Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio is an American actor, film producer and environmentalist. He has often played unconventional roles, particularly in biopics and period films. As of 2019, his films have grossed US$7.2 billion worldwide, and he has placed eight times in annual rankings of the highest-paid actors in the world.
Early life and acting background
Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio was born on November 11, 1974 in Los Angeles, California, the only child of Irmelin (née Indenbirken), a legal secretary, and George DiCaprio, an underground comix writer, publisher, and distributor of comic books. DiCaprio's father is of Italian and German descent. DiCaprio is conversant in Italian. DiCaprio's maternal grandfather, Wilhelm Indenbirken, was German, and his maternal grandmother, Helene Indenbirken, was a Russian-born German citizen. In an interview in Russia, DiCaprio referred to himself as "half-Russian" and said that two of his late grandparents were Russian. DiCaprio's parents met while attending college and moved to Los Angeles after graduating. Leonardo DiCaprio was raised Catholic.
DiCaprio was named Leonardo because his pregnant mother was looking at a Leonardo da Vinci painting in the Uffizi museum in Florence, Italy when he first kicked. His parents separated when he was a year old; they initially agreed to live next door to each other so as not to deprive DiCaprio of his father's presence in his life. However, DiCaprio and his mother later moved around to multiple Los Angeles neighborhoods, such as Echo Park and Los Feliz, while the latter worked several jobs. He attended Seeds Elementary School and later went to John Marshall High School a few blocks away after attending the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies for four years. DiCaprio has said that he hated public school and often asked his mother to take him to auditions instead to improve their financial situation. He dropped out of high school following his third year, eventually earning his general equivalency diploma (GED).
DiCaprio has said his career choice as a child was to become a marine biologist or an actor, but he eventually favored the latter, as he was fond of impersonating characters and imitating people. When he was two, he went on stage at a performance festival and danced spontaneously; the cheerful response from the crowd started his interest in performing. When his older stepbrother earned $50,000 for a television commercial, DiCaprio, fascinated with this, decided to become an actor. In 1979, DiCaprio was removed, at the age of five, from the set of the children's television series Romper Room for being disruptive. He began appearing in several commercials at age 14 for Matchbox cars by Mattel, which he considered his first role, and later for Kraft Foods, Bubble Yum, and Apple Jacks. In 1989, he played the role of Glen in two episodes of the television show The New Lassie.
At the beginning of his career, DiCaprio had difficulty finding an agent. One agent suggested he change his name to Lenny Williams to appeal to the American audience, which he declined to do. He remained jobless for a year and a half even after 100 auditions. Disillusioned at this, he initially decided to quit acting, but his father encouraged him not to give up, and he needed the money to support his mother. By the early 1990s, he began acting regularly on television, starting with a role in the pilot of The Outsiders (1990) and one episode of the soap opera Santa Barbara (1990), in which he played the young Mason Capwell. DiCaprio got a break that year when he was cast in Parenthood, a series based on a successful comedy film of the same name. Before being cast in the role of Garry Buckman, a troubled teenager, he analyzed Joaquin Phoenix's performance in the original film. His work that year earned him two nominations at the 12th Youth in Film Awards—Best Young Actor in a Daytime Series for Santa Barbara and Best Young Actor Starring in a New Television Series for Parenthood. DiCaprio was also a celebrity contestant on the children's game show Fun House, on which he performed several stunts, including catching the fish inside a small pool using only his teeth.