In Leo's Shadow

updated 04/03/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/03/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Growing up in Los Angeles, Leonardo DiCaprio found a role model in his older stepbrother Adam Farrar. Watching Adam, who is three years older than Leo, star in TV commercials and land parts in such late '70s series as Eight Is Enough and Battlestar Galactica fueled DiCaprio's itch for showbiz, says Adam's father, and soon Leo too was a child star—of a Matchbox toy-car commercial.

Chances are DiCaprio wasn't feeling so inspired last week when the playmate he long ago eclipsed was arrested in Los Angeles on suspicion of attempted murder. Farrar, 28—whose stepfather, former cartoonist George DiCaprio, 56, is Leonardo's dad—was arrested March 15 after his on-again, off-again girlfriend (whom police would not identify) phoned 911 to say that he "threw her on the bed and tried to choke her," a police source says. Cops arriving at her posh apartment complex overlooking the ocean in Marina del Rey saw some redness on her neck but it didn't appear to require medical attention, the source adds. Farrar—who boasted to police of his Leo linkage—was also arrested on suspicion of making terrorist threats and was held on $1 million bail. But police declined to charge him within the required 48 hours after his arrest, so he was released on his own recognizance after two nights in jail as the investigation continues. "He is with his family," says a spokesman for Farrar. As for DiCaprio, "His only comment," says his publicist, "is that he has absolutely no comment."

It wasn't Farrar's first run-in with the police. Two years ago, Farrar, who lives with friends in L.A. and appears not to have a steady job, was busted outside a Sunset Strip nightspot after allegedly assaulting a photographer pursuing his famous stepbrother. Charges were never filed. "Fame," Farrar told the New York Post earlier this year, "is a double-edged sword, I guess."

The arrest came at a time when things were looking up for Farrar, who has been close to DiCaprio, 25, since each was a preschooler. Leonardo was a year old and Farrar just 4 when George DiCaprio, an underground illustrator in tumbledown East L.A. who had split with his wife, legal assistant Irmelin, 55, moved in with Peggy Farrar, 50, whom he later married. The two boys were buddies, but their paths diverged when Farrar outgrew acting during his high school years. "He wanted to skateboard," says Adam's father, Michael Farrar, 56, an artist in Sonoma, Calif. After spending his early adulthood in the Army and studying East Asian languages at the University of Southern California, he returned to acting in 1998 in his first feature role, Pups, a low-budget heist film starring Burt Reynolds. It was released in New York City in February, the same month as DiCaprio's The Beach, but Farrar said he had no intention of trying to be the next Leo. "Acting's not my main focus," Farrar told USA Today. "It may be a way to further my strides in what I really want to do, which is becoming a nutritional consultant or holistic health practitioner." One of his costars in Pups, Darling Narita, saw that nurturing side. "He's really protective of his friends," she says. "If there was a transient on the street talking crazy, he would put himself between me and that person as we walked past."

But living in the shadow cast by Leo's superstardom can be tough. As kids, says Adam's father, "it was like, 'Let's hide from the little brother,' just for fun. Now all of a sudden, Leonardo is making $100 million." The older Farrar thinks envy haunts his son to this day. "Adam says he regrets a lot of things he wishes he had done different in his life." For a while, Adam worked for DiCaprio, selling posters through Leo's Web site, and the two were "very palsy-walsy," says Adam's father. "[But] not now." (Narita, though, says the two are still tight.) Ash, the one-named director of Pups, senses that "it's tough always being compared to his [step] brother, and I think he has now got the validation as an actor in his own right." Indeed, Variety said Farrar "stands out" in the film. Yet he has some work to do in finding his place in the suburbs of stardom. As his father puts it, "There's King Leo and there's all the little queens...and for Adam, there's where does he fit in?"

Kyle Smith
Michelle Caruso, Lorenzo Benet and John Hannah in Los Angeles

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