Thailand. This film was adapted from a novel written by Alex Garland in 1996 bearing the same title. The film did well financially scooping $144 million worldwide.
In the year 2002, he had a role in Catch Me If You Can, a drama film which was based on Frank Abagnale Jr.’s life. The movie received positive reviews from fans and critics. This was the second most profitable film for Dicaprio after Titanic bringing more than $350 million. His performance was greatly praised by Roger Ebert and the next year Dicaprio got nominated for a Golden Globe for his role in the 2002 hit. He also starred in Gangs of New York in the same year, a historical film that took over seven months to film, spending $103 million. It is said to be among the most expensive films made at the time. In 2004, he was featured in The Aviator by Howard Hughes which was a huge financial success. Dicaprio was nominated as Best Actor for a Golden Globe Award and Academy Award. In 2005, the French Minister of Culture placed Leo as the commander of Ordre des Arts et des Lettres because of his contributions towards the arts.
Other hits of Leo’s include Shutter Island, Inception and Django Unchained. Blood Diamond and The Departed were the highest grossing of Dicaprio and Scorsese’s collaboration bringing in over $250 million. DiCaprio’s role as fur trapper Hugh Glass in 2015’s The Reverent won him several awards including his first ever Oscar win at the Academy Awards for Best Actor.
Dicaprio’s public image has been centered on hard work and determination to achieve what he wants in life. He is a widely celebrated star whose background inspires many upcoming actors. He is also widely known for his love for the environment. After, the success of the Titanic he launched his organization called the ‘Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’ in 1998. In 2000, he chaired the World Earth Day. He is a well-known champion of the environment and recognized for his contribution towards addressing global warming. His foundation got $15 million to support wildlife and the rights of the Native Americans. He has even raised over $40 million for his foundation in 2013. He also supports various organizations that support the environment and is known for driving environmentally-friendly vehicles. He was chosen as a representative in the United Nations representing climate. He has talked on world recognized forums on matters of environment and climate. He is a believer of justice who is passionate for leaders to help unfortunate people.
His romantic relationships have been the talk of the media for a long time. He dated Bijou Philips in the ’90s. He also dated Kristen Zang and socialite Emma Miller. He went on to date Gisele Bundchen from 2000 to 2005, with him later meeting Bar Refaeli, an Israeli model.
Dicaprio has a house located in California, Los Angeles and another building located in New York City at Battery Park City. In 2009, he purchased an island where he wants to build a resort that is eco-friendly. He also owns a residence that belonged to Dinah Shore which was designed by Donald Wexler, the modern Architect in California.
In 2005, he was hit in the face by model Aretha Wilson at a Hollywood party leaving him with a severe injury. The model was later sentenced to 2 years in prison after she pleaded guilty.
Dicaprio supported aspirant John Kerry during the 2004 presidential election. He campaigned for him and also gave donations to his campaign. He also supported President Barrack Obama in both presidential bids giving a large lump sum of money of $2,330 and $5,000 consecutively.
Leonardo Dicaprio: The Biography by Douglas Wight