The evolution of Hollywood’s top leading man

(Graphic by Adele Palmquist)
(Graphic by Adele Palmquist)

If you haven’t seen The Great Gatsby just yet, there is a very good chance that you will walk out of that theatre feeling absolutely in love with Leonardo DiCaprio. And really, how could anyone blame you?

I didn’t think that I could love him more; I have been obsessed with the 38-year old actor since I first saw Titanic at the tender age of six. From then on, I always knew that he had the looks and the talent, but I didn’t truly realize just how talented he was until I saw The Great Gatsby.

When you take a look at his twenty-four year career, it is obvious that DiCaprio began his career as a dreamy teen idol, but he quickly transformed into the leading man that he has become today.

But what makes a leading man? How do I know that Leonardo DiCaprio is a true leading man? Well, based on the fact that I am never wrong and he is a sexy beast, DiCaprio’s evolution in his movies and roles is evidence enough. As we look at this evolution, be prepared to fall madly in love…

Quirky Child Star (1990-1992)

When Leonardo DiCaprio first joined the Hollywood scene in Parenthood alongside Tobey Maguire, it is hard to imagine him amounting to the sexy status that he has been granted today. He started his career looking like a gawky and baby-faced boy, dubbing him as a ‘cute’ looking tween, a far cry from the sexy leading man that he became today.

When DiCaprio made his film debut in Critters 3, his talent was undeniable even at a young age. This interest in DiCaprio led him to many more auditions, eventually landing the role of homeless teen Luke Brower on the American sitcom, Growing Pains.

DiCaprio played this role for almost two years and he grew not only as an actor, but also into his looks. And this growth helped attract young female fans everywhere.

‘Leo-Mania’ (1993-1998)

DiCaprio quickly dove into the film scene, starring alongside big names like Robert De Niro, Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep. With his versatile choice in roles, DiCaprio quickly became one of the most desired men in the world. It was hard to resist his blonde hair and glassy sea blue eyes, regardless of the roles he took.

He earned his first Oscar nomination in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape at the age of nineteen, proving that he was more than just a pretty face.
When he took on Romeo & Juliet and Titanic, every woman in the world was suffering from the hysteria now known as ‘Leo-Mania’. DiCaprio frequented the covers of cutie magazines Bop, directing at young teenaged girls, similar to the way One Direction and Justin Bieber has done today.

Rebellion (1999)

Like many teen idols, DiCaprio wanted to represent more than just a pretty face and be taken much more seriously as an actor. He began to take on much heavier roles such as Man in the Iron Mask and The Beach, both of which were panned by audiences and critics alike.

In an attempt to break free from this goo boy mold, DiCaprio then began to rebel, getting into the hottest Hollywood parties as well as a few minor bar brawls and eventually began dating a slew of models, one right after the other.

What can I say? The boy was a modern day James Dean.

Leading Man Material (2000 -?)

Everything wild eventually gets tamed.

DiCaprio ditched the partying antics and the teenybopper movies and stuck to serious films and philanthropic work. Making a name for him in the world of environmentalism, DiCaprio has devoted much of his time and money into stopping global warming, as well as preserving the wild life. Leading men are supposed to be heroes to everyone, not just to the pretty damsel in distress.

His most notable performances to date are The Aviator, Blood Diamond, Inception and Revolutionary Road. His status as leading man came only when he reached his thirties. This isn’t a bad thing though! DiCaprio gained many years of experience not only in the film industry, but also as he grew up and established himself.

This same kind of growth is seen in his portrayal as Jay Gatsby, where he looks and acts every bit like a leading man. As you watch his character go through the film feeling conflicted with his tortured identity and his love for Daisy, you as the audience cannot help but want DiCaprio right there next to you, maybe pulling the old yawn and stretch move on you (yes, I thought this while watching the movie!).

Looking back on his Titanic days in comparison to The Great Gatsby, it is clear that DiCaprio deserves to be called a leading man because of his versatility, his depth and his heroism in film and real life. And he deserves that title more than any actor I’ve ever seen.

Fine, my creepy obsession with him is making me biased, but you will agree with me once you see The Great Gatsby with this evolution in mind!

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