Leonardo DiCaprio

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16 mins read

Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio was born on November 11, 1974, he is an American actor and film producer. 

DiCaprio was born in Los Angeles, California, the only child of Irmelin (née Indenbirken), a legal secretary, and George DiCaprio, an underground comix writer, publisher, and distributor of comic books. His father is of Italian and German descent. DiCaprio is conversant in Italian. His maternal grandfather, Wilhelm Indenbirken, was German, and his maternal grandmother, Helene Indenbirken, was a Russian-born German citizen.

DiCaprio was named Leonardo because his mother, then pregnant with him, first felt him kick while she was looking at a Leonardo da Vinci painting in the Uffizi museum in Florence, Italy. His parents separated when he was one year old; they initially agreed to live next door to each other to not deprive DiCaprio of his father’s presence in his life as he mostly lived with his mother. For a while though, DiCaprio lived with his father, stepmother and older stepbrother, Adam Farrar, with whom he was close growing up. DiCaprio and his mother later moved around to multiple Los Angeles neighborhoods, such as Echo Park and Los Feliz, while she worked several jobs. He went to Seeds Elementary School and later John Marshall High School after attending the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies for four years. DiCaprio has said he hated public school and often asked his mother to take him to auditions instead to improve their financial situation. He dropped out of high school following his third year, eventually earning his GED.

DiCaprio has said his career choice as a child was to become a marine biologist or an actor but eventually favored the latter, as he was fond of impersonating characters and imitating people. When he was two, he went on stage at a performance festival and danced spontaneously; the cheerful response from the crowd started his interest in performing. When his stepbrother earned $50,000 for a television commercial, DiCaprio, fascinated with this, decided to become an actor. In 1979, DiCaprio was removed, at age five, from the set of the children’s television series Romper Room for being disruptive. He began appearing in several commercials at age 14 for Matchbox cars by Mattel, which he considered his first role, and later for Kraft Foods, Bubble Yum, and Apple Jacks. In 1989, he played the role of Glen in two episodes of the television show The New Lassie.

At the beginning of his career, DiCaprio had difficulty finding an agent and when he did find one, he suggested DiCaprio change his name to Lenny Williams to appeal to American audiences, which he declined to do. He remained jobless for a year and a half even after 100 auditions. Disillusioned at this, he initially decided to quit acting, but his father encouraged him not to give up, and he needed the money to support his mother. By the early 1990s, he began acting regularly on television, starting with a role in the pilot of The Outsiders (1990) and one episode of the soap opera Santa Barbara (1990), in which he played the young Mason Capwell. DiCaprio got a break that year when he was cast in Parenthood, a series based on a successful comedy film of the same name. Before being cast in the role of Garry Buckman, a troubled teenager, he analyzed Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in the original film.

He made his film debut in 1991 as the stepson of an evil landlord in the low-budget horror direct-to-video film Critters 3. Later that year, he became a recurring cast member of the sitcom Growing Pains, playing Luke Brower, a homeless boy who is taken in by the Seaver family. In 1992, DiCaprio played a supporting role in the first installment of the Poison Ivy film series, and was handpicked by Robert De Niro out of 400 young actors to play the lead role of Tobias “Toby” Wolff in Michael Caton-Jones’s coming-of-age drama This Boy’s Life. In 1993, DiCaprio co-starred as the intellectually disabled brother of Johnny Depp’s character in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, a comic-tragic odyssey of a dysfunctional Iowa family. At 19, he became the seventh-youngest nominee in the Oscar category. DiCaprio’s first effort of 1995 was in The Quick and the Dead. Sony Pictures was dubious over DiCaprio’s casting, and as a result, costar Sharon Stone paid his salary herself. DiCaprio’s next film in 1995 was The Basketball Diaries, a biopic, in which he played a teenage Jim Carroll as a drug-addicted high school basketball player and writer. DiCaprio next starred alongside David Thewlis in Agnieszka Holland’s erotic drama Total Eclipse, a fictionalized account of the homosexual relationship between Arthur Rimbaud (DiCaprio) and Paul Verlaine (Thewlis). He replaced River Phoenix, who died before filming began.

In 1996, DiCaprio starred opposite Claire Danes in Baz Luhrmann’s film Romeo + Juliet, an abridged modernization of William Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy of the same name, which retained the original Shakespearean dialogue. Later that year, DiCaprio starred in Marvin’s Room, a family drama revolving around two sisters, played by Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton, who are reunited through tragedy after 17 years of estrangement. DiCaprio portrayed Hank, Streep’s character’s troubled son, who has been committed to a mental asylum. DiCaprio rejected a role in the film Boogie Nights (1997) to star opposite Kate Winslet in James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) as members of different social classes who fall in love aboard RMS Titanic during its ill-fated maiden voyage.DiCaprio initially had doubts about it, but was eventually encouraged to pursue the part by Cameron, who strongly believed in his acting ability.The role of Jack Dawson transformed DiCaprio into a superstar, resulting in intense adoration among teenage girls and young women in general that became known as “Leo-mania”, comparable to Beatlemania in the 1960s.

