Over the course of a single decade - the 1990s - Leonardo DiCaprio graduated from supporting work in television to a status as one of the most sought-after Hollywood actors under 30. After leading roles in William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet and James Cameron's Titanic, the actor became a phenomenon, spawning legions of websites and an entire industry built around his name.
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DiCaprio was born November 11, 1974, in Hollywood, CA. The son of a German immigrant mother and an underground comic book artist father who separated shortly after Leonardo's birth, he was raised by both of his parents, who encouraged his early interest in acting. At the age of two and a half, the fledgling performer had his first brush with notoriety and workplace ethics when he was kicked off the set of Romper Room for what the show's network deemed "uncontrollable behavior." After this rather inauspicious start to his career, DiCaprio began to hone his skills with summer courses in performance art while he was in elementary school. He also joined The Mud People, an avant-garde theater group, with which he performed in Los Angeles. In high school, DiCaprio acted in his first real play and began doing commercials, educational films, and the occasional stint on the Saturday morning show The New Lassie. In 1990, after securing his first full-time agent at the age of 15, DiCaprio landed a role as a teenage alcoholic on the daytime drama Santa Barbara. He also continued to appear on other TV shows, such as The Outsiders and Parenthood, and made his film debut in the 1991 horror film Critters 3. The actor got the first of many big breaks with a recurring role on the weekly sitcom Growing Pains. His portrayal of a homeless boy won him sufficient notice to get him an audition for Michael Caton-Jones's harrowing screen adaptation of Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life. DiCaprio won the film's title role after beating out 400 other young actors and it became his career breakthrough. The 1993 film, and DiCaprio's performance opposite Robert DeNiro, won raves and the actor further increased the adulation surrounding him when, later that year, he played Johnny Depp's mentally retarded younger brother in Lasse Hallström's What's Eating Gilbert Grape. DiCaprio won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance, and at the tender age of 19, was hailed as an actor to watch.
Subsequent roles in three 1995 films, Sam Raimi's Western The Quick and the Dead; Total Eclipse (as the bisexual poet Rimbaud) and The Basketball Diaries (as a struggling junkie) all put the actor in the limelight, but it wasn't until the following year that he became a bona fide star, thanks to his portrayal of Romeo opposite Claire Danes in director Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996). The success of the film brought DiCaprio international fame, many lucrative opportunities, and frequent comparisons to predecessors such as James Dean. After starring with Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep, and DeNiro in Marvin's Room (1996), DiCaprio achieved iconic status with his starring role in James Cameron's Titanic. With Kate Winslet as the female lead, the film became a box office sensation, earning garnered 14 Oscar nominations, winning 11, including Best Picture and Best Director, and earned a whopping 1.8 billion dollars at the global box office.
DiCaprio's much-discussed exclusion from the Oscar nominations did nothing to hurt his popularity, and somewhat ironically, he next chose to parody his own celebrity with an appearance in Woody Allen's Celebrity (1998) as a badly behaved movie star. After displaying his nastier side, he tackled a dual role as twins in the same year's swashbuckler The Man in the Iron Mask, opposite Jeremy Irons, Gabriel Byrne, John Malkovich, and Gérard Depardieu. Following the commercial success of the film, DiCaprio then traveled in a completely different direction, with a lead role in Danny Boyle's screen adaptation of Alex Garland's novel The Beach. The film met with eager anticipation from its first day of shooting, as Leo fans everywhere waited with baited breath to see what kind of impression their golden child would next make on the film world; unfortunately, the muddled Beach drew neither praise nor box-office success.
In 2002, DiCaprio began what became a series of collaborations with the legendary director Martin Scorsese, starting with the the epic Gangs of New York (2002) - a sprawling tale of gangland violence in early America. Reportedly delayed by a year given much-publicized disagreements between director Scorsese and producer Harvey Weinstein, the film was ultimately released in time for the 2002 holiday/Oscar season. The tireless actor re-united with director Steven Spielberg with with the release of Catch Me if You Can, the true-life tale of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a scam artist so effective that he eluded authorities while assuming a number of high-profile false identities and racking-up over $2.5 million in fraudulent checks. Two years later, DiCaprio and Scorsese embarked on a sophomore collaboration - the biopic The Aviator (2004), with DiCaprio in a critically-praised, star-making turn as eccentric billionaire genius
Howard Hughes in The Aviator. DiCaprio and Scorsese scaled even greater heights in 2006 with The Departed, a crime drama in which DiCaprio played an undercover cop trying to bring down criminal Jack Nicholson.
Doubling up during Oscar season yet again, that same year he played the lead in Edward Zwick's Blood Diamond, as an Afrikaner who must team up with a South African mercenary in order to find a rare gem of great value to both of them. Both films opened to praise and box-office success, resulting in dual Golden Globe nominations. Perhaps pushing its luck, Warner Bros. -- the studio behind both films -- campaigned DiCaprio for a lead Oscar in Diamond and a supporting one in Departed; Oscar voters only nominated him for Diamond.
In the years that followed, DiCaprio showed no signs of tapering off when it came to challenging and even iconic roles. He joined Titanic co-star Kate Winslet, megaproducer Scott Rudin and others for the blistering marriage drama Revolutionary Road (2008), teamed with Scorsese a fourth time for the thriller Shutter Island (2010), toplined Christopher Nolan's complex, elusive sci-fi drama Inception (2010), and in 2011, worked with director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black on the biopic J. Edgar (2011), playing the famous titular FBI director. Meanwhile, DiCaprio also signed on for another collaboration with Baz Luhrmann - a new adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, co-starring Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan, not to mention a first-time collaboration with Quinten Tarantino for Django Unchained.
The hybrid-car driving DiCaprio has also been an outspoken proponent of environmentalism, a topic he is so passionate about he was allowed to interview then President Bill Clinton on the issue in a 2000 televised prime-time special. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi