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FILM: INTERVIEW LEONARDO DICAPRIO - DESERT ISLAND TRYSTS; KEVIN O'SULLIVAN talks to Leonardo DiCaprio about The Beach and being the world's No 1 film star.

Nice work if you can get it, being a big movie star. Not so long ago Leonardo DiCaprio was a by-word for arty movies that pulled in an average of pounds 5.46p at the box office, but following a little production by the name of Titanic, Leo has moved into the super league.

Now, of course, the Hollywood studios can't do enough to keep the lad happy, which explains why 20th Century Fox has flown DiCaprio to the Hawaiian paradise island of Maui so that he can talk about The Beach, the film he has just completed on the paradise island of Phuket in Thailand.

He wanders into the Ritz Hotel - a beautiful palm tree-lined haven on the shores of the Pacific - and causes the customary stir among holiday makers surprised to find the world's No 1 heartthrob in their midst.

Smiling and nodding at the starers as he saunters towards his seat, Leonardo is a picture of couldn't-care-less dressed down chic. He is wearing faded jeans and an old army green T-shirt. That famous mop of blond hair which flicks across his forehead is stuck to his skin in the tropical heat.

His immaculate features and slim, surprisingly tall six foot frame more than save the day, though, and despite his evident lack of effort, Leo looks a million dollars - which is about a twentieth of what he earns for a single role these days.

Aged 24, the superstar - born and bred in Los Angeles - has the world in the palm of his hands. To mere mortals gazing up at his lofty perch at the very top of the showbiz tree it looks as if DiCaprio's entire life is a case of what Leo wants, Leo gets.

But it just ain't true. He wants a normal life, but realises his enormous fame has robbed him of the chance of ever having one of those again. He wants to meet new friends, but rather than risk gaining a pack of parasitic hangers-on he prefers to fly his existing trusted pals with him wherever he goes. And he wants a girlfriend - but he can't get one.

"I am single," he asserts in a statement that seems to indicate his relationship with model Kristin Zang is either over or didn't amount to much in the first place.

"When I meet a person, I have to know if they're a genuine individual or just someone who wants to hang out with a star. As far as women are concerned I have to be very cautious. I must be totally convinced that a girl likes me for myself and not my image as a movie star."

The Beach is DiCaprio's first blockbuster since Titanic two years ago and it's submerged in a tidal wave of high hopes. Based on the best-selling debut novel by wonderkid British writer Alex Garland, the pounds 70m production boasts more than a hint of UK influence. It is directed by Danny Boyle, the talented English filmmaker behind acclaimed releases such as Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, and it features Scottish star Robert Carlyle as a weirded-out new age traveller who befriends DiCaprio's character, Richard, on his arrival in Thailand. The intriguing tale introduced Leo to the world of backpacking, one that he admits he knew nothing about.

"There are so many westerners in a far-off place like Thailand searching for that hippie-like nomadic existence. I love to travel, but for a lot of these people there is also the whole concept of discovering paradise," he says.

In the movie Leo samples culinary delights you won't see on Ready Steady Cook, including snake's blood and wriggly bugs.

"Yeah, there were 20 real caterpillars on my plate, but I'm not going to say if I ate them or not. I'll admit the snake's blood was corn syrup with red colouring, though."

Fox bosses shipped in 60 palm trees, planted them and then removed them after filming so the terrain could return to its original state. Yet, despite the studio's promises to clean up after the shoot, the crew and actors were harangued by environmental protesters. There were even reports that food tasters were employed so Leo couldn't be poisoned by them. At this, he starts to giggle.

"I didn't feel personally threatened. That story was a whole bunch of crap!" he insists before getting serious. "When we left, the island was certainly better than before we arrived. We took the utmost care. Unfortunately we were used as figureheads for a lot of the environmental problems."

Life has changed for the one-time sitcom star, who got his start on the '80s US TV series Growing Pains. Gone are the days when he was the darling of the art-house set, starring in films such as The Basketball Diaries, What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and Romeo And Juliet.

"Yeah, life is a lot more hectic than it used to be," he admits. "Careerwise, I have a lot more responsibility. Because of Titanic I've been given more opportunities."

Leo is also quick to quash rumours of a falling out with Titanic director James Cameron, prompted by his non-attendance on Oscars night when the film swept the board.

"My relationship with James?" he laughs. "Let's see... well, we're not engaged... yet. It was just that I didn't have that big a reason to go to the Oscars."

So, after starring in a film about paradise lost and the human condition, has self-confessed PlayStation addict Leo gained any new insights? He pauses as his long, dirty blond fringe flops down into his eyes.

"I don't think paradise exists. It's only in our minds. All we know is how to consume everything within our path," he concludes.

Jonathan Ross reviews The Beach on page 6.
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Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 11, 2000
Previous Article:Film: New releases - Ralph Fiennes gives off an air of musty fatalism in the same way that Hugh Grant exudes goofy cheer.
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