The Early Role That Influenced Leonardo DiCaprio’s Acting

March 6, 2016

Five-time Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio recently won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Revenant. This honor has been bestowed on the 41-year-old star after decades worth of work in commercials, television, and film. In fact, his first gig was as a preschooler on the children’s show Romper Room, and years later he landed roles in several commercials. Leonardo’s early TV roles included the drama series The New Lassie, the soap opera Santa Barbara, and playing a homeless kid in the sitcom Growing Pains.

While his film debut was in a campy, direct-to-video horror film Critters 3,  just two years later DiCaprio’s career took a big leap forward when he was cast as Tobias Wolff opposite Robert De Niro in This Boy’s Life. In an interview with Deadline detailing his career path, DiCaprio spoke with nostalgia about this pivotal role, and the “culture shock” he felt going into the “big leagues.” Leonardo revealed the film’s director, Michael Caton-Jones, recently apologized to him for being “so mean to you when you were little.” DiCaprio replied, “Are you crazy, you were the greatest big brother I could ever have during my first giant cinematic process. You talked me through everything. You told me all the fundamental basics. Like a little league coach, literally telling me how to run the bases because I had no idea.” Leonardo explained at that point in his career, he didn’t know what to do on a film set being that his previous work had been in more relaxed settings for commercials and TV. “I had no understanding when to…shut up. Like when you see Robert De Niro preparing, and I’d get a squeeze in the arm from Michael if I was telling too many jokes, or cracking up, or trying to converse with the crew members. He let me know. ‘An actor prepares, Leonardo,'” DiCaprio told the magazine.

Auditioning for the part of Wolff at the age of 15, DiCaprio remembers feeling the need to “do something memorable.” The audition scene was a heated interaction between him and De Niro involving a mustard jar. Leonardo recalls:

“[De Niro]’s like, ‘Is it empty, is it empty?’ and I just stood up and threw my chair down, or something, and screamed at him, ‘No, it’s not empty.’ And then Bob had this smirk on his face, and just started slowly busting up, laughing in my face. And then he looked at everybody else, and the whole room started laughing.”

The reaction in the room convinced DiCaprio that his risky choice was a big mistake. “I blew this. I blew this whole opportunity, ” he thought. “But I guess they kind of liked it because Bob was like, ‘That kid was…there’s something interesting there.’ And they brought me back,” he continued. On set, De Niro demonstrated to young Leonardo how a serious actor approaches his work. “I remember how seriously he took everything, how focused he was, how he would play with…he’d just sit there, and you’d have to sometimes realize you were in the scene because you’re just watching him do an improv riff. And you’re like, ‘Holy s*** I’m on camera, that’s right.’ You had to remember to be in the moment.”

Have you ever worked with an acting ensemble that helped you set higher expectations on the way you approach your work?

Here is DiCaprio in his first job, Romper Room, from which he was fired for being disruptive.


Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘The Revenant’ Shoot Described as ‘A Living Hell’

July 24, 2015

Are there any actors who have managed to avoid off-screen horror stories during shoots from time to time? If so, consider yourself lucky! With all personalities and relationships among the cast and crew members, and the wide array of technical aspects to filmmaking, the possibilities of what can go wrong is virtually endless. In the case of the film The Revenant which is still in production, some crew members are describing it as the worst shoot they’ve ever been on by far, and one person even called the shoot “a living hell.”

Ironically, The Revenant is an epic survival story. It’s a western thriller based on the actual experiences of a fur trapper named Hugh Glass in the early 19th century played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Mad Max Tom Hardy co-stars. Birdman director Alejandro G. Inarritu co-wrote the script and is directing the ambitious production. So what has been going so terribly wrong?

First of all, principal photography commenced in October 2014 and Inarritu anticipated it would end in about April or May; but, now it’s looking like it will wrap in August. This has taken the budget from $95 million to an anticipated $135 million or more.

The film is being shot only with natural light. Inarritu spoke about the difficult time constraints this arrangement creates, explaining that “shooting in such remote far-away locations … by the time we arrive and have to return, we have already spent 40-percent of the day.”

The storyline is set in extremely harsh, snowy conditions, and was originally going to be shot in Canada. But when Canada’s weather was not obliging, the crew was forced to find bitter cold much further south; that is, on the tip of Argentina where penguins find the temperatures comfortable.

Then there are a number of specific incidents like a naked character who was to be dragged on the ground for several takes, and an actor who was immersed in freezing water with a faulty dry suit which lead to him needing medical care after the scene. And there were times when the actors would block out scenes, and then they’d end up shooting something different from what they had rehearsed. Some described the director as temperamental and indecisive.

Because so much had gone wrong, many people had been griping along the way. As a result, many either quit or were fired–including one of the film’s producers, Jim Skotchdopole who successfully worked with Inarritu on Birdman, but who was apparently banned from The Revenant set, and then was replaced. Skotchdopole in particular has received harsh criticism for not preparing or communicating properly; in one instance, he had the cast and crew fly via helicopter to a forest location, and once they arrived, the landscape had unusable lighting.

“If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of s***. … When you see the film, you will see the scale of it. And you will say, ‘Wow.'” Inarritu told The Hollywood Reporter. He feels that the complaints about the shoot are exaggerated, and he stands behinds the decisions he’s made along the way.

The Revenant is scheduled to be released on December 25, 2015.

How does this shoot compare to your worst experiences on set? And all in all, in your experience, are hellish shoots worth the effort in the end?


Will Your Next Audition Tape Go Up for Auction in Years to Come?

February 19, 2015

You know that audition you just did; you know, the one the producers just passed on hiring you? Well, one day that audition tape featuring you might be up on the auction blocks selling for big money.

Once upon a time all the mega stars we watch on the silver screen were unknown, aspiring actors, and going on auditions just like you. They had to find a way to take off work, they had to fight their way across town, only to be rejected time and again in the notoriously ruthless competition of the entertainment industry.

Brad Pitt, Helen Hunt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, and Robert Downey Junior are among the mega stars whose before-they-were-celebrities audition tapes went up for auction thanks to three anonymous casting directors who were sitting on the tapes for years.

Before Brad Pitt’s attention-grabbing supporting role of J.D. in the road film Thelma & Louise which defined Pitt as a sex symbol, Pitt was auditioning for Director Ron Howard hoping to be cast in the movie Backdraft. Howard passed on what could be described as Brad’s not-so-impressive audition performance, opting instead to give the part to William Baldwin.

The 1993 film Jurassic Park beckoned in a number of high-profile actresses in the casting process for the role of paleobotanist, Dr. Ellie Sattler. One of the actresses, however, was not well known. Her name was Gwyneth Paltrow, and she did not land the role; rather it went to Laura Dern.

In 1990 a boy named Leonardo DiCaprio tried out for the role of Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders TV series. He received a small part in the pilot, but Jay R. Ferguson landed the role. Still, as we all know, Leo was afforded many more opportunities to shine after he went head to head with Robert De Niro in the coming-of-age drama This Boy’s Life in 1993.

It’s refreshing to see unrefined footage of A-list actors before their mega fame kicked in. It serves as a reminder that we are all works in progress, and there is always room to grow, and more opportunities to blow people away as you adapt and master the craft of acting.