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How Leonardo DiCaprio turned his back on his good looks and became a bonafide superstar

It's like DiCaprio was a brand. He's never needed muscles to be a killer hero or badass one-liners and there's this fact he's never played a superhero or looked at that route to make himself a superstar
UPDATED APR 13, 2020
Leonardo DiCaprio (Getty Images)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Getty Images)

Debonair, sophisticated, heartthrob, suave, dreamy, handsome, sexy, quirky, intense, charming, and a hundred other adjectives still won't sum up the man Leonardo DiCaprio is now. At 45, the Californian actor is one of the finest actors of his generation and is well on his way to establishing himself as one of Hollywood's legends. This article isn't about DiCaprio's journey to fame, neither is it about his personal life, what it is, is a look at his choice of projects that went beyond the conventional. This is about how his looks had nothing to do on his way to becoming a bonafide superstar. 

He's a serious actor no doubt. The world first witnessed him as a blonde kid seen in Bubble Yum and Kraft fat-free cheese singles commercials. 1996 saw him in 'Romeo + Juliet', a romantic-crime tragedy alongside Claire Danes. A 22-ish DiCaprio acting in one of those critically acclaimed films was a major break and he followed it up with James Cameron's 'Titanic' in '97. Another blockbuster that had the world swooning for him. 

For someone who took off as a perfect ladies man, his roles over the years changed and so did his outlook to be in showbiz. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the actor explained he was tired of being the "hunk of the month". His simple answer was: "I’m looking for longevity."

'The Basketball Diaries' in '95 was the earliest indication of DiCaprio looking at experimenting with roles. He played a drug-addict athlete, a far cry from the roles he played in 'Romeo + Juliet'.  Now, fast-forward that career and DiCaprio is still a crowd-bringer. Add to that, he's one of those in the list of Hollywood's elites. Consistent and bankable, DiCaprio over the years chose roles that would give the world a chance to see the different shades the actor could bring on to the big screen. 

Leo in a still from 'Once Upon A Time in Hollywood' (IMDb)

It's like DiCaprio was a brand. He didn't need muscles to be an established killer hero or some badass one-liners to put in some comedy genre films. To further prove that he was still numero uno, there's this fact he's never played a superhero or looked at that route to make himself a superstar. There was a time when one genre of movies did consistently well in terms of bringing in the moolah, despite the sort of content that came out. Unsurprisingly, DiCaprio looked at working with the best directors instead of dishing out movies after movies. It just wasn't him. 

Here's a quick look at his film patterns: 'Catch Me If You Can' was with Steven Spielberg in 2002. He followed it up with a double collaboration with Martin Scorsese for 'Gangs of New York' and 'The Aviator' in 2004. Two years later, he was back as William "Billy" Costigan in Scorsese's 'The Departed'. Two top directors and four unusual roles— a conman, a gang leader, an aviation pioneer and a state trooper in a crime film. None of these roles, by the way, had anything to do with those drool-worthy looks he was blessed with. 

And since we are talking about eminent directors, Cameron in 'Titanic' who not just praised him lavishly, also had a thing to share about his tantrums. Especially when he feigned hatred towards the cold waters. He kept grumbling about getting wet while he was shooting water sequences with co-star Kate Winslet, irritating the director.

Anyways, barring that odd snag, his interest in working with the best saw him work a lot more with Scorsese. 'Shutter Island' and 'The Wolf of Wall Street' were two more projects with the acclaimed director and he is currently working on 'Killers of the Flower Moon' with the same director.

DiCaprio in 'The Revenant' (IMDb)

Add to that some of those things he does that set him apart. One of them was putting himself in a not-so-comfortable zone. In an interview with THR, 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' producer Shannon McIntosh recollected the time DiCaprio had to sing in one of the scenes and while he did express some concern, he nailed it while shooting. 

"We were about to walk into dailies one evening, and it was about a week before he had to do the Hullabaloo scene where he sings. And he stopped me and he said, 'I'm not really a singer. How am I going to sing this in a week?' Cut to a week later, he was absolutely fearless. He just got up and did something out of his comfort zone."

Quite simply, DiCaprio didn't just choose unconventional roles, he took a route that was beyond the regular. And that's made him what he is today. An absolute success.