From 'Basketball Diaries' to 'The Revenant': Here is Leonardo DiCaprio's exceptional transformation

Swetha Ramakrishnan

Mar,01 2016 10:10:26 IST

A couple of weeks before the Academy Awards, a phrase about everybody's favorite Leonardo DiCaprio was doing the rounds: "Leo winning the Oscar for The Revenant is like A R Rahman winning the Oscar for Jai Ho (Slumdog Millionaire)." And now, exactly that has happened. DiCaprio has won the award for The Revenant.

Nobody was refuting the fact that DiCaprio should win an Oscar. But a very popular opinion was that he should have gotten the award for a more deserving film (Wolf of Wall Street or Blood Diamond maybe). However, here's another thought, how about we look at the Oscar as accolades for Leonardo DiCaprio's hard work as an actor through all his films?

His transformation as an actor is unparalleled. He started his career by starring in TV commercials, and even made a blink-and-you-miss cameo in the famous soap opera Santa Barbara. But this is the same person who went on to star opposite Johnny Depp in What's Eating Glibert Grape, followed by playing the evergreen romantic in Titanic. He then starred in a list of career defining roles in films such as The Aviator, The Departed and Wolf of Wall Street. 

If we were to go back in time, the Leonardo from Basketball Diaries would probably not be able to recognise the Leonardo of Django Unchained or Inception. From playing a lover boy, a conman, a FBI agent, an illegal gun smuggler, a time-traveller, to a Wall Street baron, and a depressive husband, among other things.

That's what you call a transformation. And for this very transformation as an actor (if not anything else), Dicaprio deserves every bit of the spotlight (pun intended) for winning the Best Actor award. Dicaprio had mentioned to the media backstage at the Academy awards that, "this has been my dream ever since I was 4 years old.”

On account of this joyous occasion, here's a rundown of the transformation of Leonardo Dicaprio, the actor:

What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1994)


Leonardo Dicaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

Brothers Gilbert and Arnie Grape (played by Johnny Depp and DiCaprio) from this film were an inspiration for many 90s kids. But it was DiCaprio's understated role as the younger brother with a developmental disorder that paved the way for Johnny Depp's character to shine. And he was only 19 years old when he shot for this film.

Basketball Diaries (1995)


Leonardo DiCaprio in Basketball Diaries.

A cinematic bildungsroman, Dicaprio plays a adolescent drug addict based on the true-life exploits of poet and musician Jim Carroll in Basketball Diaries. Having grown up in LA, one would expect that this film (which depicts the crime and drug underbelly of a similar drug-addled American city, New York) would hold a special place in DiCaprio's heart and his authoritative performance proves it. Basketball Diaries is considered one of the first films that caught everyone's attention with regard to Dicaprio's acting prowess.

Titanic (1997)


Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic.

Now who doesn't like a dedicated, adorable lover boy? With Titanic, DiCaprio catapulted into every teenage girl's heart and stayed there for years to come. That every dialogue spoken by Jack Dawson (Dicaprio) in Titanic is quotable years later is no coincidence. "I figure life's a gift and I don't intend on wasting it," he said in the film. And now, many many years after Titanic released, during his acceptance speech DiCaprio said, "I do not take this night for granted." Same guy. Same feels.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)


Leonardo Dicaprio in Catch Me If You Can.

Right before playing an police official in The Departed, DiCaprio plays a conman who dupes the police in Catch Me If You Can, a film based on the life of Frank Abagnale who successfully robbed millions of dollars on check fraud before his 19th birthday. Only DiCaprio could jump from playing a 19 year old chocolate boy to a 19 year old conman.

The Departed (2006)


Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed.

From being on the other side of the law, DiCaprio successfully pulls of the character of an undercover police officer who works for an Irish-American Mobster Frank Costello. The Departed won director Martin Scorsese his first Oscar, and a large part of the win was credited to DiCaprio and Scorsese's working relationship.

Blood Diamond (2006)


Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond.

Blood Diamond is possibly considered one of those landmark films that positioned DiCaprio as an all round actor (also because it came after films like The Aviator and Gangs Of New York). A war thriller set at the backdrop of the Sierra Leone civil war from 1996-2001, the film is a heart-tugging portrayal of the drama surrounding diamonds mined in war zones. Many have argued that DiCaprio's fellow actor Djimon Hounsou deserved a nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards as well, but where DiCaprio takes the cake is in authentically playing a white African man when he's originally a city-bred New Yorker. Also, he did The Departed and Blood Diamond in the same year. (cue applause)

Revolutionary Road (2008)


Revolutionary Road brings Kate Winslet and Dicaprio back on screen together, but this time as a bored, depressed, suburban married couple. Perhaps the biggest win of the film is in Winslet and Dicaprio convincing their loyal audience from Titanic that love occurs in many forms. If Titanic was a portrayal of young, puppy love, Revolutionary Road is an apt portrayal of the pitfalls of a married couple.

Shutter Island (2010)


Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island.

From a crime thriller, to a noir-thriller, Shutter Island is Scorsese and Dicaprio's fourth collaboration (after Gangs of New York, The Aviation, and The Departed), and what a collab it is! DiCaprio plays US Marshal Ted Daniels in the film which revolves around the eccentric events that take place at a hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island located on Boston Harbour. That's all we can say about the film, and the fact that DiCaprio's chilling performance is probably what lent to the fact that it is Scorsese's second highest grossing film worldwide.

Inception (2010)


Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception.

This is DiCaprio's first collaboration with Christopher Nolan, but his second film playing a mentally unstable character (after Shutter Island). This sci-fi heist thriller came right after Nolan's The Dark Knight, so suffice it to say that DiCaprio had quite a benchmark to live upto. Inception is a truly remarkable film, but what stands out beyond that is how DiCaprio comes across as a team player, being the biggest star (so to speak) in this ensemble film (with Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Marion Cottilard). The film is a win for all.

Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)


Leonardo DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street.

Based on the memoir of Wall Street baron Jordan Belfort, the film (very ambiguously) portrays the horror, stress and con of the life of a Wall Street stockbroker. From explicit sexual content, profanity and depiction of hard drug use, Wold Of Wall Street has it all; it's not a film that believes in being subtle and Leonardo Dicaprio's performance is a perfect representation of this fact. One of his most appreciated performances is in the film, a scene in which he in heavily under the influence of quaaludes, a powerful sedative, and he has  to drive back home to his family.

And finally, The Revenant. But instead of reading about the film, and Leonardo's Oscar-winning (how lovely to be finally using that phrase) performance, go watch the film on the big screen.

Updated Date: Mar 01, 2016 10:11 AM