Leonardo DiCaprio Insisted on Switching Roles for ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

leonardo dicaprio in character for killers of the flower moon leans back against a 1920s car, he wears a suit vest, collared shirt, tie and cap
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Leonardo DiCaprio Now: Actor Switched His Killers of the Flower Moon Role

Leonardo DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese collaborated for a seventh time with Killers of the Flower Moon, which is now in theaters. Also starring Lily Gladstone and Robert De Niro, the movie depicts a real-life series of murders on the Osage Nation Reservation in Oklahoma during the 1920s. DiCaprio portrays Ernest Burkhart, a member of a murderous conspiracy who marries Mollie Kyle (portrayed by Gladstone) to gain her trust. DiCaprio was originally cast in the heroic role of FBI agent Tom White, but during development of the film, he insisted on switching to Burkhart’s character, which led to significant script revisions. Instead, Jesse Plemons tackles the role of White.

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Who Is Leonardo DiCaprio?

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio earned worldwide stardom after starring in James Cameron’s 1997 epic drama Titanic and has become one of Hollywood’s most successful leading men. Starting his career in television before moving on to movies, he has regularly collaborated with the iconic director Martin Scorsese, including such films as Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, and The Wolf of Wall Street. DiCaprio has also starred in the Quentin Tarantino films Django Unchained and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as well as other notable movies like Blood Diamond, Revolutionary Road, Inception, and The Great Gatsby. He earned his first of six Academy Award acting nominations for his supporting role in 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and finally took home the Oscar for Best Actor for the 2015 movie The Revenant.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio
BORN: November 11, 1974
BIRTHPLACE: Los Angeles, California

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Young Life and Start in Acting

leonardo dicaprio as a child, wearing a red patterned button shirt
A young Leonardo DiCaprioGetty Images

Born on November 11, 1974, in Los Angeles, Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio is the only child of Irmelin and George DiCaprio. His parents chose the name Leonardo because when his mother was pregnant with him during a honeymoon in Florence, she felt him “kicking furiously while looking at a Leonardo da Vinci painting at the Uffizi Gallery.

His parents divorced when he was still a toddler. DiCaprio was mostly raised by his mother, a legal secretary born in Germany. Despite his parents’ early divorce, DiCaprio remained close to his father, a comic book artist and distributor.

With his parents’ urging, DiCaprio explored his creative side, developing an early interest in acting. “I loved imitating people” DiCaprio later told Backstage. “I loved joking around with my parents and creating different characters. I liked doing my own little homemade skits.” He didn’t like attending John Marshall High School in Los Angeles and wished to instead focus on acting auditions. He ultimately dropped out of high school but later earned his general equivalency diploma.

Early TV Roles and First Movie

DiCaprio began appearing in television commercials as a young child, though he didn’t have much success in Hollywood until he reached his early teens. For years, he had trouble landing an agent. One agent even recommended DiCaprio change his name to Lenny Williams to improve his appeal, saying his birth name was “too ethnic.” DiCaprio considered quitting acting after failing to find work despite multiple auditions, but his father encouraged him to keep at it.

By the early 1990s, the burgeoning actor began landing regular television work, with guest appearances on programs such as The New Lassie and Roseanne. He also landed a role in the dramatic comedy Parenthood, inspired by the 1989 movie of the same name, with DiCaprio playing the role originated by Joaquin Phoenix. The show proved to be short-lived, but DiCaprio was nominated for a Young Artist Award for Best Young Actor Starring in a New Television Series.

In 1991, DiCaprio took a leap forward when he was cast as a semi-regular on the family comedy Growing Pains, with Kirk Cameron and Alan Thicke. He portrayed Luke Brower, a homeless boy taken in by the family, earning another Young Artist Award nomination for the performance. DiCaprio made his film debut in the low-budget horror flick Critters 3 (1991), which earned him a third Young Artist Award nomination. He got the chance to demonstrate his talents as a serious actor two years later.

