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His public exploits notwithstanding, Hughes was a man who valued his privacy."He was the last private man in America," says Di Caprio.
Michael Mann was exhausted and needed a break from directing, having just finished filming Ali, so Di Caprio took the idea to Martin Scorsese, with whom he had worked on Gangs of New York."I'm able to say at some point, 'OK, you're being ridiculous, stop stepping on every gum stain you see. You don't need to walk 20 feet back and put your foot on that thing.Nothing bad is going to happen.'"I can talk myself through it, you know, whereas Howard Hughes couldn't do that and people with hard-core OCD can't."During filming I let it all go and I never listened to the other voice, so I remember my make-up artist and assistant walking me to the set and going, 'Oh, God, here he goes again.I don't have any regrets about it because it has given me great opportunities as an actor – and it's a pretty good film, too."It was his role in Titanic that confirmed his status as Hollywood's leading heartthrob and ushered in the surreal Beatle-like fan worship that became known as Leo-mania.On the day we talked, word had leaked out of his whereabouts and photographers lurked outside the front door of the Los Angeles hotel where we met.Rejected by a casting agent when he was 11, he tried again at 14 and landed an agent, who got him a toy commercial.
Supporting roles in television series followed, but his first film role in Critters 3 gave little hint of his potential.
There he was, in a South American rainforest, studying the effects of mercury poisoning in the Amazon, when he was confronted by a group of naked Indians.
Although he has just turned 30, the boyishly handsome actor is resigned to the fact that he will always be linked to Titanic, the 1997 Oscar-winning film in which he and Kate Winslet played tragic lovers on the doomed ship."That film is a phenomenon," he says.
Howard Hughes was a larger-than-life filmmaker, tycoon, aviator - and obsessive compulsive.
Leonardo Di Caprio, who plays him in the Oscar-tipped The Aviator, tells John Hiscock how his own milder form of the disorder gave him an insight into the role For Leonardo Di Caprio, it was one of those moments when he didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
A scene in the film depicts him stark naked in his screening room, unable to face anybody and conducting a deranged experiment with bottles of his own urine."I think being obsessive-compulsive tied into his women, too," said Di Caprio.