When he was about 19, Leonardo DiCaprio received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as a 17-18 years old boy suffering from Asperger’s syndrome in the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (Lasse Hallström, 1993). Eleven years later, he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his stunning performance as Howard Hughes in The Aviator (Martin Scorsese, 2004). Leonardo DiCaprio received a total of four Oscar’s nominations (the two other ones were for Blood Diamond and The Woolf of Wall Street), but he never won a single one. For the second week of The 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon 2015: Oscar Snubs, I’ll try to explain why DiCaprio, who is an actor I adore, should have won an Oscar or should win one eventually. For this, I’ll focus on his performances in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Aviator.
Playing the part of someone with a mental disease like in Gilbert Grape and The Aviator is never easy. Actors have to be well-prepared to be convincing. Leonardo DiCaprio explained how he prepared himself to play to part of Arnie Grape in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape: “I had to really research to get into the mind of somebody like that. I spent a few days at a home for mentally retarded teens. We just talked and I watched their mannerisms. People have these expectations that mentally retarded children are really crazy, but that isn’t so. It’s refreshing to see them because everything’s so new to them.” (Leonardo DiCaprio). So, we understand that it was a role he took seriously because he decided to prepare himself for it. The result was unforgettable and we perfectly understand why he received this Oscar nomination. DiCaprio also chose to be well-prepared for the role of Howard Hughes in The Aviator. IMDB informs us that he spent a day with Jane Russell to hear her memories and impressions of Howard Hughes. Remember, Jane Russell starred in the movie The Outlaw directed by Howard Huges. IMDB also informs us that Leonardo DiCaprio spent some time with an actual OCD patient named Edward. One more time, he was the result of his work was a wonderful performance. Leonardo DiCaprio also said: “portraying emotionally ill characters gives me the chance to really act.” That was a chance for him to prove that he was a great actor and he succeeded.
Arnie Grape and Howard Hughes are two persons suffering from a mental disease, but they are also two very different characters. One is so endearing and the other one is kind of… crazy, but not in a good way. One of them is full of life, the other one is unrealistic. One has a great complicity with his big brother, the other one is full of secrets. Yes, these are two very different characters and this is something that shows perfectly DiCaprio’s versatility. Of course, these are not the only movies that prove that. He is a nice and brilliant man in Titanic or a truly awful person in Django Unchained. Honestly, I was never disappointed by one of his performances. Some were better than some others, that’s sure, but I never saw (well, for the moment) a performance that deserved a Razzie Award! However, the first DiCaprio’s film I saw that really amazed me (and my mother) was Catch Me If You Can, directed in 2002 by the King of Entertainment, the one and only Steven Spielberg. I remember watching it with my mother on our very small TV at our country house and after that, we were constantly repeating “Oh he is such a great actor!”
But let’s get back to What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Aviator. What amazed me in these performances are all the moves, the gestures, the tics that DiCaprio does to make his characters true and alive. Arnie Grape and Howard Hughes are two very physical characters. Some movie characters come to life only with their voice and the actor’s charisma, but that can’t be the case for Howard Hughes and Arnie Grape and that’s something DiCaprio understood perfectly. With Howard Hughes, the eyes play an important role. We can see that when Hughes blinks because he feels assaulted by the camera flashes. The hand gestures become also important because they show the nervosity of this character. These were also important for the character of Arnie Grape because it’s a way for him to express himself. If you remember, in the movie, Arnie sometimes makes this move, flicking his finger against his nose. That was a gesture created by DiCaprio himself. He explained that this was like a “brain wipe… like Arnie is massaging the inside of his brain.” There, we can see that the actor doesn’t only know how to act, but also how to develop his acting according to the type the character he plays. About The Aviator, I love the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio can express his emotions sometimes only through his gaze or his facial movements. This is something full of subtlety that not everybody can do. Some actors just exaggerate this acting aspect, but I don’t feel like it was the case for DiCaprio in The Aviator.
The voice and the way of speaking an actor choose for his character is also something important because it shows another aspect of the character’s personality. For Arnie Grape, Leonardo DiCaprio has to talk like a five-year-old boy and, for The Aviator, well, was he speaking with Howard Hughes voice? Anyway, he used a voice that fits perfectly the character and that shows his eccentricity.
On another subject, something about acting that his very important for me is the chemistry between the actors. Of course, I love that when this one is good. For What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, I felt like DiCaprio has a truly great chemistry with the leading actor Johnny Depp, but also with Juliette Lewis. For The Aviator, I felt like he has a great complicity with Cate Blanchett. Well, did they really have a great chemistry in real life? I’ve heard, in an interview about Gilbert Grape, that Depp and DiCaprio enjoyed working together. For The Aviator, well, he confirmed that Cate Blanchett was the perfect actress to play the part of Katharine Hepburn.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s performances for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Aviator amazed me for two different reasons: for the first film, it was because he was capable to make his character so endearing and also because it was something so different from what I had seen of him before. For the second one, it was because he knew how to make his character so fascinating. He played both characters with such seriousness and energy, and he was highly convincing for both performances. I would have like to see him win an Oscar for one of his performances. I think he deserves one and I hope we won’t have to wait 20 years for that. Well, I once read on the web Leonardo’s answer to people like me, who want to see him win an Oscar. He explains that he is an actor because he likes this profession and not because he absolutely wants to win an Oscar. I also felt like he is not the type of person to be jealous. When he lost is Aviator’s Oscar to Jamie Foxx in 2005, he simply said that he wasn’t surprised by that. He accepted the fact that he didn’t win and that’s something wise.
I haven’t seen all Leonardo DiCaprio’s films, but I can’t wait to see more of them. So far, the ones I have seen are Titanic, Catch Me If You Can, The Great Gatsby (I didn’t really like the film, but DiCaprio’s performance was great), Inception, The Aviator, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Django Unchained, Shutter Island and The Departed. I think the next one will be The Woolf of Wall Street.
I would like to finish this text by revealing you Leonardo DiCaprio’s ten most favorite films because the man loves classics just like me! These are The Bicycle Thief, Taxi Driver, Lawrence of Arabia, 8 ½, The Third Man, Yojimbo, Sunset Boulevard, Shining and East of Eden. Sunset Boulevard is also part of my top 10. It was a great fun to talk about a contemporary actor. It was something different for my blog!