I keep waiting to see if Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio will both do separate, in-depth interviews to promote Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I’m probably going to be waiting a while, right? Because so far, the promotional tour for OUATIH has just been Leo, Brad, Margot Robbie and Quentin Tarantino, all together and talking and joking around. While Leo’s brand isn’t “in depth interview,” I did expect to see something from Brad. It won’t happen. Instead we’re getting stuff like this Hollywood Reporter piece. The piece is “His Brand Is Excellence”: How Leonardo DiCaprio Became Hollywood’s Last Movie Star. It’s just as ass-kissy as you would think, and it paints Leo as some kind of Hollywood savant, a Jack Nicholson-type figure, a giant among peasant TV stars. Leo didn’t even have to agree to an interview for THR to kiss his ass like this. In fact, declining an interview was seen as on-brand for what they wrote. Some highlights from the piece:
Titanic made him a household name, but what he’s done since then added to his power: Fast-forward 22 years, and DiCaprio remains a global movie star, one whose consistent bankability and acclaim set him apart from his peers. In fact, he is arguably the only global superstar left in a film industry in which an interchangeable group of actors regularly suit up in spandex or brandish a lightsaber for the latest billion-dollar earner — only to be ignored by audiences outside of franchises. Unlike waning megastars like Will Smith, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert Downey Jr., DiCaprio sits alone atop the Hollywood pantheon without ever having made a comic book movie, family film or pre-branded franchise. Leo is the franchise.
Tarantino on Leo: “One of the things I like about Leo is he just doesn’t plug himself into two movies a year,” says Tarantino, drawing an unstated comparison with current stars like Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, who are omnipresent on social media as well as in multiplexes. “He kind of stands alone today, like Al Pacino or Robert De Niro were in the ’70s, where they weren’t trying to do two movies a year — they could do anything they wanted, and they wanted to do this. So that means this must be pretty good.”
Leo has a good picker: In an age of brand management, DiCaprio has cultivated a brand “of excellence,” says Sony film chief Tom Rothman, amid an industry where “brand” these days usually means Marvel, DC or Lucas. “What is remarkable about Leo is his consistency,” says Rothman, who first worked with DiCaprio on Romeo + Juliet and Titanic at Fox. “If he’s in it, the audience knows it’s going to be good because he’s in it. I mean, when is he not great? But that’s not an accident. He works his ass off.”
Everyone wants to work with Leo: Among his compatriots, DiCaprio is by far the one most coveted by studio heads and top-tier directors, offering that rare blend of prestige (three of his past five films have been nominated for best picture) and box office prowess (those same films earned a combined $1.8 billion worldwide). While Smith is doing Netflix originals and a Disney remake, Lawrence is on a cold streak and Downey only makes money as Tony Stark, DiCaprio continues to choose films that would seem risky on paper — typically R-rated, longer than 2½ hours and with budgets topping $80 million — bets that have paid off and given him an unrivaled amount of power.
Leo’s not in everybody’s faces & he stays on the big screen: While modern stars scramble to maintain a constant presence and relevance via social media and nonstop work spanning all platforms, DiCaprio as an actor sticks to cinema (he hasn’t acted for the small screen since a 1992 appearance on Growing Pains). Rather than using Twitter for self-promotion, he offers his 19.1 million followers updates on the Waorani tribe’s efforts to protect the Amazon from oil drilling or to promote vegan burgers.
The Mysterious Leo: Off-camera, DiCaprio has maintained a carefully crafted air of mystery. Some crewmembers on Once Upon a Time were instructed to avoid making eye contact with him, according to an on-set source… DiCaprio rarely talks about his personal life or even his career and typically promotes a film only in partnership with the director (he declined to be interviewed for this piece). Despite being one of the most photographed men in the world, hopping on a Citi Bike in New York or hanging out vaping with supermodels, little is known about his day-to-day life.
First, some genuine praise for Leo: I appreciate that he’s not in our faces or getting into social media beefs. Less is more. Of course, that could be explained more by his age than any “carefully crafted” air of mystery. I also do believe that he generally should be applauded for his choices in scripts and directors, as well as image-management. That being said, Guy Lodge did a great thread on why Leo really isn’t all that adventurous – he sticks with established & respected male directors and big-budget studio films, he hasn’t worked with a female director since 1995 and he doesn’t really use his Hollywood power to pay it forward and/or work with truly risky new artists.
Also: I would consider Brad Pitt one of the “dying breed” movie stars too, and though I’m loathe to give Brad credit for much these days, I think Brad has done smarter and more interesting things with his career than Leo. Brad’s Plan B develops some really great smaller films and he works to produce films written and directed by artists of color and women. Granted, Brad doesn’t have Leo’s box office record in front of the camera, but make no mistake – both men could walk into any studio and get any film greenlighted. Brad has just used that power to get movies like Moonlight, 12 Years a Slave, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Big Short and Selma made.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.