And what a life it's been
He shot to fame in Romeo + Juliet and is still one of the world’s most successful actors, yet his real passion today lies in campaigning to save the planet. We take a look at his changing career, alongside the evolution of Leo’s golden locks.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hairstyle Through The Ages
Leonardo DiCaprio’s hairstyle in the 90s
From the floppy locks of his first major cinematic performance, Romeo and Juliet, to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, the nineties catapulted Leo from childhood fame to teen heart-throb with this golden tousled crown.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s hairstyle in the early noughties
Sported by fellow male celebrities such as David Beckham, Justin Timberlake and Wentworth Miller, Leo went bold and brave with the buzz cut in the early 2000s.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s hairstyle in the 2010s
Entering adulthood meant a more sophisticated look for Leo as he landed award-winning roles in films such as Wolf of Wall Street and The Great Gatsby.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s hairstyle – the hipster look
Some said mid-life crisis, others attributed it to his new role in The Revenant, but as 2014 rolled around, Leo ditched his impeccable hair for the bearded hipster look, rocking the very on-trend man-bun and untamed facial hair.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s hairstyle looking Oscar-worthy
Surely a nomination in the most prestigious film awards would bring back Leo’s sleek do? Of course it did, appearing next to BFF Kate Winslet with his classic, sophisticated slicked back trim, even his hairstyle was worthy of an Oscar that night.
Had one Hollywood agent got their way, the 2016 Academy Award for Best Actor would have gone to… Lenny Williams. This was the name ten-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio was advised to adopt in 1985 when he was on the cusp of becoming an actor. ‘They felt my name was too ethnic and I wouldn’t get as many jobs,’ he later revealed. One Oscar, three Golden Globes, a Bafta and a staggering 90 further acting awards later, it’s safe to say the agent’s judgement was a little wide of the mark.
And yet these days, DiCaprio, now 42, wants to be known as an environmentalist. The fate of the planet is his grand passion. His Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which he set up in 1998, aged just 24, has distributed a staggering £47.4m in grants to projects that protect vulnerable wildlife from extinction and restore balance to threatened ecosystems and communities, and he is a respected speaker on global warming, regularly engaging with world leaders to take action to save the planet. It’s a huge shift in direction for a child actor, who seemed destined to follow the classic Hollywood career.
Leo was born Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio on 11 November 1974 in LA. His mother Irmelin, a legal secretary, and his father George, a comic-book distributor, separated when he was one. Neither parent earned much and they opted for a liberal, bohemian lifestyle, moving in next door to each other to raise Leo. He was brought up in Echo Park, a tough LA neighbourhood nicknamed ‘Syringe Alley’ because of the number of heroin addicts. The area was also ridden with crime and prostitution – there were men selling syringes in the playground and one of DiCaprio’s earliest memories was seeing two men having sex outside a friend’s balcony. It was highly disturbing for the five-year-old boy.
By the age of nine, DiCaprio’s father had met Peggy (who he would later marry in 1995), giving DiCaprio a stepbrother, Adam Farrar. When Farrar appeared in a cornflakes ad and earned $50,000, it was a light-bulb moment for the star. ‘Acting seemed to be a shortcut to getting out of the mess,’ he said. So he set about throwing himself into show business. Still at school, DiCaprio appeared in a handful of commercials, guest appeared on Roseanne and made an inauspicious film debut in Critters 3. In 1991, aged 16, he finally landed a recurring role, on a TV sitcom called Growing Pains. The following year, he got an even bigger break: multiple Oscar winner Robert De Niro hand-picked him from 400 young hopefuls to star as his stepson in the film This Boy’s Life, a story about domestic abuse.
An Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor followed two years later for his portrayal of mentally impaired teenager Arnie in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. He was so convincing that some audiences were astounded to learn he wasn’t mentally impaired in real life. The film gave DiCaprio his first taste of fandom, much to his bemusement. ‘Teenage girls became hysterical. What they do is shocking, climbing over walls and stuff,’ he said.
He continued to pick offbeat films rather than big-budget movies. These included the critically acclaimed The Basketball Diaries, a biopic of drug-addict poet Jim Carroll. He rejected the roles of Robin in Batman Forever, Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels and Peter Parker in Spider-man. But he was persuaded by his dad, who vetted his scripts, to star opposite Claire Danes in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet in 1996. Set in modern-day LA, the film was dubbed ‘Shakespeare for the MTV generation’ and became a box-office sensation, taking $101.2m (about £77m) worldwide.
