The Trials And Tribulations Of Being Leonardo DiCaprio

Youssef El-Gingihy
4 min readOct 6, 2022

James Cameron once recalled that it was Leonardo DiCaprio, who had effectively auditioned him for Titanic, unsure whether to accept the role. Cameron had been forced to wait on DiCaprio’s decision. Leo knew that his indie career — The Basketball Diaries, Total Eclipse, even Romeo & Juliet — would be over once he became a tweenie idol. Perhaps the rest of his career, populated by machismo movies, represents a purgatory of repentance culminating in his Oscar winning role in the masochistic The Revenant.

Titanic was arguably the first major movie of the globalisation era. For a while after its release, DiCaprio attained the kind of fame associated with Jesus Christ or The Beatles; instantly recognisable anywhere on the planet. On a trip to the Amazon, he was recognised by native Indians and in the barbershops of Kabul, they were serving up imitation Jack Dawson haircuts.

The movie catapulted DiCaprio into the hallowed sphere of hyper-celebrity occupied exclusively by the brightest luminaries — from world-historical figures to royalty. Only a handful of people ever attain this level of exposure — one might think of Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra or JFK. DiCaprio was the kind of movie superstar that comes along once or maybe twice in a generation — Brando, Dean, Cruise.

Leo has been best in films such as Romeo and Juliet, The Beach and Catch Me If You Can. The latter is the apotheosis of Spielbergian total entertainment. Spielberg makes it look easy but this kind of cinematic candyfloss is really the work of a legendary director at the pinnacle of his career.

Unfortunately, since Titanic, Leo has wasted too much of his career atoning for ‘effeminate’ parts with a series of exasperating, testosterone-fuelled roles such as Gangs of New York and Shutter Island most of it in partnership with Scorsese. Admittedly, The Departed — with a heavyweight cast — and The Wolf of Wall Street — with its satirical surfeit and grotesque excesses nailing the malaise at the heart of the financialisation of the world — are the two successful exceptions. He has also headlined some rather forgettable if worthy movies such as Blood Diamond and Body of Lies. Lately he has found a happy medium between ying and yang with Tarantino in Django Unchained and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

Now I may not have my finger on the tweenie pulse but it strikes me that we have not seen anyone in the 21st Century attain anything remotely closely to this level of absurdly hysterical fame. Robert Pattinson came close with the Twilight saga and I suppose that Timothée Chalamet has some je ne sais quoi. But neither can put a candle to Leo. It is like comparing Leicester’s Jamie Vardy with Messi.

DiCaprio’s fame was a phenomenon. He is still spoken of with a mixture of hushed veneration and adulation. There is the kind of buzz about a new DiCaprio project that does not seem to attach itself to other stars. The only comparable male stars, in terms of worldwide celebrity, are Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt but the fame of these two is of a different more mature variety. Cruise may have been in Top Gun but DiCaprio had the good fortune to reach peak fame with the release of a box office smashing and Oscar record breaking sensation in Titanic — the kind of collision of critical and commercial success that comes along every few decades last seen in Gone With The Wind perhaps. I jest but you get my point. Maybe Titanic was the first and final truly global movie event before the digital age fragmented audiences and put an end to the universal and communal experience of cinema.

In spite of all this fame and success, it seems that there is a rather sad and tragic love-shaped hole at the heart of DiCaprio’s existence. Certainly his ‘pussy posse’ adventures in the wake of Titanic are the stuff of every young man’s sexual fantasy. ‘Marky’ Mark Wahlberg once described how Leo had devoured the groupies on the set of The Basketball Diaries. DiCaprio has since dated and gone out with a string of assorted models. He certainly has a type. Not so long ago, a friend informed me they had seen Leo in an exclusive hotel in New York with a bevy of gorgeous women draping themselves all over him. But the sound of wedding bells seems as distant as ever for poor Leo.

The prospect of settling down and having children does not seem to be on the radar. DiCaprio has become renowned for his climate activism even narrating the documentary Before The Flood. Could this eco-angst be the reason behind his decision not to have kids yet? Or maybe permanent bachelorhood is just his thing à la Brando or Nicholson. I suspect though that this is what you might call the Peter Pan curse of being Leonardo DiCaprio. All that unlimited exposure at a tender age arguably means that he has never really needed to grow up.