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Leonardo DiCaprio

By fight or flight, Leo gives Oscar chase

Critical analysis: “DiCaprio, playing a teenage con man, a slender and seductive boy, looks very much like a movie star. He’s on top of his game, and he dominates every scene.” — David Denby on “Catch Me if You Can,” The New Yorker

Awards pedigree: Golden Globe actor nom for “Catch Me if You Can.” 1994 Oscar and Golden Globe supporting actor noms for “Who’s Eating Gilbert Grape”; 1998 actor Golden Globe nom for “Titanic”

Upcoming: Starring in Baz Luhrmann’s “Alexander the Great”; reteaming with Martin Scorsese in “The Aviator,” a story about the early days of Howard Hughes

As juvenile delinquents go, Leonardo DiCaprio is twice as convincing as anyone out there.

In Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York,” DiCaprio plays Amsterdam Vallon, the orphaned son of a slain Irish gang leader who returns from a youth reformatory to New York’s infamous Five Points section around the time of the Civil War to exact revenge on his father’s killer.

In “Catch Me If You Can,” DiCaprio portrays Frank W. Abagnale Jr. in the true-life tale of a teenage con man in the 1960s trying to stay one step ahead of the FBI.

Two highly anticipated pictures. Two legendary directors. One versatile movie star.

The two characters couldn’t be more different in terms of styles and eras, yet in tackling the tasks, DiCaprio discovered a common thread. “They’re both coming-of-age stories about someone looking for a father figure,” he says.

While exploring the character of Amsterdam, DiCaprio derived insight from a journal written by a young man during the mid-1800s about his experiences in a squalid reformatory. “One story had to do with how the kids had nothing to eat, so when they did get some bread, they put it in their pockets,” DiCaprio recounts. “But the rats would come in at night and eat through their blankets and clothes to get to the bread. So they had to nail the bread to the ceiling. But then they couldn’t sleep, because they were kept up all night by the sounds of the rats scratching, trying to get the bread.”

DiCaprio was enthralled by the chance to participate in “Gangs,” for the opportunity to work with Scorsese and to help chronicle a period of history little known to most Americans. “It’s a time that was edited out of any history book I ever read,” he says. “It’s about the formation of our democracy. It’s about the beginnings of a pluralistic society, but told in true Scorsese fashion, on a street level.”

After working out for over eight months, DiCaprio put on 30 pounds for “Gangs.” “I wanted Amsterdam to be an alpha male; I wanted him to come into Five Points with presence,” he says.

DiCaprio shed much of the bulk for “Catch Me.” In the breezy Spielberg cat-and-mouse story, he plays a teenage boy whose parents’ divorce propels him into a journey of survival and ill-gotten gains via deception and check forgery.

“He’s a character who is always testing the boundaries,” DiCaprio says. “He feels he’s challenging the world and experimenting with his relationships with people. Characters like that are really compelling and interesting to me.”

Two dream roles is one thing… but two dream directors?

“They’re both incredible masters,” DiCaprio says of working with Scorsese then Spielberg. “It’s really kind of unfair to compare them, because I haven’t worked on an epic with Steven and haven’t worked on an indie with Marty.

“I know they’re practically film historians. You see what they’ve done in the past, and they’re so educated in the world of filmmaking, that you understand why there aren’t many like them because of their ability to reinvent themselves.”

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