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FEBRUARY 14, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 6



He's very interested in the notion of paradise, particularly in how it relates to The Beach. He says he chose the project because Alex Garland's 1997 novel speaks to his generation. "We've never had anything to fight for, so we're constantly looking for things to believe in. Richard [DiCaprio's character] is so influenced by the media and television and especially films that he's constantly searching for an emotional event in real time," he says. "In a world where everything conforms to our comfort, the only valuable things are those that go beyond anticipation. I think that this is what Richard is looking for, a world beyond anticipation."

He has thought an awful lot about The Beach. "Three times in the movie, women give Richard keys. It's this recurrent theme of women changing Richard's character, his course. And there's the whole symbolism of water being changed into blood," he says, before going over each of these incidents in depth. "When the group photo happens, it steals the soul of the community. After the group picture, everything starts to unravel in the community," he adds. I suggest he contact UCLA about teaching an extension course on the film.

    ALSO IN TIME
Cover: What's Eating Leonardo DiCaprio?
Pummeled by his Titanic fame, the painfully self-aware teen heartthrob Leo DiCaprio works hardest at not giving away too much of himself off-screen
The Beach Boy: Leonardo, usually the one who needs rescuing, can't save The Beach
The Real Beach: On the islands off southern Thailand, the idea is to get lost
The Leo Factor: In this Web-only interview, Director Danny Boyle muses on filming The Beach with sun, sand and a superstar

Japan: Getting Away With It
Obuchi's survival skills rescue him yet again. Too bad they can't do that for the economy
Going Boldly Where No Woman Has Gone Before: Osaka's new governor breaks the mold

India: 'His Principle of Peace Was Bogus'
In this extended online interview, Gopal Godse, co-conspirator in Gandhi's assassination and brother of the assassin, looks back in anger--and without regret

Afghanistan: Destination Unknown
The hijack of an Afghan airliner ends in an anticlimax outside London. Now what was that all about?

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Peter Mountain/20th Century Fox
DiCaprio contemplates snakes, drunk for their blood.

He assures me he did not apply this kind of rigorous analysis to Titanic, then launches into a parody of a close reading of the film. "As Jack is screaming 'I'm the king of the world!' you'll notice that the crown of the ship actually has a crack that symbolizes the destruction of the coming industrial revolution."

But DiCaprio is desperate to find something important to discuss. "This is T-I-M-E, dawg. This article has got to be about something bigger. It's got to be talking about the movie and its comment on society. Not to be too serious. God, that is serious," he says, his Clintonian need to be liked getting the better of him. Then he starts to worry again. "I know it's going to wind up being about the construction of what to make the article about. That's what it's going to be about: Why the hell is he on the cover of Time magazine?" It's disorienting to interview someone who is this self-conscious.

Even the clothes Leo's wearing, the Puma cap, baggy drawstring pants, a chain with his grandmother's cross and a T shirt with a devil on it, can't have been chosen randomly. The devil is a logo for an old Coney Island carnival. "I optioned this book called Dreamland about the biggest theme park in Coney Island," he says. "My dad went to Coney Island a lot. I'm fascinated by freaks." He also optioned a book about Howard Hughes that he's talking to Michael Mann about directing. "That's the best part about the position I'm in now. I have all the materials to create my own future. That's the coolest thing." Sure, though I'd like to hear about how cool the dating part is.

His next movie is Martin Scorsese's The Gangs of New York, about the conscription riots in Manhattan in the 1860s, and DiCaprio has been forcing himself to bulk up for the part. At 5 ft. 11 in. and 175 lbs., he claims he can bench-press 205 lbs. "This is the biggest I've ever been," he says. I ask if he's been eating a lot of sushi and yogurt, and he mocks me for my unmanly choices. Then we order room service, and he gets a burger and I almost order the sea bass. "That was pretty wussy, dude. 'I'll go with the sea bass.'" I figure having your masculinity questioned by Leonardo DiCaprio may require years of therapy, so I quickly switch to the rack of lamb. "How could people eat lamb? I get the image of the poor little lamb," he says. We have already had a pot of soothing oolong tea and thick, creamy milk shakes. The Super Bowl would have been ashamed to have been on our television.

I make a phone call, and DiCaprio uses the opportunity to sneak environmental propaganda into the tape recorder. "I shouldn't be eating hamburgers, because the methane gas cows release is the No. 1 contributor to the destruction of the ozone layer; and the No. 1 reason they destroy the rain forest is to make grazing ground for cattle. So it's very ironic that I eat beef, being the environmentalist that I am. But then again, if I ordered the tuna sandwich, I would be promoting the fact that they have large tuna nets that capture innocent little dolphins..." This goes on for quite some time.

DiCaprio, who was just named the Earth Day 2000 chairperson, is an Al Gore supporter and says that if not for this interview, he would have been in New Hampshire stumping for Gore. "I was going to just stand onstage and look hard core." Effective, if 14-year-old girls were allowed to vote. He's particularly concerned with global warming and extinct species. He's commissioned Eric White to paint a 3-ft. by 6-ft. abstract piece depicting extinct animals. "I'm sure this is not going to be in the article, but the Tasmanian tiger was the largest carnivorous marsupial in Australia..." He senses that he is losing steam. "All right, let's go to Ralphs, dawg."

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