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Leo Lands in Santa Barbara to Accept Festival’s Top Honor


Gorgeous adolescents screaming, spilling into the street behind the crush.
Five rows of Paparazzi outside and inside.

Director Martin Scorsese, DiCaprio’s hero-idol-favorite leader, waiting in the wings to present the festival’s highest award to the Oscar nominee for Scorsese's "The Aviator."
Roger Durling at the helm of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival has done it again. Just one year later and the SBIFF delivered another homerun festival opening weekend with a slam-dunk-extravaganza honoring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The whole red carpet greeting seemed to overwhelm the young 30-year-old actor. And he said so, sitting down with film critic Leonard Maltin on stage Sunday night at the Arlington Theatre. There he joined the audience in viewing clips he said he hadn’t seen in years.

1993 and This Boy’s Life was the beginning for DiCaprio as a serious actor. He got nostalgic: “So much of my career is reflected in that work.” It is the true story of the abused Tobias Wolff. “I didn’t need to do anything but look at the way Robert De Niro looked at me. He was my abusive step-father. I had no preparation at all. I was just reacting. To have De Niro looking at me!” The director, Michael Caton-Jones, he said, “literally took me aside and told me what needed to happen in this scene.”

He reminisced about “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” when he had free rein to portray a mentally retarded kid, talking about his spaghetti if he wanted to, even over others’ lines.

And he talked about all the other films leading up to the biggie -- the turning point for better or for worse, one of the highest grossing films of all time. You know, “Titanic.” Wherein a ship sank. “We tried to sneak in the dramatic story of a love story amid the chaos” of bodies falling all around DiCaprio and co-star Kate Winslet.

How did he deal with the bigness of “Titanic,” Maltin asked? DiCaprio described an “out-of-body experience,” people affected all over the world, people in Afghanistan getting arrested for having the Jack Dawson haircut.
He said how he was hoping to walk into the rain forest in deepest Brazil and be anonymous. But no, the impact of that film on the planet hit him in a straw hut when Indians with no English-speaking ability greeted him with “‘Leonardo?’ ‘DiCaprio?’ ‘Titanic?’”

“The 300-pound gorilla is obviously the aftermath of ‘Titanic,’” Maltin said, exploring how DiCaprio made his next choices.
One thing that followed all the flash was the chance to parody himself in Woody Allen’s “Celebrity.” “The stereotype of a Hollywood actor,” said DiCaprio. “I got to go crazy for three days -- rip up hotel rooms and slap my girlfriend.”

DiCaprio was funny again a couple of times. He did a deadpan De Niro, a good imitation of Woody Allen not giving direction. He flailed his arms around imitating the technique of “the best of the best,” Meryl Streep.
But about Scorsese, who just directed him in “The Aviator,” he was dead serious, choking up over Scorsese’s reciprocal admiration during the Platinum Award presentation.

Scorsese said that DiCaprio had given him energy in his own work and that DiCaprio’s belief in his films got “Gangs of New York” made after 20 years.

“I’m looking at his face and his eyes… We’re looking at a true actor… Really a great film star. For me and I know for many others, he is the actor of his generation. I have no doubt about this.”
The praise continued. “He will push and push and push to get at an emotional truth. Very, very relentless energy. He’s certainly not afraid of it.”
The two colleagues shared a moment as Leo walked across the stage to get his award.

Scorsese continued: “So tonight, don’t look at this as a retrospective. This is a welcome…
“He’s got a whole lifetime ahead of him to develop into an actor of power and beauty. This is just the beginning of a great body of work to come.”

By Marison Mull
Photos courtesy of Santa Barbara International Film Festival/Rebecca Sapp


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