Among the most bankable and seductive actors working today, Leonardo Di Caprio in The Great Gatsby directed by Baz Luhrmann succeeds in the exploit of making us (almost) forget the magnificent work of Robert Redford in Jack Clayton’s film adaptation made 40 years ago. The essential difference between Leo and the character created by F. Scott Fitzgerald is that the latter leads an existence based on appearances, whereas Di Caprio fights tooth and nail against them. The former hero of Titanic has only two ambitions: preventing the planet from capsizing … and drinking fine wines when the occasion arises!
40 years after Robert Redford, you’ve taken on one of the most complex, emblematic and fascinating characters in American literature: Gatsby. How old were you when you discovered this classic by F. Scott Fitzgerald?
I was 15. I knew that The Great Gatsby was considered to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. The book is a gripping snapshot of the American dream. It was the first book to talk about money, rising into the Establishment in our country, the emergence of an extremely privileged social class, with people on the bottom of the ladder dying of hunger, while at the top a handful of frivolous, arrogant individuals partied, drank, danced … Its pages describe a society’s decadence, but also the obsession of a man, Gatsby: a desperate and romantic loner who will do anything to get back the woman he lost.
Gatsby embodies charm, sex appeal, magnetism: a certain way of taking up space. What is your relationship with seduction?
I’m a romantic, but I also know that love can make you blind, and that even if roses are beautiful, they still have thorns! In the end I think that whatever you do, it’s women who hold all the cards. They call the shots! Their power, their real talent, is making you believe that you control everything, but in fact you do nothing of the kind.
What’s your approach for making a woman notice you and succumb to your charm – even if it’s a delusion? Does it involve dining at restaurants, good wines, floods of diamonds, thousands of roses?
Nothing special! I just try to be myself because I don’t think that women are receptive to those kinds of displays of base materialism. Men are always speculating about how to impress a woman, but again I think that a woman with sound qualities, a real romantic, doesn’t give a damn if you throw proof of your healthy bank account at her feet! Showing off how rich you are is really the lowest level! But talking about wine, especially with a connoisseur, could be a good way to break the ice.
What if the lady is not a connoisseur?
You know, it’s a mistake to think that knowing about wine is strictly the domain of men. I’ve been in many restaurants where the sommelier is a woman who is an expert in the subject. Personally, I like it when a woman guides me in choosing a wine! It’s always enjoyable when a woman takes things in hand and tries to convince you of something. Plus I think wine terminology sounds even better coming from a woman!
What are your favourite wines?
Reds! I like Bordeaux, but also Italian wines. You have to be true to your origins – it’s part of your DNA!
Do you have any regrets in terms of your career? Do you sometimes say to yourself, ‘I should have done that and not this …’
I truly don’t have any regrets. I might have if I were to look in the rearview mirror and say to myself, ‘You’ve done nothing! You’ve been sleeping! You haven’t made the most of the incredible opportunities you’ve been offered! You let your chances slip by!’ But honestly, that’s not the case.
If you hadn’t been an actor, what would you have done?
When I was a kid, I dreamt of being an oceanologist, biologist or environmentalist. When I was around 10 and one of my teachers asked, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ I replied without hesitating at all, ‘Join the team of Captain Cousteau and save the whales and dolphins.’ My friends all had posters in their rooms of David Hasselhoff in action poses, and I had the Calypso! I admit that it wasn’t very sexy, but just looking at it made me want to sail around the world. The call of the sea!
Without the huge success of Titanic, do you think you would be the Leo everyone’s fighting over today?
Let’s be realistic, films on the scale of Gangs of New York and The Aviator would’ve had trouble getting financed if I hadn’t been part of the distribution of Titanic. In the language of Hollywood, I became a ‘cash machine’, so it might as well be put to use for worthwhile projects. The big advantage of Titanic was basically to allow me to become a catalyst for other projects. When I acted in Titanic with Kate Winslet, we were, in a way, newcomers. Kate and I knew that we were taking part in a big blockbuster. Having said that, we never imagined that from one day to the next, we would find ourselves propelled to the level of living icons. What saved both of us from going crazy was the ability to keep our feet on the ground and to distance ourselves from people speaking to us as if we were some sort of living gods.
The Great Gatsby just opened the Cannes Film Festival. Do you have any anecdotes about this major event?
Climbing the stairs at Cannes is something that counts in an actor’s life. Also, the wine served there is very good! Going to Cannes is always a bit like reliving La Dolce Vita. It’s like the whole city is transformed into one giant, sprawling red carpet. I like the way the people of Cannes contribute in their own way to the success and influence of the festival. The whole city lives and breathes film. I hope to have a few hours to myself to visit the countryside again – and its vineyards!
You’ve just made three films in a row. What are your next projects? A long nap and a nice glass of chilled rosé in the shade of an olive tree?
I’ve worked for two years without a break. It’s true. I hate relaxing! I always have to keep moving. My next project is nothing to do with film-making – it’s environmental. I’m working on setting up the largest ever fund-raising effort for the environment. In partnership with my foundation at Christie’s and 33 contemporary artists, we’re holding an auction of artwork, and the money raised will go towards funding the protection of threatened rainforests and coral reefs. Generally speaking, only 2% of philanthropic actions of this kind concern the protection of the environment. I know, it’s strange, but that’s the way it is. We don’t give much for the planet! I would like to change that.