"I do not take tonight for granted"
When his name was announced there was no over-the-top celebration, he went about thanking his colleagues with a monk-like calmness. Almost like he was *actually* not overwhelmed with the adulation. Either that or he was giving a performance of a lifetime. One that he had practiced over the years and perfected. The latter wouldn't be hard to believe considering his first nomination was way back in 1993. He was nominated for playing a mentally challenged character in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? alongside Johnny Depp. That's when he possibly first practiced an acceptance speech in front of a mirror with a shampoo bottle in his hand. And the journey of heartbreak was only about to begin for Leo, when the long overdue Tommy Lee Jones would find validation as a veteran actor.
Post the Titanic frenzy, the actor would find a mentor and teacher in veteran filmmaker Martin Scorsese while working on Gangs of New York. That would make way for an enviable partnership for four more movies and Leo's next bout with the Academy as he went on to star in the ambitious biopic based on the life of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. His performance in The Aviator had dedication written all over it, to the point where the famous 'sink scene' was inspired from his research on the mannerisms of OCD patients while washing their hands. Leonardo showed a tremendous arc for delving into the depths of madness, as we saw him repeat 'a way of the future' in the last scene as it fades to black. This bravura of a performance was trumped by another stellar performance in a biopic. Jamie Foxx's Ray, where he played the Jazz legend Ray Charles and essayed his downward spiral into cocaine, won Best Actor that year.
The great thing about DiCaprio, the actor is he's always been a greedy one. And another heartbreak wasn't going to stop him from sourcing the best film scripts in the business. One such film was Edward Zwick's Blood Diamond which saw him play a Zimbabwean diamond trader. Plenty of critics pointed out how he got the accent right (a difficult accent to master). And as he scored another Oscar nomination, sure enough came Forrest Whittaker's knockout performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in Kevin MacDonald's The Last King of Scotland. Leonardo DiCaprio became the definition of the heartbreak kid after this loss.
Even as the social media furore grew around the fact about how Leonardo DiCaprio didn't have an Oscar, the actor played it down. Whenever asked as to what he felt about losing out in spite of such great performances, the actor repeatedly answered with a machine-like precision that his job was to make meaningful cinema and he was doing that by working with directors ranging from Ridley Scott (Body of Lies), Christopher Nolan (Inception) to Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained). People wanted to see that one human moment where he would express disappointment, much to their own disappointment. His next bid for the elusive Oscar would come with his mentor Martin Scorsese in the most debaucherous take on Wall Street culture, where he would make no attempt to sanitise tales to protect his image as a movie star. Even as Leo looked like on the most solid footing for Best Actor that year, it sadly coincided with McConnaissance. Matthew McConaughey turned his game on the head with his performance as Texan electrician Ron Woodroof. A role for which McConaughey lost 42 pounds and went on to win Best Actor for the same.
The Internet sobbed for the actor and wondered what would he have to do get that honour which many believed he rightly deserved. The actor kept mum through all of it and went to work on his next - Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu's The Revenant. This movie would have him play an explorer from the 1800s, eat raw bison liver, and suffer in the wilderness of frozen Canada. After the film's release, the jokes started thick and fast about how it was Leonardo's most Oscar bait performance till date. There were even jokes about how he fought a bear so that he would win an Oscar, and if he didn't win it this year he might do something more fatal to get that Oscar in the end. He went on to win that year and many cited the dearth of amazing performances as the reason for the win, which might be partially true. But does that make carrying a film the size of The Revenant with about 15 lines of dialogue any easier?
And a realisation dawns on us as we see the acceptance speech one more time. Maybe it wasn't an act at all, and he really didn't think of the award as the be all, end all. Which is why he used the platform to also talk about the pertinence of climate change. He got a lot of flak for being pretentious and again refrained from saying anything to defend himself. Less than a year later the documentary Before the Flood would release, which he had co-directed. Will an Academy award satiate his hunger for good roles? Maybe not. And right here is a lesson for all of us.
Keep your head down, do your work.