Pretty Boy Curse: How DiCaprio & Depp Overcame Their Looks to Become Kings of the Movie World
By Dino Sossi Posted Jul 16th 2010 08:00PM
Good looks giveth. And good looks taketh away.
In the visually-oriented medium of film, it pays to have an exquisite face -- a visage that people love to look at, a lively emotional conduit that burns an impression in the mind's eye long after the last film reel spins to a halt. And the prettier the face the better. Studies have shown that even babies respond more positively to certain types of faces, especially ones with symmetrical features.
Two of the biggest film stars in the world, Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp, both graduated from being just another 'Tiger Beat' magazine teen idol to becoming full-fledged, card-carrying members of that most exclusive of clubs -- international movie icons. Zac Efron, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, for your careers' sake, please take note. But not the type of notes that Lindsay Lohan has taken...
From Rock 'n Roll High School to Undercover Cop -- A Little Bit of TV History Starring Johnny Depp:
After rocking in relative obscurity as a wannabe music star, Johnny Depp broke free of his old Kentucky home, loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly. Hills that is. Swimming pools. Movie stars. But this hillbilly didn't come to Hollywood to look at stars. No, he came to become one. Luckily Depp's then wife, Lori Anne Allison, introduced him to Nicolas Cage ('The Sorcerer's Apprentice'). It was Cage who gave Johnny one of his biggest breaks -- a simple piece of advice. Try acting. And Mr. Depp did. Oh did he ever. After becoming popular with the teen set in the undercover cop drama '21 Jump Street,' Johnny felt trapped by the ludicrous demands of being a heart throb and wanted a new direction -- a career on his own terms. After starring in the slasher flick 'A Nightmare on Elm Street,' other roles soon followed, including 'Ed Wood,' 'Benny & Joon' and others. The memorable 'Edward Scissorhands,' under the idiosyncratic direction of the massively creative Tim Burton, also was produced. Burton's influence helped push Depp down the proverbial rabbit hole, falling off the beaten path, transforming from high school locker pinup boy to eccentric character actor.
Overcoming 'Growing Pains' -- "Show Me That Smile Again... The Best is Ready to Begin":
Legend has it that Mamma DiCaprio came up with her son's unique name during a visit to an Italian art gallery. Young Leo literally kicked inside his mother's womb while she stood in front of a painting by Leonardo da Vinci.
Even while just a teensy weensy teen, DiCaprio had a memorable role in the popular television show 'Growing Pains' opposite screen dad Alan Thicke, father of R&B singer-of-the-moment Robin Thicke, portraying a troubled teen. He later starred with Robert DeNiro in 'This Boy's Life,' one of his first major film roles. Later, being a lead in Baz Luhrman's hyperkinetic tragedy 'William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet' opposite Claire Danes began to stoke the fire of "Leomania." But an unexpected collision was waiting to happen. A collision between a big boat and an even bigger piece of ice.
Standing on The Brink -- A Growth of 'Titanic' Expectations:
Let's say you're in your early-20's and on the cusp of movie stardom. The influential, and notoriously "gets-his-own-way," film director James Cameron, fresh from success in 'Aliens,' 'The Abyss,' two 'Terminator' films and 'True Lies,' approaches you with a script about a big leaky boat. Doesn't sound promising, does it? But wait, there's more. The boat sinks. It's a period piece. Oh, and it's a romance. Sounds like surefire box office gold! So what do you do? Do you avoid the iceberg that would hit if the mega-movie drowns under the awesome weigh of its own colossal pretensions? Or do you plow full steam ahead, caution be damned? If you're Leonardo DiCaprio, you dive in. Needless to say, the rest was, as they say, cinematic history.
Given how much time has passed, it's easy to forget the tsunami-like tidal wave that 'Titanic' caused way back in the late 90s. It earned a record-tying 14 Academy Award nominations, winning 11. It spawned a most stupendous public speaking faux pas -- the once-in-a-lifetime "King of the World" speech from Cameron during his Best Director Oscar triumph. It's tragic romance between Leo and Kate Winslet poured a big bag load of Sweet'N Low into one of Celine Dion's most saccharine hits -- "My Heart Will Go On." Oh, and I almost forgot. It also became the highest grossing film of all time. It was the 'Avatar' of its day -- coincidentally enough also directed by a certain Mr. James Cameron. And not only that, it catapulted Leo into the epicenter of the Category 5 hurricane that would become his paparazzi-filled life. Just like Depp after his own experience with television overexposure, DiCaprio faced some crucial choices that would float, or sink, his career.
