Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio
Maria Cerda/VISUALPressAgency.com

updated 01/24/2005 AT 06:00 AM EST

originally published 12/09/2004 AT 06:00 AM EST

Now 30, the boyishly handsome Leonardo DiCaprio takes on his biggest role yet: his Golden Globe-winning performance as eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. In the $100 million biopic, a project he had pursued for years, The Aviator star portrays the legend of the glamorous yet troubled tycoon who was a speed-record-setting pilot, Hollywood producer and starlet seducer – before becoming an ill-kempt recluse suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder in his later years. DiCaprio – who is dating his own starlet, leggy Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen – recently talked about playing it large, owing it all to Mom and Dad, and living his dream.

What gives you confidence?
My dad. I can remember (as a kid) the casting session that I had where I was a break dancer. So I had a punk haircut and they rejected me, and I got really disillusioned with the business. I said, "This is what it's all about? I haven't even gotten to read the line." He said, "Don't worry. Someday, we're going to get you back in the business and it's going to happen for you." So I kind of took that to heart.

So your family had a big influence.
Definitely. My mother and my father took me out to the hundreds and hundreds of auditions every day after school and they were never stage parents saying, "Look, at any time if you want to stop doing this, if you hate it, just tell us." I kept on saying, "No. No. I'm going to do it."

What was it about Howard Hughes that fascinated you?
He was the first American billionaire who had all the resources in the world but was somehow unable to find any sense of peace or happiness. It's that great seesaw act.

Did you relate to him?
He certainly took things farther than I could ever imagine, and he was such an obsessed human being, whether it was with planes or women or the films that he made. I wouldn't go to those extremes, (but I've been part) of films that have gone on for many, many months and you're sitting there with the director and trying to get things perfect and doing things over and over and over again. That was something (Aviator director Martin) Scorsese and I immediately identified with.

How was it working with love interests Kate Beckinsale and Cate Blanchett?
For the Katharine Hepburn character there was really only one person that could play that role in the world, Cate Blanchett. To be able to take on the persona of one of the most iconic female voices of the 20th century you have to be a true chameleon and genius. (And) Kate Beckinsale ... We were looking for Ava Gardner, and she came in with the full fur and Ava Gardner attire and makeup and attitude, and as soon as Kate stepped into the meeting with us, we knew we had our Ava. She represented the class, had the strength, had the attitude.

Hughes certainly had big dreams. Do you?
I've really only had one (dream) since I got into this business at 13 years old, which was to be in this business forever. Once I did my first television commercial, I caught that itch and that bug. I want to be a part of pieces of art – as far as cinema is concerned – that people will want to see for generations to come. That's my dream.

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