Early Movies: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and Romeo and Juliet

Proving he was more than a just good-looking teenager, DiCaprio starred opposite Robert De Niro in This Boy’s Life. The film delved into the difficult relationship between a young boy and his abusive stepfather in this adaptation of Tobias Wolff’s memoir. De Niro watched the auditions and said of DiCaprio’s, “I like the blond kid. He’s quite good.” In his first major movie role, the still-young actor didn’t yet know how to behave on a film set and “came with a bunch of bad habits that we got rid of,” director Michael Caton-Jones said, after which DiCaprio’s acting improved. He impressed critics, with Roger Ebert writing that “the movie is successful largely because he is a good enough actor to hold his own in his scenes with De Niro.”

leonardo dicaprio and johnny depp stand next to each other, dicaprio smiles and wears a denim jacket, black vest, black shirt and royal blue pants with a brown belt, depp leans toward the camera and wears a black suit with a white collared shirt
Leonardo DiCaprio and Johnny Depp, seen here in December 1993, co-starred in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?Getty Images

DiCaprio turned heads again with his performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), co-starring Johnny Depp. Director Lasse Hallstrom almost passed on DiCaprio because “I thought we needed someone who wasn’t as good-looking,” but he was impressed enough with the actor’s audition to cast him anyway. Portraying a child with mental disabilities, DiCaprio spent several days at homes for mental ill teenagers to study their mannerisms and incorporate them into his performance, according to Leonardo DiCaprio: The Biography by Douglas Wight. DiCaprio awed critics and film industry insiders so much so that director Martin Scorsese found it hard to believe he wasn’t actually mentally challenged, according to Wight. The performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

DiCaprio continued to pursue interesting and diverse film projects. He starred in the 1995 coming-of-age drama The Basketball Diaries and worked with Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, and Russell Crowe on the western film The Quick and the Dead that same year. Sony Pictures was reluctant to hire DiCaprio for the latter film, but Stone believed in his talent enough that she paid his salary herself. The next year, DiCaprio starred as the Romeo to Claire Danes’s Juliet in Romeo + Juliet (1996), Baz Luhrmann’s modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s tragic love story. DiCaprio nearly passed on the project, “I didn’t want to run around in tights, swinging a sword,” but his father urged him to accept the role, according to Wight, which helped establish him as a leading Hollywood actor.

Titanic and A-List Stardom

kate winslet and leonardo dicaprio in a scene from the film titanic, with dicaprio holding winslet's hand on a set of stairs, both of them in fancy attire
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in a scene from Titanic (1997)Getty Images

Another tragic love story helped propel DiCaprio’s career to a stratospheric level in 1997. He co-starred with Kate Winslet in James Cameron’s Titanic, about the sinking of the titular ocean liner. In the movie, he plays Jack, a poor artist who falls for the rich and beautiful Rose (Winslet) on board. The couple faces danger not only from Rose’s fiancé (Billy Zane) but the ship itself after it strikes an iceberg. With a production budget that topped $200 million, it was the most expensive film ever made at the time.

Then 22 years old, DiCaprio turned down a role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997) to appear in Titanic. Winslet was so impressed with DiCaprio that she urged Cameron to cast him, even if he didn’t cast her, according to Wight. DiCaprio had hesitations about the part, and Cameron initially felt he “didn’t strike me as necessarily having the qualities I wanted for my Jack,” but after the auditions were complete, Cameron decided, “He was the guy,” according to Wight.

Titanic became both a critical and commercial smash hit. It garnered 14 Academy Award nominations and won 11, taking home the distinctive honors of Best Picture and Best Director. It was the first film to reach the billion dollar mark in international sales. The success of the film also showed that DiCaprio could command traditional leading man roles. He quickly became a world-famous celebrity with a growing following of admirers, his charm and youthful good looks landing him on People magazine’s list of the “50 Most Beautiful People” in 1997 and 1998.

Immediately after Titanic, DiCaprio hit a bit of a career slump, as The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) and The Beach (2000) proved to be disappointments both financially and artistically. However, DiCaprio quickly bounced back and demonstrated his range as an actor in two noteworthy features from 2002. He first portrayed real-life con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can (2002), alongside Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken.

He also starred with Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York (2002), the first of many collaborations between DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese. A pet project for the famed director, he had trouble securing financing for it until DiCaprio came aboard. The actor, himself, relished the role of an Irish street gang member because it was a departure from the boyish roles with which he was becoming associated.

