Riding back from the Kempinski centre on the U-Bahn, I find
myself thinking, "I bet that guy over there doesnít
know I just talked to Leonardo DiCaprio!" Thatís a
shaming thought for one of my years, but it did at least bring
home to me what it must be like actually to be Leo from Christmas
to breakfast time.
"not to disconnect
myself from normal experiences"
Leoís answer to the standard question about being him
comes in various forms, the most direct of which goes something
like this. "Sure, itís definitely affected my life. The
fine line that you try to walk is to somehow have a normal life
and do things that you would normally do and at the same time be
respectful of who you are. I try as much as I can to separate
myself from that sort of image of me and try and maintain a
normal existence on my own. I think thatís the only healthy
way to do it.
"The important thing from me is also not to disconnect
myself from normal experiences and to go on doing real things and
interacting with people just because of who I am. I donít
believe that becoming a hermit is at all a sane or a logical way
to deal with it."
Later in the day, someone tells me a story about how his
daughter went to grade school with Leo in Los Angeles and
remembers him standing at a bus stop on Pico, doing cigarette
tricks for the girls in his class. Then, a year or so ago, the
same daughter goes into this club on Sunset and there is Leo at
the bar, doing cigarette tricks for the girls.
Iím not sure why Iím being told this story, but I
laugh, in the way you laugh at stories about movie stars, because
the point is usually that they are all air-heads. Iíve been
thinking about this story, though, and I realise it is actually
saying something else - something much more in Leoís favour.
And anyway, I prefer his own story. "I have vivid
memories that are so closely attached to my childhood from coming
to Germany," he says (his mother and maternal grandparents
were German). "I remember entering a break-dancing
competition here. I wasnít the best break-dancer, but they
knew I was from the United States, so they gave me a trophy! And
I remember advertising as much as I could that thatís where
I was from.
"I actually had a little USA tee-shirt that I wore around
so anyone who wasnít actually clear on where I was from,
would know. I was treated as 'the kid from Hollywoodí."
Itís only now in writing this that I realise that, in the
context of Berlin 2000, this story is positively dripping with
irony. Heís still the kid from Hollywood: but the tee-shirt
has become him.
The questions that keep occurring to me as I write this are:
What did we want him to do? Did we want him to turn down Titanic?
And, having made it, was he supposed to want it to fail?
Itís not his fault that itís the biggest hit in the
history of the cinema. How did we want him to act differently
when it was? To denigrate the movie? To denigrate his
Of course not: we could do that for him. We could snipe, could
pretend we thought he wanted to be on all those teen-magazine
covers. And then we could be magnanimous and grudgingly admit
that his performance is the best thing in The Beach. Not bad for
a movie star, a teen idol, a person who sells tabloids. Oh, and
"I keep saying this," he says, when I - like
everyone else - ask him the question that boils down to: What is
it like being Leonardo DiCaprio, "but the truth is, Titanic
was a real departure from the movies that I was doing. It was the
type of film that I really wanted to at least try once, you know,
and at least say that I did and went for.
"And Iím glad I did to this day: it was an
unbelievable experience. But it certainly doesnít effect how
I treat roles. I think it would be underestimating any type of
audience, whether it would be teenagers or whatever else to
continue to do the same thing over and over again. Ultimately
that would be doom for an actor. And donít think people
expect you to do that. They want to see you change."
Even so, I get an autograph at the end, telling everyone, even
him, that itís for my daughters.