MEMO TO: Leonardo DiCaprio

FROM: Peter Bart

I’ve been watching you ricochet between movie offers lately, Leo, and frankly it’s not been a pretty sight. Depending on whom one believes, you’ve been flirting with the idea of playing a cowboy, a Hemingway hero, a yuppie murderer, a schizophrenic law student and, in this week’s latest “leak,” a wanderer who’s in possession of a map to paradise. Each step of the way your salary has theoretically escalated to $ 20 million, then to $ 21 million and upward.

All this has created a degree of confusion about your true intentions. And your publicist hasn’t helped, leaping into the fray at one point to announce that you “may do the project or may do another project.” OK, that clears everything up.

Now I realize it’s not easy being an instant superstar, Leo, but frankly your act already is getting a little old. Watching you lurch from offer to offer, reminds me of Marlon Brando in his later years when he’d wake up, yawn, scratch himself, and decide to say “yes” to whatever his next offer was. I once asked Marlon why he chose one particularly grotesque role and he responded, “They offered me 12 1/4% of the gross. I always wanted someone to offer me a quarter percent of something.” I told him that I understood completely.

Anyway, Leo, I honestly feel you should find a better role model for both your career and your diet. Most of your rivals in your age group seem quite adept at choosing roles. Matt Damon, for one, is either the smartest, or luckiest, kid around — go to see “Saving Private Ryan,” and there he is again, in another great role.

Now I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I thought it might be helpful to suggest a few “do’s” and “don’ts” that you might consider in plotting your career path. I hope these may be helpful.

First the “do’s”:

Take off a couple of years and go to college, Leo. Think how great it would be to read something else besides scripts. Consider how refreshing it would be to be rejected by some college woman who thinks you’re too callow.

Don’t hold out for that $ 20 million salary. At those prices you’ll have to carry the picture. Think back to those olden days when studios could afford two stars, or even three in a movie. That made for better movies, and also longer careers.

With this in mind, hire an agent, Leo. Sure, I know you trust your manager, and rightly so, but a good agent might connect you with the right material, not to mention directors and co-stars. It’s helpful to get advice from different quarters.

Much as you may hate award shows, you can’t snub all of them. Your absence at the Oscars was graceless — you lost a chance to look magnanimous. By snubbing the MTV movie awards and accepting an award via videotape, you invited ridicule (and you got it: Witness the parody called “The Making of the Leonardo DiCaprio Acceptance Speech”).

And now a few “don’ts”:

Don’t take up Scientology, Leo. It’s worked for Travolta and Cruise — they’ve certainly learned the secrets to self-assertiveness — but your fans respond to your self-effacing, non-assertive manner. Besides, you’ll never be asked to plead with the IRS or other branches of government if you keep your autonomy.

Don’t count on your female teen constituency for loyalty. They’re a notoriously fickle lot, favoring bland, blond androgyny one moment, then suddenly demanding steroidal masculinity the next.

Don’t pacify a producer by telling him you’re “interested” in a project. Not only do you encourage premature press releases, but you also risk Kim Basinger-like lawsuits. And Kim lost that case, Leo.

Now you may want to dismiss my list of “do’s” and “don’ts,” Leo, but I would urge you to think about the past career choices of “hot” young leading men of generations past. After “Star Wars,” Mark Hamill did “Corvette Summer.” Oops. Michael J. Fox followed “Back to the Future” with “Bright Lights, Big City.” Bigger oops. Macaulay Culkin followed “Home Alone” with “Getting Even With Dad.” That was a Freudian “oops.” Tom Cruise followed “Risky Business” with “The Outsiders.” OK, he got away with that, but he was born lucky. And how about the other kids in that movie — Rob Lowe and C. Thomas Howell, for example.

It’s tough being the hottest young leading man around, Leo. All you’ve got to look forward to is fame, fortune and women. Come to think of it, I think I’ll lavish my sound advice on someone who really needs it.

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