Leo's new life
From Teen People, May Issue
For Leonardo DiCaprio, TItanic was than a movie- it was the voyage of a lifetime. Here, how Leo's world changed since he scored a one-way ticket to superstardom.
Something strange was going on in the cafe du flore in Paris. Leonardo DiCaprio was hanging out at a table there one day last spring, sipping a cappuccino- and nobody was bothering him. He was in town to shoot The Man In The Iron Mask. William Shakespeare's Romeo + JUliet had not yet to open in France, and the movie he had just finished, Titanic, wasn't due out for several months. "I said to him that this may be his last chance to sit in a cafe and have a normal life," saus Russell Smith, coporducer of The Man In The Iron Mask. "But Leo didn't want to hear it. He refused to believe that things would change after Titanic.
Sorry, Leo but you couldn't have been more wrong. Ever since his dashing Jack Dawson romanced Kate Winslet's Rose DeWitt Bukater in the monster hit Titanic, the 23-year-old actor has been the object of a white-hot, worldwide love affair. So far, Titanic, which opened in the U.S. on December 19th 1997, has earned more than $1 billion, and it's now the highest-grossing film of all time. Much of that moola is coming from smitten fans- like Party Of Five's Jennifer Love Hewitt, 19- who are seeing it again and again. " Leo really shines in Titanic," says the actress, who has seen the movie twice so far. "I cried from the first 20 minutes on,"
Leo's box-office appeal must have his manager grinning from ear to ear. The success of Titanic and the recent release The Man In The Iron Mask(in which he plays France's evil Louis XIV, as well as his identical twin brother) have bumped Leo's salary from $2.5 million into the realm of the likes of Harrison Ford's at-ready?- $20 million per movie.
And Leo's bank account isn't all that's out of control. Late last spring, after Romeo + Juliet was released in France, Leo could no longer enjoy a quiet cup of coffee or go see a movie without causing a commotion. He found that out while trying to exit the Batman And Robin premiere in Paris, when he and his friends suddenly mobbed by hundreds of squealing teens. "They surrounded our car and smashed up against it," says longtime pal Ethan Suplee. "I was a little scared," Leomania raged in full force again when Titanic opened in Tokyo last November, with more than 2,000 frenzied fans meeting Leo's every smile with screams of "Kawaii"(the japanese word for cute). "That," says Ethan," was like the Beatles."
At the New York City premiere of The Man In The Iron Mask in March, crowds of teenage girls waited for hours to glimpse their idol, who obliged a lucky few qith autographs. Even luckier were kid celebs- such as Susan Sarandon's daughter Eva, 13- who used Hollywood connections to nab tickets to the post-party at the New York Public Library, where a hotly pursued Leo mainly stuck with his friends in an exclusive VIP area.
Teens aren't the only ones who want to get neat Leo. He met Prince Charles at Tokyo's Titanic premiere, schmoozed with President Clinton at a January fund-raiser, and scored courtside seats for the February NBA All-star game next to his new buddy, rapper Puff Daddy.
But there's one thing that hasn't changed, and that is Leo himself. By most accounts, "He's still the same guy," Kate Winslet said of her Titanic costar. And coproduver Jon Landau recalls " He was never too busy to give an autograph or even pose for a picture." Signs that Leo has yet to be spoiled by success include hit ultra-casual style of dress- T-Shirts, Silly Hats, Baggy jeans- and the haphazard buzz cut he's recently been sporting. "Leo doesn't try to impress anyone," says Titania director James Cameron. "He knows who he is."
He also knows who his friends are: for the most part, the same guys he's been hanging out with for years. Although Leo dated model Kristen Zang- his blonde escort to the U.S. premiere of Romeo + Julier- for 15 months (they broke up last year) and has since linked with supermodels Valletta and Heleta Christensen, his steadiest companions are a circle of friends he's run with since before he was famous, like Ethan Suplee, Tobey Maguire, and Kevin Connelly.
