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Whatís it like being Leonardo DiCaprio? That's the question asked over and over again at press conferences wherever the star appears on his global glide to promote The Beach. NICK RODDICK attended one of these in Berlin last monthÖ.

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.

"in Leoís favour"

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."

"dripping with irony"

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 performance?

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 an actor.

"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.

"an unbelievable experience"

"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.

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