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In the Spotlight: Academy Award Nominee Leonardo DiCaprio

February 25, 2014


In the Spotlight: Academy Award Nominee Leonardo DiCaprio

Academy Award Nominee Leonardo DiCaprio (40) is acclaimed as one of the most versatile actors in entertainment.  With the 2014 Academy Awards only one week away, ChildrenInFilm.com shares highlights of his journey from childhood bit parts in television commercials to recognition as one of the world’s most respected actors.

About his Distinctive Name

Leonardo DiCaprio was born November 11, 1974, appropriately enough in Hollywood, CA. His mom named him Leonardo, according to family legend, because while she was pregnant with him, working at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, he began ‘kicking like crazy’ while she was admiring a painting by Leonardo DaVinci. Today, most people call him ‘Leo.’ While his parents divorced shortly after he was born, both parents are still actively involved in helping to manage his career.
Leo knew he wanted to become an actor when he was just 6 years old.  But he was not embraced quickly. He auditioned for years without getting a part.  At age 10, his agent recommended that Leo change his name to a more American-friendly Lenny Williams. Obviously, he did not follow that advice.

Instead, he and his parents discovered, it was his ‘Mohawk’ haircut that was holding him back. After growing out his hair, he started landing commercials for products ranging from Bubble Yum bubble gum to Matchbox cars to Kraft American cheese.

Childhood Roles

In his first significant childhood role, he was cast as ‘Cousin Oliver’ in the sitcom Growing Pains (1991), in which he played a homeless boy who moves in with the Seavers. Unlucky for Leo, the show was cancelled the year after he joined.  Leo appeared in several television commercials and educational programs, and then was noticed by producers, who cast him in bit part roles in a few television series, such as Roseanne (1988) and The New Lassie (1989. Finally, in 1991 Leo was cast in his first film, Critters 3 (1991), a low-budget horror movie—probably not as scary for Leo because of his unusual upbringing. His father, George DiCaprio was a distributor of cult comic book titles.

First Big Movie Breaks

Two movies in 1993 gave him his first real breaks. He was cast in This Boy’s Life with Robert De Niro and Ellen Barkin, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?  That brought him an Oscar nomination playing the supporting role to Johnny Depp as his mentally handicapped brother.

Reaching Heartthrob Status

Cast as the lead in the film Romeo + Juliet (1996,) Leo reached a new pinnacle. As the doomed leading man in Titanic (1997), Leo earned the reputation as a teenage heartthrob—in a remarkable film that went on to become the highest grossing movie ever.

Connecting with Martin Scorsese

Director Martin Scorsese frequently taps Leo’s talent. In 2002, he was cast in leading roles in Catch Me If You Can (2002) and Gangs of New York (2002.) Leo was especially recognized for his leading role as the obsessive compulsive Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2005.)

Awards and Nominations

Leo is the winner of 2 Golden Globe Awards, for both The Aviator (2005) and, more recently, The Wolf of Wall Street (2014.) He has amassed 31 award nominations, including Academy Awards, Critic’s Choice Award, Screen Actors Guild Awards and BAFTA Awards.  His role in The Wolf of Wall Street has most recently earned him a nomination for Best Actor by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.