Sharing the screen with good friend Tobey Maguire (left) was “incredibly comforting” for “The Great Gatsby” star Leonardo DiCaprio.
Updated: June 9, 2013 6:07AM
NEW YORK — Just like Jay Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio grew up without all the trimmings.
Just like Gatsby, DiCaprio, the son of a comic book artist, had big dreams.
“Aren’t we all Jay Gatsby?” poses the international superstar as he stands in the Plaza Hotel’s F. Scott Fitzgerald suite, a room that’s dripping in art deco mirrored accessories and high ceilings trimmed in what is supposed to look like 14-karat gold.
“I think everyone has some sort of connection to Gatsby as a character. He’s a character who has created himself according to his own imagination and dreams,” DiCaprio says. “Gatsby was a poor youth in the Midwest and created this image that was the Great Gatsby. It’s truly an American story.”
In his pre-“Titanic,” not yet the “king of the world” days, DiCaprio also identified with a feeling his Gatsby projects in the new Baz Luhrmann film that opens Friday and next week will launch the Cannes Film Festival.
His Gatsby often senses he doesn’t measure up.
“When I started out, I didn’t have nice enough clothes. My hair didn’t look good. I felt like I didn’t belong in Hollywood where everyone was perfect,” says DiCaprio, once a child actor with stints on “Growing Pains” and “Roseanne.”
“That always propelled me. It made me want to try harder.”
The 38-year-old admits to some fears when bringing Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel to the big screen. “This is American Shakespeare. You have to get it right,” he frets.
So far, the buzz is as sparkling as the champagne served at the Gatsby mansion.
Tobey Maguire co-stars as would-be writer Nick Carraway, who leaves the Midwest in 1922 to come to the fictional Long Island village of West Egg, where he finds loosening morals, bootleg kings, lavish parties and skyrocketing stocks with prosperity for some and abject poverty for others.
He winds up next door to a mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio), who is in love with Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) despite the fact that she has a husband, philandering blue-blood Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).
Luhrmann says that DiCaprio was his first choice for Gatsby.
“At 2 in the morning on our set in Australia, Tobey, Leo and I would sit in a room going around and around. We were like sharks smelling blood in the water as we looked for that extra detail that would bring Gatsby to life.”
“That’s what I love. Leo looks for any way in,” he says. “Any scrap. Any hint.”
DiCaprio discovered the novel as a teenager.
“The Gatsby I remember reading at 15 in junior high school was far different from the Gatsby I read as an adult. I remember this hopeless romantic who was in love with this woman,” DiCaprio says. “He created this wealth just to hold her hand.”
Reading it as an adult “was even more fascinating,” he says. “The novel is nuanced. At the center for me now is this man who is incredibly hollow and searching for some sort of meaning in his life.
“He has attached himself to this relic that is Daisy. Yes, she is a relic. She is a mirage.”
Gatsby’s longing for Daisy is no mere crush.
“Is he really in love with this woman — or with what she represents?” DiCaprio poses. “Is she just a dream, too?
“He creates this Gatsby castle to lure her in. One of my favorite scenes is when he’s holding Daisy in his arms. He has the woman he lives in his arms, but stares outside. He’s still searching for this thing that will complete him.”
The man playing Nick is a close DiCaprio friend.
“There was a comfortable dialogue,” says Maguire. “In regards to the texture and chemistry of the relationship on screen, I’m sure our real life had an effect.”
Adds DiCaprio, “To have someone I’ve known for 20 years like Tobey Maguire was incredibly comforting. We’re always extremely honest with each other. I don’t know if this project would have happened unless we had that relationship.”
“We needed those checks and balances,” he says.
DiCaprio works with another friend, director Martin Scorsese, in the upcoming “The Wolf of Wall Street.” He’s also involved in many environmental issues, including the Wildlife Conservation Society.
“You can’t just use up everything,” he says. “That’s a lesson we never seem to learn.”
Big Picture News Inc.