Leonardo DiCaprio has enjoyed a wildly successful career, both commercially and critically, based in part on his savvy selection of film projects. He recently discussed turning down a part in the Disney film Hocus Pocus, instead opting for a more challenging role in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. I think it is safe to assume DiCaprio made the correct choice.
In a recent interview with Variety, Leo reflected on his career at length, touching on the early choice he made in regard to the two films. DiCaprio was only 18 years old at the time, and the Hocus Pocus offer was apparently quite lucrative. However, he opted to turn the offer down for an opportunity to grab a more challenging role in the independent flick What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. The decision was a risk for the young actor, as he had yet to even audition for the part and was walking away from guaranteed Disney money. Dicaprio elaborated further:
“I don’t know where the hell I got the nerve,” DiCaprio mused. “You live in an environment where you’re influenced by people telling you to make a lot of money and strike while the iron’s hot. But if there’s one thing I’m very proud of, it’s being a young man who was sticking to my guns.”
This bold decision resulted in a transcendent performance as the mentally impaired Arnie Grape opposite Johnny Depp in the quirky Gilbert Grape. DiCaprio received an Oscar nomination for his work in the film, his first of four such acknowledgements. In regard to Hocus Pocus, the Disney Halloween cult classic has developed a loyal following, but Leo does not appear terribly concerned about missing the opportunity to play Max Dennison in the film.
DiCaprio was later presented with another dilemma in regard to dueling roles, choosing the big budget Titanic over Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, where he was offered the lead role of porn star Dirk Diggler that eventually went to Mark Wahlberg. While Boogie Nights was exceptional, Titanic became a box office monster and propelled the actor to a new level of stardom.
The Wolf of Wall Street star has displayed fine instincts when selecting parts and has always gravitated towards more interesting material, even as his work has become increasingly commercial due to his success. However, as evidenced by his early decision to bypass the studio film for the independent flick, he has always been willing to take a chance in the interest of artistic pursuits.
DiCaprio has enjoyed a wonderful collaboration with Martin Scorsese, working with the accomplished director on five films, including The Wolf of Wall Street, which is up for five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor for DiCaprio’s work as protagonist Jordan Belfort.