But while Romeo + Juliet made him a household name, it was DiCaprio’s next film the following year that sent his profile stratospheric. Director James Cameron had dreamt of making a movie based on the doomed ocean liner RMS Titanic, and had created a fictitious but epic storyline of a young couple from different social classes – Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater – falling in love as the ship went down. He cast DiCaprio opposite Kate Winslet, but only after some cajoling. The actor was in talks to play Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights, but Winslet begged him to reconsider.
On its release, Titanic became the highest grossing film in history (later eclipsed by Cameron’s Avatar), in part thanks to ‘Leomania’. To the disappointment of many, the film’s young stars did not carry their on-screen romance into real life, citing their relationship as more sibling-like. To this day they remain best friends, with DiCaprio giving Winslet away at her marriage to Ned Rocknroll in 2012.
The release of Titanic coincided with the break-up of DiCaprio’s first serious relationship, with model Kristen Zang. It lasted 15 months, but reportedly ended because she couldn’t stand women throwing themselves at him. Still only 22, the actor embraced his single status by treating the New York club scene as his playground. He had a close group of actor friends that included Tobey Maguire, magician David Blaine, Entourage’s Kevin Connolly and Mad Men’s Jay R Ferguson. The press widely insinuated these tight friendships must mean DiCaprio was gay. The rumours were shot down in 1998 when New York Magazine ran a feature called Leo, Prince of the City in which writer Nancy Sales revealed the group were secretly called ‘The Pussy Posse’, because they picked up so many girls. And DiCaprio did have his pick of the world’s most beautiful women – among them supermodels Helena Christensen, Naomi Campbell and Amber Valletta.
In 2000, he capped his growing status as a ‘modelizer’ – the name coined by Sex And The City for men who only date models – by hooking up with supermodel Gisele Bündchen. Their relationship was on and off for five years and ended soon after they made their only red-carpet appearance together at the 2005 Oscars. His career, on the other hand, was thriving. He and Bündchen had attended the Oscars because he was nominated for Best Actor for The Aviator (he lost out to Ray’s Jamie Foxx). It was his second film with director Martin Scorsese after previously starring in Gangs Of New York – they would also go on to make The Departed, Shutter Island and The Wolf Of Wall Street.
However, as invested as he was in movies, DiCaprio was committing more and more time to environmental causes. His interest was first piqued in 1998 when former US vice president Al Gore asked him to support his personal campaign to prevent global warming. ‘He drew a picture of the planet, drew our atmosphere and said, “This is the most important crisis facing humanity”, and from that point on I really became not only fascinated by the issue, but really concerned why we as a collective world community haven’t done enough about it,’ said DiCaprio, who set up his foundation that same year. Since then, he has walked a line between acting and campaigning, using his profile to raise awareness – making a documentary The 11th Hour about global warming and, in 2014 becoming a UN representative on climate change. In his 2016 Oscars acceptance speech – his fifth time nominated, he finally won for The Revenant – he urged people ‘not to take this planet for granted’, and later that year spoke at the UN before the declaration of the Paris Agreement.
The night he won his Oscar, he graced the red carpet with Kate Winslet. He was single again – his last serious relationship with model Bar Refaeli finishing in early 2011. A five-month fling with Blake Lively fizzled out that same year. And, more recently in May, he ended a 12-month relationship with Nina Agdal, a 25-year-old (you guessed it) model. He’s reticent to discuss why he’s never settled down, but has admitted he’d like children, telling Rolling Stone magazine this year, ‘If it happens, it happens.’ For now he’s assumed the title of Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor from George Clooney and is back on the party scene with a newly divorced Maguire. DiCaprio’s next film The Black Hand, about a New York police officer in the early 1900s, isn’t out until next year, allowing him more time to save the planet. ‘As an actor, I pretend for a living. I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems,’ he has said. ‘I believe mankind has looked at climate change in that same way: as if it were a fiction, as if pretending climate change wasn’t real would somehow make it go away. But I think we know better than that.’ (Words by Michelle Davis)