Leo likes to fly pals to his movie sets (last spring they all shared a penthouse apartment in Paris, with a ping-pong table and video games) and strikes most people as a loyal friend. "I hadn't seen him in about six years" says actor Danny Nucci, who first met Leo in an L.A. acting class and was reunited with him for Titanic."But when I saw him he was like, 'Hey man, nice to see you. Let's hang out in my room, plau video games.'"
Leo's favorite thing to do with his buddies, besides shooting hoops and playing video games, is to hit popular nightspots, like the New York City club Life. "People don't harass him, because he doesn't come in as 'Leonardo DiCaprio'," says Andre the maitre d'at Life. "We Know him as just Leo," Another Life employee says Leo never acts like a big movie star: "He'll come with 15 friends and stand at the door to make sure they all get in,"
His hectic party schedule isn't likely to change now that Leo is megafamous. "No matter what, I'm gonna continue to do the things that I did before," he told movie critic Joel Siegel in December. "I can't be confined to my house." Not long after Titanic hit, Leo flew about a dozen friends down to Miami for a huge New Year's Bash! Over the nest few days he partied at the South Beach hot spots like the Beehive, where "the girls were fawning all over him" says one partygoer. But even than when Titanic reviews were touting him as the next James Dean, he was always polite and approachable. Says South Beacher: "Leo doesn't believe that Hollywood hyper about himself." Nor has he let it pull him away from his family. "Leo's closest relationship is with his mother," says magician pal David Blaine. In fact, Leo lived with is mom, Irmelin, in a three-bedroom home in Los Feliz, Calif., until last November when he rented his own place in Los-Angeles. Irmelin,53, a former legal secretary, and Leo's father, George,54, who produced comic books, seperated when Leo was a year old, but they still managed to raise their only son together in L.A. . At five, Leo got his first acting gig- on the kid's show Romper Room- but was fired because he was too rowdy, He attented John Marshall High School, where "he was skinny, kind of wimpy looking," says former classmare Susanna Mejia. "The girls didn't think he was a babe, not like now."
Leo was always the class clown, and his talent landed him a part on the show Growing Pains in 1991. Around thn he also scored his first big movie role, in This Boy's Life. Time for a major star trip right? "A lot of actors would have been weenies about doing a film with Robert De Niro" says Growing Pains star Alan Thicke. "But Leo was an antiweenie, a total good guy."
After that, he was on the fast track to film stardom, winning Best supporting Actor Oscar nomination for 1993's What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. A serious actor who "makes smart choices" accoring to director's risky epic about the doomed 1912 ocean liner.
Titanic's seven-month shoot in Mexico was hellish at times. But the actor kept everyone loose by doing his Michael Jackson imitation and by scaring people with his pet beaded dragon blizz. "He was always pulling Blizz out of his pocket," said Kate Winslet. "Then it fell out and got run over. Leo was terribly upset." Blizz survived.
And so will Leo, even though he wasn't nominated for a best actor Oscar for his performance in Titanic.(The film got 14 nominations). Yet winning awards isn't that important to Leo: He's too busy taking a big bite out of life. For instance, David Blaine tells a story about an evening last fall when he and Leo were out cruising in downtown New York City,"This homeless guy recognized him. So Leo just decided to take the guy into a restaurant and buy him some food." Says Cameron:" Leo has a questioning spirit. He;s interested in human condition."
That curiosity extends to his work too. Although "He can do anything he wants," says Cameron, Leo is in no rush to star in another big-budget movie. Last fall he filmed a small role as a rock star in Woody Allen's upcoming Celebrity, but since then Leo has been taking it easy, careerwise. In february, he spent a week in Cuba learning more about the country's artists and culture.
And when he finally goes back to work, don't expect him to play another romantic dreamboat like Jack Dawson. "He may want to play a nerdy guy," says Cameron.One of his next roles could be a quiet Biophysicist in BombShell, a film being coproduced by his fateher. Leo is also likeli to star in a movie based on his friend David Blaine's life. "You want to be remembered for your work," Leo told Joel Siegel, "rather than being sort of the hink of the month." Hunk Of The Month? Wrong again. "Leo," says Kate Winslet, "is the actor of the century."