Sunday, January 29, 2012

My 2nd Leonardo Di Caprio Interview (J. Edgar)

DiCaprio at his best in J. Edgar
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated January 23, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments


MANILA, Philippines - Funny how this writer regularly find interesting tidbits of regular, random conversation between stars and their handlers when I review my recording before I start transcribing my interviews. The exchanges are mostly about the temperature of the room where the interviews are being held or whether the stars needed something before we start counting down the 30 minutes allotted to us. To my welcome surprise, my recorder offered me just that when I was reviewing the interview I had with Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio recently.

This writer met with the handsome actor sometime in November last year during the junket of his current movie, Warner Bros.’ J. Edgar, the acclaimed biopic directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood.

Ordinarily, we start running the recorder just as soon as we get notice that the star is on his way to join us in our interview suite. So, just as we were about to begin our interview, I started my recorder and it captured a brief but charming exchange between Leo and his handler just as he was settling in to his seat. The subject of the conversation was rather trivial but it offered something new to add to the list of things that make the actor really, really nice and likable in person.

The handler asked if he wanted a cappuccino instead of the regular coffee he brought with him. Leo initially said yes but later declined the offer. “I wish I had a cappuccino,” he said. “But actually I don’t want one. This is my fifth cup.” You know what made it really interesting? First, he was drinking the same coffee that everyone was drinking and, second, it was only 10 in the morning yet he already had five cups of coffee!

Leo is already in his mid-30s with few telltale signs of fine wrinkles up close yet, if one would listen closely to his voice when he speaks, one wouldn’t notice anything different to the Leo today and to the young actor who played Jack in Titanic 15 years ago. He still has that distinct voice and speaking style that’s a cross between an excitable young adult and an impatient adolescent.

Ask him anything and he will give you a lengthy but substantial response. He is famous for his utmost dedication to his craft and one can glean this trait when he starts talking about the current project he is doing or promoting.

J. Edgar, is based on the life of former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover who is considered by many as perhaps the most powerful and feared person in America during his time. The movie brings to light the true story of the enigmatic J. Edgar — from the creation of the FBI to his much-whispered homosexuality. Leo’s powerful and impassioned performance has garnered some of the best reviews of his career and he is expected to receive his fourth Oscar Best Actor nomination when the nominations are announced on Feb. 24 — but just don’t mention it to him.

“The truth is I have learned through my experiences in this industry that there is absolutely no way to control or do anything as far as people’s opinions on your performance or movie — and that is the truth,” he declared emphatically when asked about his Oscar chances. “You go out there and you promote your film and you hope people like the work that you did and they are gonna respond the way they are gonna respond when they are in the room with that ballot. Who knows? I am thankful that people are talking about it but ultimately, I truly have no control over it. I really don’t.”

Make no mistake about it, Leo’s performance in J. Edgar is not just one of the strongest this year, it is also one of his best ever. And he could just win the Oscar any year with this performance. Again, just don’t mention it to him.

“I don’t think anyone would say that they wouldn’t want one. They’d be lying, I think. But that is not my motivation when I do these roles. I really am motivated by being able to work with great people.”

He added that he was more interested in having a “creative body of work for myself that I can look back and be proud of.”

“I was 15 years old when I had my first opportunity in movies. I went and watched movies for a year and a half. I watched every possible great film and every great performance I could and since then I’ve said to myself how could I ever emulate such great artistic master that’s been done in cinemas past. That’s really my motivation and that’s a fact. I feel like I want to do something as good as what all my heroes have done.”

Leo picks his projects meticulously. He revealed that two of the primary reasons why he did J. Edgar were the opportunity to finally get to work with Mr. Eastwood and to be able to play a character as complex and ambiguous as J. Edgar Hoover. Some critics have noted that he seems to be attracted to suffering and tormented characters. Case in point is his two masterful turns in Martin Scorsese’s taut thriller Shutter Island and Christopher Nolan’s mind-blowing masterpiece Inception last year.

In J. Edgar, he adds another great character to his body of work that already includes, among many others, Howard Hughes in The Aviator, controversial poet Arthur Rimbaud in Total Eclipse and, of course, Romeo Montague in Baz Lurhman’s now classic Romeo+Juliet.

What attracted him to J. Edgar Hoover’s story was his unquestioned place in American history. “His life was a reflection of the changing of our country,” he said. “I think that he had great intentions for our country. I think that most of what he did was under the auspices of being a great patriot and great American and I think that he also really wanted personal glory. He was very ambitious... (FBI) was his baby and he wanted to be the symbol of it — the symbol of power in his office — and to hold on to that power at any cost necessary. It’s hard to like somebody who has that kind of attitude about their job, but I do believe he was a patriot and his intentions for protecting our country were there.”

J. Edgar Hoover is credited for creating the most powerful and most sophisticated law enforcement agency in the world but at the expense of personal liberty and freedom as some critics would contend. “He had despicable tactics towards the end of his life but it was all under the auspices of the fact that he thought he was a great patriot and he was doing a service to the country.”

Another aspect of J. Edgar Hoover’s mysterious life that’s tackled in the movie is his presumed homosexuality, including his apparent life-long love affair with his assistant Clyde Tolson, who is portrayed in the movie by handsome newcomer Armie Hammer. Note: The Screen Actors Guild recognized Armie’s impressive performance with aBest Supporting Actor nomination.

Oscar-winning actress Judi Dench and Oscar-nominated actress Naomi Watts are also part of the incredible cast.
Leo may be too modest to talk about how impressive he was in this movie but there is no denying that his powerful performance carries the movie as it navigates through the more than 50 years in J. Edgar Hoover’s colorful life. Watch it and be amazed.

(J. Edgar opens in theaters on Jan. 25)

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