Intervju med Leonardo Dicaprio av Gary Susman 18 dec 1997

He is a dreamboat. In every sense of the word. He was already an acclaimed actor (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) but sometime in the weeks following the release of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Leonardo DiCaprio transcended the craft of acting and became a superstar. OK, so maybe not in all of Hollywood, but to young women worldwide (and a particular segment of the male population) he embodied all of their dreams for romance, love and heartache. He is the ultimate crush. And on his lithe, angelic wings Titanic soars too. Not being prepubescent you may not recognize DiCaprio's power to captivate onscreen, yet underestimate him onboard this epic romantic adventure and you'll miss the heart that makes James Cameron's indictment of technology beat. Rough Cut spoke to Leonardo in New York.

Why do you think it is that we're all so fascinated with the Titanic?

Because it was a disaster that happened 80-some-odd years ago. And there's been much bigger disasters since the Titanic. But I think it was the fame, due to the fact that it was this ghost ship that has lurked at the bottom of the ocean that nobody could ever find for so long. And also the fact that there are a lot of human issues attached to the Titanic. The fact that man thought he could build a ship, had the arrogance to think he could build a ship that was unsinkable -- and it actually did sink. And the whole first-class and third-class struggle that went on in the Titanic. But the Titanic for me, growing up, was almost like UFO sightings or like Big Foot or the Loch Ness monster or something -- like, where is the Titanic? Now I think the mystery of it has been taken away since we've found the wreckage, but I think a lot of the moral issues have lived on.

It must have been amazing going to the set, because the boat is practically the size of the ship. And Cameron took such great detail with all the furnishings and everything. What was it like being on that set?

It was incredible. Especially the docking scene, which is in the beginning, where we have thousands of extras in period costume and cars, and you felt like you were transported back in time. And the whole thing was like on hydraulics. So when we had the scenes with thousands of passengers who were rushing up toward the ship to cling on to something, you can't help but feel like you're in the moment sometimes. Just watching this film, you do feel claustrophobia, and that feeling of oh, my God, they're gonna drown, or I'm gonna drown. Deep heavy breathing.

When you're actually filming it, did you feel that?

I think it was. When I watched the film, the main thing that I felt terrified of was not necessarily the details of the ship sinking, but just the feeling that you're way out in the middle of the ocean with no one there. So no matter what happens, you have to survive in this tiny place, isolated from everything else in the world pretty much.

What was it like working with Cameron? He has a reputation of being quite tough on actors. Was he tough on you?

Well, anyone who does a film like Titanic, or films of this scale, needs to sort of, you know, command the ship, no pun intended. You need to keep everyone's focus constantly around what's going on. And if somebody's not focusing on what they need to be doing, they need to be told so absolutely. But at the same time, he paid attention to the details of what was going on in the love relationship between Kate and me. I mean, he's not just like the commanding director that's shouting all over the place. He's a perfectionist, and he's extremely passionate about what he does. And that shows in many different ways and forms.

Is it tough doing a movie when people are writing that it's over-budget and it's not safe and blah-blah-blah?

No, it wasn't. Because we knew that the film was gonna get made. We were sitting in a studio made for the film in Mexico. It wasn't like the ship was gonna be pulled away. The headlines were like these silly little rumors that were going on that were blown way out of proportion and had a huge snowball effect. But, you know, in the end, all those headlines will come and go, and what really lasts is the actual film. That's what's gonna live on, not the gossip.

Right. The film and your dancing. Tell me about your dancing. Well, there's a scene in which Rose comes down to the third-class area and we get funky.

How do you get funky, you know, in whatever year that was? I had to learn 'cause it's much different movement than I'm used to. It's a lot of like toe- slapping and stuff. It's a little awkward at first, but it worked out all right I guess.