Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio (born November 11, 1974), is an American actor. He was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of George DiCaprio and Irmalin Idenbirkin. His name allegedly came about because his pregnant mother was standing in front of a Leonardo da Vinci painting at a museum in Italy when he kicked, which made her decide to name him after the famous artist.
Leo's father, a distributor of comic books, is Italian-American and his mother, a former legal secretary, is German. His parents divorced when he was a year old. He grew up in Echo Park. At age five, he appeared on his favorite TV series, Romper Room, and was almost fired for misbehaving. He attended John Marshall High School in Los Angeles.
He was rejected by an agent early in his career for having a name that sounded too foreign, suggesting that it should be changed to Lenny Williams. But DiCaprio refused.
His acting career began in 1990 when he was cast in the role of Garry Buckman on the TV comedy/drama series Parenthood, where he met his best friend, actor Tobey Maguire. In that same year, DiCaprio appeared on the soap opera Santa Barbara in the role of Mason Capwell. From 1991 to 1992, he had the role of Luke Brower, a homeless boy, on the sitcom Growing Pains.
DiCaprio is most famous for his roles in theatrical motion pictures. His debut role was as Josh in Critters 3 (1991). His break-through came with the role of Toby in This Boy's Life (1993) co-starring with Robert De Niro and Ellen Barkin, which led the New York Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics to name him runner-up for Best Supporting Actor. He portrayed a mentally retarded boy so convincingly in What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) that some people thought he really was.
The black-and-white movie Don's Plum, a low-budget drama featuring the actor and some of his friends, including Tobey Maguire, making crude jokes while hanging out in a Los Angeles diner, was filmed in 1995-1996. Its release was later blocked in the U.S. and Canada by DiCaprio and Maguire, who argued they never intended to make a theatrical feature. It premiered February 10, 2001 in Berlin and Variety called it an "unpleasant and tedious ensembler." DiCaprio also played the male lead in Romeo + Juliet (1996), a very updated modern day version of Shakespeare's play.
The move from star to superstar came when DiCaprio played Jack Dawson in Titanic (1997). The highest grossing movie ever, it tied with Ben-Hur (1959) for receiving the most Academy Awards, though DiCaprio himself was not nominated (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King would later match Ben Hur and Titanic's eleven Oscars).
In 1994, DiCaprio was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for What's Eating Gilbert Grape. He was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture for What's Eating Gilbert Grape; Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama for Titanic; and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama for Catch Me If You Can (2002), which co-starred Tom Hanks.
DiCaprio sued Playgirl to stop the New York-based monthly magazine from publishing unauthorized photos of him in its July 1998 issue. Some reports claim the photos were secretly taken while the actor was lounging in the nude, while others say they came from stills of his nude scenes in, or from outtakes of, the movie Total Eclipse. The case was settled June 29, 1998, for an undisclosed amount.
Recently, DiCaprio has taken to political issues. He is especially fond of the environment.
DiCaprio is currently starring in the critically acclaimed film The Aviator, directed by Martin Scorsese, portraying the eccentric Howard Hughes. He was nominated and won the Best Actor award (Drama) at the Golden Globes 2005.