DiCaprio played a self-mocking role in a small appearance in Woody Allen’s caustic satire of the fame industry, Celebrity (1998). That year, he also starred in the dual roles of the villainous King Louis XIV and his secret, sympathetic twin brother Philippe in Randall Wallace’s The Man in the Iron Mask, based on the same-titled 1939 film. DiCaprio was cast in American Psycho (2000) in 1998, but left the project soon after when he failed to agree with Oliver Stone on the film’s direction and took the lead role in The Beach instead. The latter, an adaption of Alex Garland’s 1996 novel of the same name, saw him play an American backpacking tourist looking for the perfect way of life in a secret island commune in the Gulf of Thailand.

In the mid 1990s, DiCaprio appeared in the mostly improvised short film called Don’s Plum as a favor to aspiring director R. D. Robb. When Robb decided to expand the black-and-white film to feature length, DiCaprio and costar Tobey Maguire had its release blocked by court order, arguing they never intended to make it a theatrical release, as it would have commercial value thanks to their stardom. The film eventually premiered at the 2001 Berlin International Film Festival.

DiCaprio turned down the role of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002). His first film that year was the biographical crime drama Catch Me If You Can, based on the life of Frank Abagnale Jr., who before his 19th birthday committed check fraud to make millions in the 1960s. Also in 2002, DiCaprio starred in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, a historical drama set in the mid-19th century in the Five Points district of New York City. Director Scorsese initially struggled selling his idea of realizing the film until DiCaprio became interested in playing protagonist Amsterdam Vallon, a young leader of an Irish-American street gang, and thus Miramax Films got involved with financing the project. In 2004, DiCaprio founded the production company Appian Way Productions, taking its name from the Italian road of the same name. He was interested in finding “out of the box” material from an actor’s perspective and developing it in a way that stayed true to its original source. DiCaprio’s first producing task was as an executive producer in The Assassination of Richard Nixon. DiCaprio and Scorsese reunited for a biopic of the eccentric and obsessive American film director and aviation pioneer Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004), which DiCaprio also co-produced under Appian Way. DiCaprio initially developed the project with Michael Mann, who decided against directing it after working on biopics The Insider (1999) and Ali (2001). In 2006, DiCaprio starred in the crime film The Departed and the political war thriller Blood Diamond. In 2007, DiCaprio produced the comedy drama Gardener of Eden (2007). Shortly after, he created, produced, co-wrote and narrated The 11th Hour, a documentary about people’s relationship to nature and global warming. DiCaprio was also a creator and an executive producer for Greensburg, an American television series broadcast on the Planet Green television network. The show takes place in Greensburg, Kansas, and is about rebuilding the town in a sustainable way after being hit by the May 2007 EF5 tornado; it ran for three seasons until 2010.

In 2008, DiCaprio starred in Body of Lies, a spy film based on the novel of the same name. He played one of three agents battling a terrorist organization in the Middle East. Later that year, DiCaprio reunited with Kate Winslet for the drama Revolutionary Road (2008), directed by Winslet’s then-husband Sam Mendes. As both actors had been reluctant to make romantic films similar to Titanic, it was Winslet who suggested that both work with her on a film adaptation of the 1961 novel of the same name by Richard Yates after reading the script by Justin Haythe, knowing that the plot had little in common with the 1997 blockbuster. Once DiCaprio agreed to the film, it went almost immediately into production. Playing a couple in a failing marriage in the 1950s, DiCaprio and Winslet spent some time together in preparation, and DiCaprio felt claustrophobic on the small set they used. He ended the 2000s by producing director Jaume Collet-Serra’s psychological horror thriller film Orphan (2009).

DiCaprio continued to collaborate with Scorsese in the 2010 psychological thriller film Shutter Island, based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. He played Edward “Teddy” Daniels, a U.S. Marshal investigating a psychiatric facility located on an island, who comes to question his own sanity. DiCaprio and Scorsese quickly became interested in the project in 2007, and the former co-produced the film under Appian Way with Phoenix Pictures. Because of the film’s plot involving disturbing scenes, DiCaprio had nightmares of mass murder during production and considered relaxing with his friends therapy. Also in 2010, DiCaprio starred in Christopher Nolan’s ensemble science-fiction film Inception. Inspired by the experience of lucid dreaming and dream incubation, the film features Dom Cobb (DiCaprio), an “extractor” who enters the dreams of others to obtain information that is otherwise inaccessible. Cobb is promised a chance to regain his old life in exchange for planting an idea in a corporate target’s mind. 

