Titanic may have made Leonardo DiCaprio king of the worldwide box office, but his rep as one of Hollywood's most accomplished thesps seems to have taken an iceberg-sized hit in the process. The same actor who won raves for his performances in such "little" films as This Boy's Life, What's Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries suddenly found himself lumped in with Tiger Beat's pin-up boys instead of Tinseltown's leading men.
"Titanic was this monumental success, and yet somehow, it's as if he's been reassessed because of that and not in an altogether positive way," admits Daniel Day-Lewis, DiCaprio's arch rival in Martin Scorsese's epic film Gangs of New York (opening Friday). "He gave some remarkable performances in his earlier films."
Welcome to Hollywood, where the only certainty about success is that an ego-crushing backlash will follow. Consider the reception that greeted DiCaprio's Titanic follow-up, The Beach. Trashed by critics and virtually ignored by audiences, the film was doomed as much by overinflated expectations as it was by its rickety narrative.
"I don't really care whether my movies make money in the long run, because I'm still going to work as an actor," insists DiCaprio, who points out that if it weren't for Titanic, an expensive proposition like Gangs probably wouldn't have gotten the green light. "My main objective now is to use this power that I have to make great art. And I don't want to squander that opportunity. I don't want to drop in and do films that I feel are recycled versions of things we've seen a million times before."
Well, judging by the early critical response to Gangs, as well as Catch Me if You Can (his other holiday release), the 28-year-old can consider his mission more than accomplished. Too bad the studios saw fit to release both films on virtually the same day Catch opens on Christmas, five days after Gangs. Where was all of DiCaprio's power when it came to scheduling? "Those are studio decisions," he says. "But I never would have imagined they would have come out at the same time."