Poor Leonardo DiCaprio has become something of a joke in Hollywood for failing to win an Oscar, and not through lack of trying.
He is one of the industry’s most highly respected actors, having starred in some stellar films throughout his career, which would, arguably not have been as good without him in them. He was won plenty of awards, including Golden Globes and SAG Awards, but that coveted little gold man has always just escaped his grip.
This year, he is nominated for his role in Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The Revenant, a grizzly survival story about a fur trapper left for dead in the wilderness in the 1800s. The film has been lauded as “sublime” by critics, and scooped all the big awards at the Golden Globes earlier this month, including a Best Actor gong for Leo.
But a win at the Golden Globes doesn’t always translate into success at the Oscars: Leo knows this all too well himself, as it happened with The Aviator. But there is so much hype around his role in The Revenant, that you can hardly utter the words “Leonardo DiCaprio” without the word “Oscar” being mentioned in the same sentence. And there’s reason for the hype.
Leo truly embraces the role of Hugh Glass and his battle to survive in the primal wilderness after he is attacked by a bear, buried alive by his cohorts and literally left for dead. The visceral performance shows Hugh’s desperate attempt to track down his nemesis John (Tom Hardy) in his quest for vengeance. The Revenant literally means a person who has returned, supposedly from the dead, and Hugh certainly seems to go through hell and back throughout the course of the film. This is very much a physical performance, there is not much dialogue from DiCaprio, but the challenging scenarios and stunning scenery do enough without the need for words.
“I can name 30 or 40 sequences that were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do,” DiCaprio told Yahoo. “Whether it’s going in and out of frozen rivers, or sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on set. [I was] enduring freezing cold and possible hypothermia constantly.”
The bear attack scene is particularly hard to watch. There were rumours that Hugh got raped by the bear, but it is in fact a mother bear protecting her cubs. But the scene is no less awkward and wince inducing. You can see the desperation in Hugh’s face as he grapples with the monstrous creature that mauls him, claws at his skin, flips him over like a pancake and tests the strength of his skull by standing on it. Ouch. Despite it being a computer animated bear, it feels very real thanks to the grunting, heavy breathing and close ups that reveal looks of desperation (that goes for DiCaprio AND the bear). But the bear is in fact a stunt man in a giant blue suit rolling around with DiCaprio before the CGI team added a bear over the top.
It’s clear that DiCaprio and his PR team are on the Oscar trail. He is letting everyone know how much he wants it. It public knowledge that he ate raw bison liver, slept inside a dead horse and risked hypothermia while shooting with Inarritu in a nine month shoot that was described by crew members as “a living hell”. Bear Grylls, eat your heart out.
He said in a recent Time Out interview, “I’ll always feel like an outsider” in reference to how he fits into Hollywood, and I couldn’t help that wonder if this has something to do with him never winning an award. He’s not in the George Clooney inner circle of Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and co, all of whom do well when it comes to awards season. But then he also says that “Marty [Scorsese] was the same. He came from the streets of New York and didn’t feel like he belonged in Hollywood.” And now “Marty” is the toast of tinsel town.
DiCaprio is being widely praised for his role, but he has some tough competition in the Best Actor category at the Oscars: he faces last year’s winner, Eddie Redmayne, for his moving performance as Lily Elbe, the world’s first transgender woman (read my review of The Danish Girl here) and Matt Damon, fellow 2016 Golden Globe Best Actor winner (for a comedy) in The Martian. Also in the category is a post-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston in Trumbo and Michcael Fassbender for his role in the eponymous Steve Jobs biopic.
DiCaprio has always been good at embracing a role, and his work with Scorsese has toughened him up in preparation for this mammoth film. My favourite character DiCaprio has portrayed was Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street: again he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a comedy that year, but he stood no chance at the Oscars as we were in the grips of the McConaissance, and Matthew McCounaughey (quite rightly) bagged the statuette for his transformative role in Dallas Buyers Clubs. I also thought DiCaprio’s turn as Howard Hughes was brilliant, particuarly his decsent into madness. But neither of these roles had the same gruelling process of that of Hugh Glass: and he’s not afraid to let everyone know it. I just hope that eating that raw bison liver pays off… #OscarForLeo