After playing demanding roles, DiCaprio took a break from acting to have some time for himself. In 2011, he starred in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, a biopic about J. Edgar Hoover. The film focuses on the career of the FBI director from the Palmer Raids onward, including an examination of his private life as an alleged closeted homosexual. Also in 2011, he produced Catherine Hardwicke’s romantic horror film Red Riding Hood, very loosely based on the folk tale Little Red Riding Hood. He was also an executive producer for George Clooney’s political drama The Ides of March, an adaptation of Beau Willimon’s 2008 play Farragut North.

In 2012, DiCaprio starred as a plantation owner, Calvin Candie, in Quentin Tarantino’s Spaghetti Western, Django Unchained. After reading the script, DiCaprio was uncomfortable with the extent of racism portrayed in the film, but his co-stars and Tarantino convinced him not to sugarcoat it. While filming, DiCaprio accidentally cut his hand on glass, but continued filming, and Tarantino elected to use the take in the final product. DiCaprio’s next role was of the millionaire Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013), an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel of the same name, co-starring Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire.

Three films were produced by DiCaprio under Appian Way in 2013—Runner RunnerOut of the Furnace and the black comedy-drama The Wolf of Wall Street. DiCaprio reunited with Scorsese for the fifth time in the lattermost, a film based on the life of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (played by DiCaprio), who was arrested in the late 1990s for securities fraud and money laundering. DiCaprio wanted to play Belfort ever since he had read his autobiography and won a bidding war with Warner Bros. against Brad Pitt/Paramount Pictures for the rights to Belfort’s memoir in 2007. He was fond of Belfort’s honest and unapologetic portrayal of his actual experiences in the book, and was inspired by the financial crisis of 2007–2008 to make the film. In January 2013, DiCaprio said he would take a long break from acting to “fly around the world doing good for the environment.”

DiCaprio was an executive producer on Virunga, a 2014 British documentary film about four people fighting to protect the world’s last mountain gorillas from war and poaching. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret was another documentary film that year for which he was an executive producer—he took part in the new cut released exclusively on Netflix that September. It explores the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, and investigates the policies of environmental organizations on this issue. In 2015, DiCaprio produced and played fur trapper Hugh Glass in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s survival drama The Revenant. DiCaprio has described it as his most difficult film. He had to eat a raw slab of bison’s liver and sleep in animal carcasses, and suffered hypothermia. He also learned to shoot a musket, build a fire, speak two Native American languages (Pawnee and Arikara) and apply ancient healing techniques. Also in 2015, he was an executive producer for Catching the Sun, a documentary film on the growth of the solar power industry that premiered on Netflix in April 2016. DiCaprio signed on to produce and star in The Crowded Room (with direction by Iñárritu), an adaptation of the story of Billy Milligan; it has been in development hell since before he got involved. In 2021, it was announced that The Crowded Room would instead be adapted as a ten-episode television series, starring Tom Holland.

For the next three years, DiCaprio narrated documentaries and served as a producer for films. In 2016, he was an executive producer for The Ivory Game, which examines the ivory trade; produced, hosted, and narrated the documentary Before the Flood about climate change; and produced the crime drama Live by Night. He continued to produce films two years later—the psychological horror movie Delirium, and the eponymous retelling of the legend Robin Hood, an action adventure.

After narrating the 2019 global warming documentary Ice on Fire, DiCaprio returned to acting following a four-year break in Quentin Tarantino’s comedy-drama Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which traces the relationship between Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), an aging television actor and his stuntman, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). To help the film’s financing, DiCaprio and Pitt agreed to take a pay cut. DiCaprio was fascinated with the film’s homage to Hollywood and focus on the friendship between his and Pitt’s characters. He drew from real-life experience of witnessing the struggles and rejections of his actor friends in the industry. In February 2019, National Geographic ordered a television series adaption of The Right Stuff, based on the 1973 book of the same name, with DiCaprio as executive producer. The series had been in development at National Geographic since July 2017. In May 2020, the series was moved to Disney+ and released in October 2020. That May, he made a brief appearance in the finale of the miniseries The Last Dance. The following year, DiCaprio appeared alongside Jennifer Lawrence in Adam McKay’s comedy film Don’t Look Up. He joined the project as COVID-19 pandemic delays pushed back its original April 2020 production schedule and unofficially worked with McKay on the script.

In August 2015, it was announced that Martin Scorsese will direct an adaptation of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City starring DiCaprio. In 2017, Paramount announced that it has acquired the movie rights for an English-language adaptation of The Black Hand, which will star DiCaprio as turn of the 20th century police officer Joe Petrosino. Later that year, Paramount won a bidding war against Universal Pictures for the rights to adapt Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo da Vinci. The studio bought the rights under its deal with DiCaprio’s Appian Way, which said that it planned to produce the film with DiCaprio as the star. As of September 2018, DiCaprio was set to produce and star in Roosevelt, a biopic of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, with Scorsese as the director. In October 2018, he was cast in Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon based on the book of the same name by David Grann.