Riding to Success: How DiCaprio and Depp Managed to Stay on the Bucking Hollywood Bronco:
Both DiCaprio and Depp benefited from a number of factors which contributed to their film success and kept them from being unceremoniously chewed up and spit out by Hollywood's "now he's famous, now he's not" star-making machine.
• "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?" Somebody Get Me a Director!:
DiCaprio and Depp cultivated career-defining relationships with masters of the film form. DiCaprio has starred in several films with arguably the most important American filmmaker of his generation, Martin Scorsese -- replacing former muse Robert DeNiro.
Meanwhile Depp has been in a number of films with the king of big screen surrealism, Tim Burton. Each maestro has his own patented look and feel. The gritty, New York-style crime infested dramas of Scorsese; the dreamlike -- or is that nightmare like? -- canvases of make-believe for Burton. These directors' iconic aesthetic choices provided a backdrop against which their actor collaborators could play. With Scorsese, his films' often unrelenting bleakness are mediated through DiCaprio's intensity. In Burton's, his flights of fancy give poetic license to Depp's signature quirkiness.
• The Bad Boy. But Not THAT Bad a Boy -- The Fine Balance of Acting Like a Movie Star:
Some people are film actors. Others are movie stars. Both DiCaprio and Depp have done an excellent job of acting like movie stars. For example, they're liberal like many Hollywood biggies but not too liberal to turn off mainstream film goers. DiCaprio drives a hybrid car and provided a voiceover for the environmental documentary 'The 11th Hour.' Depp has criticized American military aggression to the German media but later softened his stance.
They were also youthful hell raisers, but not embarrassingly so. DiCaprio has a laundry list of high-profile relationships over the years including current on-again, off-again girlfriend, Israeli supermodel Bar Rafaeli. Depp dated Sherilyn Fenn, Kate Moss and now is in a long-term relationship with French singer Vanessa Paradis, the mother of his two children. Unlike Tom Cruise who became a tad unhinged a couple of years ago, DiCaprio and Depp do what we would most likely do if we were young, rich, handsome and famous -- date stunningly gorgeous people, enjoy ourselves and trash the occasional hotel room. You know, the regular movie star shenanigans.
• Get Out of the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean. You Can't Be a Teeny Bopper Forever -- Growth in Film Choices:
Both DiCaprio and Depp have chosen movies that highlight their acting wares and expertly evolved their tastes over time. They started off with notable roles in television teen fare -- see 'Growing Pains' and '21 Jump Street' above. Then they graduated into progressively more mature work. DiCaprio starred in 'Gangs of New York,' 'The Departed,' 'Blood Diamond' and 'Revolutionary Road.' Depp inhabited an array of characters in 'Chocolat,' 'Secret Window' and 'Finding Neverland,' among others. Both showed good taste earlier on in their careers when they co-starred in Lasse Hallström's 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape.' Both have avoided the kind of paralysis characteristic of starring in recurring roles that force them into unsustainable stereotypes. They have ventured both forcefully and unapologetically into a variety of cinematic challenges which have stretched them and their audiences' conceptions of who they are as actors. This has allowed them to grow as artists and bring along their fans for a satisfyingly unpredictable ride.
• It's All About the Benjamins -- Box Office Dependability:
Finally, is there anything more necessary to a sustainable film career than healthy box office tallies? DiCaprio proved early on that he could pull in a mass audience with 'Titanic,' the highest grossing film of all time when it was released. He has also topped the $100 million dollar mark in the critically well-received 'Catch Me If You Can,' 'The Aviator,' 'The Departed' and 'Shutter Island.'
Depp's early choices stalled the cash flow at the beginning of his career. First, he washed away the hairspray and stopped the pretty boy poses of his early TV days and stayed true to himself in smaller indies before hitting it big with the most recent Burton films. After smaller receipts, the Depp/Burton wonder twins topped $200 million in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and 'Alice in Wonderland.' But it was Depp's Keith Richards-like incarnation as Captain Jack Sparrow in the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' trilogy that reaped a staggering bounty. Each film topped $300 million. Both DiCaprio and Depp have earned billions in box office revenue over their careers and show no signs of slowing down the money train.
Coda -- Keep On Keepin' On. Climbin' The Slippery Slopes of Mount Hollywood:
It has been a long strange trip for our boys. Plucked from non-descript backgrounds and becoming young TV phenoms, box office supernovas and eventually respectable leading men, Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp have been Hollywood icons for years. And it appears as though if they keep managing their careers as elegantly as they act, they will be with us for a while to come.
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