DiCaprio flavour of the month again

Suddenly Leonardo DiCaprio is flavour of the month again.

Suddenly Leonardo DiCaprio is flavour of the month again.

He's currently starring in Martin Scorsese's much-acclaimed Gangs of New York and he can be seen in Catch Me If You Can, playing the real-life super conman, Frank Abagnale. Add to that up-coming appearances in Baz Luhrmann's Alexander the Great and Scorsese's bio of Howard Hughes … after a fallow period, the Los Angeles-born actor is once more a hot Hollywood property.

The comeback follows a couple of ill-regarded stinkers - The Man in the Iron Mask and The Beach - but what many people forget is that Leo is a regarded actor, with an Oscar nomination - for What's Eating Gilbert Grape in l993 and a nomination for New York Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics awards for This Boy's Life in the same year.

He has, of course, been seen in the great Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo+Juliet and, of course, in Titanic. So let's not get too hung up on any of his "failures".

DiCaprio - the story goes that his mother was inspired to call him Leonardo while looking at a Da Vinci painting during her pregnancy - certainly doesn't hold much store by any of his critics: "People want you to be a crazy, out-of-control teen brat. They want you miserable, just like themselves. They don't want heroes; what they want is to see you fall.

"I'm a survivor. I may succeed, or I may fail. But I don't care any more. The best thing about acting is that I get to lose myself in another character and actually get paid for it. It's a great outlet. As for myself, I'm not sure who I am. It seems that I change every day."

In Catch Me If You Can, directed by Steven Spielberg and co-starring Tom Hanks, Chris Walken, Martin Sheen and Amy Adams, DiCaprio plays one of the world's most accomplished conmen. Abagnale lived a remarkable high life, posing as an airline pilot, a doctor, a barrister ... and at the same time scamming $2.5m in dud cheques. With such a background in fooling all of the people all of the time when he was eventually caught the FBI offered him probation if he advised them on cheque fraud.

Today, the 54-year-old Abagnale is happily married with three sons - "They think it's pretty cool that their old man is being played in a movie by Steven Spielberg by Leonardo DiCaprio" - and runs a successful business as a consultant: "I'm pleased with the film. It was kinda unreal watching it. I know it's my life, but it happened a lifetime ago. One thing: it's a pretty accurate account of my adventures."

Spielberg has long been intrigued by Abagnale's story of living a massive lie: "It was a welcome change of pace, after a couple of dark movies back-to-back. This was a ray of sunshine and I wanted to bask in it for a while. The film came along just when I needed it and kind of rescued me after films like Minority Report and A.I. and Amistad."

What drew him to the story was, says Spielberg, the fact that Abagnale "created a world all his own" and went for it full tilt. OK, so he was a criminal, but he was a sort of Robin Hood criminal, and it was, anyway, a lot of wild fun ... the cons were the important thing, but the glamour, the girls and the money didn't put him off either.

For the 27-year-old DiCaprio the past, with all its negative headlines and talk of a career on the skids (oh yeah!), never bothered him much: "It never crossed my mind that my career was in any danger, I just took time off. I did, though, realise that when I did make another movie it was going to have to be an important one. So when the chance to work with directors like Scorsese and Spielberg came up I knew it was exactly what I needed.

"I've now seen both sides of the business, the downs and the ups, and I'm more comfortable with myself. I was being constantly asked if I considered myself to be on the slide, and I can honestly say I never did. And in the end I didn't give a toss for what people thought of me."

In the past, DiCaprio - whose first screen appearance was at the age of three, in Romper Room: "I was nearly thrown out of the show, for uncontrollable behavoiur!" - has turned down the roles of James Dean - "I wasn't experienced enough to do the film" - and Robin in Batman Forever. But a small consolation came in his being named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World by a Stateside magazine and placed at 75th in the Top 100 Movie Stars of all Time. He smiles, modestly at the thought.

When he was 10 his agent advised him to change his name - Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio - to the more American Lenny Williams - "Needless to say, that was one piece of advice I didn't follow" - and his lawyer subsequently filed an application to allow him to copyright his own name.

And he's back in business ... big time!

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