In 2005, DiCaprio was made a commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Minister of Culture for his contributions to the arts.

DiCaprio is identified as one of the most active celebrities in the climate change movement. According to him, he was eager to learn about ecology from an early age, watching documentaries on rain forest depletion and the loss of species and habitats. He has said that the environment is more important to him than spirituality, and that he is agnostic. He established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 1998, a non-profit organization devoted to promoting environmental awareness. Although concerned with all areas of the environment, it focuses on global warming, preserving Earth’s biodiversity and supporting renewable energy. It has worked on projects in over 40 countries and has produced two short web documentaries, Water Planet and Global Warning. The foundation has also funded debt-for-nature swaps. DiCaprio has received praise from environmental groups, and accolades, including the Martin Litton Environment Award in 2001 from Environment Now and the Environmental Leadership Award in 2003 from Global Green USA. He has been an active supporter of numerous environmental organizations and sat on the board of the World Wildlife Fund, Global Green USA, and International Fund for Animal Welfare.

DiCaprio has owned environment-friendly electric-hybrid vehicles and his home is powered by solar panels. However, his use of private jets and large yachts has prompted criticism due to their large carbon footprints. DiCaprio states that global warming is the world’s “number-one environmental challenge”. He chaired the national Earth Day celebration in 2000, where he interviewed Bill Clinton and they discussed plans to deal with global warming and the environment. DiCaprio presented at the 2007 American leg of Live Earth, and in 2010 earned a nomination for the VH1 Do Something Award for his environmental work.

In November 2010, DiCaprio donated $1 million to the Wildlife Conservation Society at Russia’s Tiger Summit. DiCaprio’s persistence in reaching the event after encountering two plane delays caused then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to describe him as a “muzhik” or “real man”. In 2011, DiCaprio joined the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s campaign to free Tony, a tiger who had spent the last decade at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tête, Louisiana. A benefit “11th Hour” fine art auction he organized in 2013, raised nearly $40 million for his foundation. It became the world’s highest-grossing environmental charity event ever held. In 2014, he was appointed as a United Nations representative on climate change, and later that year he made an opening statement to members of the UN Climate Summit. In 2015, he announced his intention to divest from fossil fuels. He again spoke at the UN in April 2016 prior to the signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

At a 2016 meeting with Pope Francis, DiCaprio gave a charity donation and spoke about environmental issues. A few days later, possibly influenced by this meeting, the Pope said he would act in a charity film. DiCaprio traveled to Indonesia in early 2016 where he criticized the government’s palm oil industry’s slash-and-burn forest clearing methods. In July 2016, his foundation awarded $15.6 million to help protect wildlife and the rights of Native Americans, along with combating climate change. That October, DiCaprio joined Mark Ruffalo in North Dakota in support of the Standing Rock tribe’s opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. In April 2017, he protested against President Trump’s inaction on climate change by attending the People’s Climate March. In July, a charity auction and celebrity concert put on by DiCaprio’s foundation had raised over $30 million in its opening days. DiCaprio’s foundation donated $100 million in December 2018 to fight climate change. In 2019, DiCaprio’s environmental NGO Earth Alliance has pledged $5 million in order to help protect the Amazon after fires destroyed large parts of the rainforest in July and August of that year. In May 2021, DiCaprio announced a $43m pledge to enact conservation operations across the Galápagos Islands, with the announcement marked by his social media accounts being taken over by a wildlife veterinarian and island restoration specialist, Paula A Castaño.

In 1998, DiCaprio and his mother donated $35,000 for a “Leonardo DiCaprio Computer Center” at the library in Los Feliz, the site of his childhood home. It was rebuilt after the 1994 Northridge earthquake and opened in early 1999. In 2010, he donated $1 million to relief efforts in Haiti after the earthquake. In April 2013, DiCaprio donated $61,000 to the gay rights group GLAAD. In 2016, DiCaprio took part in an annual fundraising gala event of Children of Armenia Fund, as a special guest of his close friend and gala’s honorary chair Tony Shafrazi. DiCaprio contributed $65,000 to the cause. After Hurricane Harvey in 2017, DiCaprio provided $1 million to the United Way Harvey Recovery Fund through his foundation. In 2020, DiCaprio’s foundation donated $3 million to Australia bushfire relief efforts.

In May 2009, DiCaprio joined Titanic co-star Kate Winslet, James Cameron and Canadian singer Celine Dion, in a campaign to raise money to financially support the fees of the nursing home where Millvina Dean, the last living survivor of the RMS Titanic, was living. DiCaprio personally donated $20,000 to support Dean.

DiCaprio’s personal life is the subject of widespread media attention. He rarely grants interviews and is reticent about his private life.