The Aviator, The Departed, and Inception

leonardo dicaprio stands next to martin scorsese who has an arm on dicaprios should, dicaprio grips a golden globe statue with both hands and looks to the left of the camera, scorsese smiles and looks to the right of the camera, dicaprio wears a black suit and tie with a white collared shirt, scorsese wears a black tuxedo with a white shirt
Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, at a 2005 Golden Globes after party, have worked together on six movies.Getty Images

DiCaprio once again worked with director Martin Scorsese on The Aviator (2004), taking on the challenge of playing one of America’s most famous businessmen: the eccentric and reclusive Howard Hughes. DiCaprio spent a year preparing for the starring role, reading books about and listening to recordings of Hughes, and conducting research about chronic obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to Wight. DiCaprio received widespread critical praise for the performance, winning his first Golden Globe and once again receiving an Academy Award nomination, this time as a leading actor. Film critic Robert Denerstein wrote that DiCaprio “captures Hughes’ brio, as well as the sadness that accompanied the gradual onset of insanity that turned Hughes into a legendary recluse.”

DiCaprio’s next Scorsese movie was 2006’s The Departed, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. A remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs (2002), DiCaprio portrayed Billy Costigan, an undercover state trooper who infiltrates the crew of Irish mob boss Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), while one of Costello’s plants (Matt Damon) infiltrates the Massachusetts State Police. DiCaprio gained 15 pounds of muscle for the part and met with several people in Boston with actual ties to the Irish mob.

That same year, DiCaprio also appeared in the political war thriller Blood Diamond, portraying a diamond smuggler in war-torn Sierra Leone. DiCaprio spent months in South Africa preparing for the part, which involved interviewing people living in the country, studying the correct accents, and learning how to camouflage himself from South African military officers. The film received some criticism from the diamond industry, to which DiCaprio responded, “If the movie does anything, it will bring more awareness to the issue and people will be asking more questions, and the industry is going to have to have viable answers.” DiCaprio earned another Best Actor nod at the Oscars for his performance.

In 2008, DiCaprio reunited with Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road, a tense film about a 1950s suburban couple facing a myriad of personal problems. Winslet suggested DiCaprio for the role because the two remained closed after Titanic and wanted to work together again but wanted to do so on a completely different film. DiCaprio followed that role up with the Scorsese thriller Shutter Island (2010) and Inception (2010), a Christopher Nolan–directed science fiction thriller about people who use futuristic technology to invade the dreams of others. DiCaprio agreed to a pay cut for the latter film in exchange for a percentage of the film’s gross profits, which ultimately earned him $50 million, his largest salary for a film performance to date.

DiCaprio took on another famous figure in the 2011 biopic J. Edgar. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the movie explores the life of J. Edgar Hoover, who ran the FBI for nearly five decades. To prepare for the role, DiCaprio conducted extensive research and visited many of Hoover’s haunts in Washington, D.C. “I do love playing historical figures simply because there’s so much incredibly diverse, interesting information about a character when you can research their life,” he explained to Backstage. “A lot of the stuff you’d never be able to make up as a writer.”

Django Unchained and The Wolf of Wall Street

In 2012, DiCaprio marked his first collaboration with director Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained, co-starring Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, and Christoph Waltz. Tarantino portrayed the villainous Calvin J. Candie, an 1850s-era plantation owner who forces his male slaves to fight to the death. It was a notably intense role, and during one dinner scene, DiCaprio accidentally cut his hand on a glass after smashing his fist upon the table, but he didn’t break character and the scene was used in the film. “My hand started really pouring blood all over the table,” DiCaprio said. “I’m glad Quentin kept it in.”

The following year, he re-teamed with Baz Luhrmann to play one of literature’s most intriguing characters, starring as Jay Gatsby in the 2013 adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic The Great Gatsby.

Also in 2013, DiCaprio again joined forces with Scorsese to star in and co-produce The Wolf of Wall Street, portraying investment banker Jordan Belfort, who gained notoriety for defrauding clients while lining his own pockets in the 1990s. The film received some criticism for allegedly glorifying Belfort’s illegal actions and unethical lifestyle, but DiCaprio pushed back against these claims, saying “I hope people understand we’re not condoning this behaviour, that we’re indicting it.” DiCaprio’s portrayal of Belfort earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor, along with Academy Award nominations for Best Actor and Best Picture. Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, and Matthew McConaughey also starred in the film.

Oscar Win

leonardo dicaprio wearing a black tuxedo, standing on a stage and holding an oscar statuette while speaking into a microphone
Leonardo DiCaprio accepts the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in The Revenant (2015) on February 28, 2016.Getty Images

Despite his phenomenally successful three-decade career, fans and observers noted with surprise that DiCaprio hadn’t yet won an Academy Award. That changed when he starred in The Revenant as Hugh Glass, an 1820s frontiersman forced to endure the wilderness after being left for dead. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, the 2015 film was difficult to shoot due to frigid weather, and for the performance, DiCaprio ate raw bison, slept in an animal carcass, and endured freezing temperatures. The movie immediately generated major awards buzz and finally earned DiCaprio his first Academy Award in February 2016.

“Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world, a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history” he said during his Oscar acceptance speech. “Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the Indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this.”

Newest Movies: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Killers of the Flower Moon

In 2019, DiCaprio worked with Quentin Tarantino again on the comedy-drama film Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, which depicts a 1969 Hollywood and an alternative version of the events surrounding the notorious Charles Manson murders. Although many of the characters in the movie are based on real people, including actor Sharon Tate (portrayed by Margot Robbie), DiCaprio portrayed the fictional Rick Dalton, a floundering actor who confides in his longtime stunt double, played by Brad Pitt. DiCaprio took a pay cut to work with Tarantino again, once again accepting profits from the film’s box-office performance, as he had with Inception. The role earned him his sixth Academy Award nomination for acting.

DiCaprio and Scorsese collaborated for a sixth time with Killers of the Flower Moon, which released in October 2023. Reuniting DiCaprio with his A Boy’s Life co-star Robert De Niro, the film depicts a real-life series of murders on the Osage Nation Reservation in Oklahoma during the 1920s. DiCaprio portrays Ernest Burkhart, a member of the murderous conspiracy who marries Mollie Kyle (portrayed by Lily Gladstone) to gain her trust. DiCaprio was originally cast in the heroic role of FBI agent Tom White, but during development of the film, he insisted on switching to Burkhart’s character, which led to significant script revisions.

Ultimately, Jesse Plemons took on the role of White, and the changes were seemingly worthwhile. Film critic Brian Tallerico wrote DiCaprio and De Niro, who plays Burkhart’s uncle William Hale, “fuel each other’s performances.” And what dominant performances they were. “The sublimated tension of the Hale–Ernest dynamic, embodied by two Scorsese veterans in fine form, is so clear and legible that it sometimes runs the risk of pushing everyone else to the narrative periphery,” Justin Chang of The Los Angeles Times writes.


leonardo dicaprio, wearing a black suit and tie, and gisele bundchen, wearing a white dress, stand among a crowd and look off camera
Leonardo DiCaprio and Gisele Bündchen, seen here at the 2005 Academy Awards, had an on-again, off-again relationship for many years.Getty Images

As a Hollywood A-lister, DiCaprio has found himself in the media spotlight over his past girlfriends. His on-again, off-again relationship with supermodel Gisele Bündchen was fodder for celebrity magazines and websites from 2000 to 2005. DiCaprio then dated model Bar Refaeli for several years. In 2011, he was briefly linked to actor Blake Lively. Since then, he has reportedly dated various models, including most recently Gigi Hadid.

Net Worth

Leonardo DiCaprio has an estimated net worth of more about $300 million.

In a 2019 article, The Hollywood Reporter shared that DiCaprio typically earns $20 million per role. Of course, this can vary. For example, the star earned $50 million for Inception after agreeing to a pay cut in exchange for a percentage of the 2010 movie’s gross profits. It remains his most lucrative role to date. He struck a similar deal for Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood (2019), with a reported initial payday of $15 million.

In addition to commanding high-paying deals for his acting roles, DiCaprio is also a movie producer. Some of the blockbusters he has backed include Orphan (2009), The Ides of March (2011), and his upcoming film Killers of the Flower Moon.

Environmental Work

DiCaprio has long been passionate about environmental issues. In 2000, he hosted an Earth Day celebration and interviewed former President Bill Clinton for a television segment about global warming. DiCaprio also wrote, narrated, and produced The 11th Hour, an environmental documentary that was released in 2007, and was heavily involved in the production of the 2016 documentary Before the Flood, about climate change.

The actor is one of the founders of The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF), a nonprofit that supports and brings awareness to numerous environmental causes. He has also served on the boards of the World Wildlife Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. In March 2018, DiCaprio served as an executive producer of the History Channel’s eight-part docuseries The Frontiersman, a look back at America’s most iconic pioneers who helped shape the country.


  • I loved imitating peopl... I loved joking around with my parents and creating different characters. I liked doing my own little homemade skits.

  • The best thing about acting is that I get to lose myself in another character and actually get paid for it. It’s a great outlet. As for myself, I’m not sure who I am. It seems that I change every day.

  • As an actor, I pretend for a living. I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems. I believe humankind has looked at climate change in that same way: as if it were a fiction, happening to someone else’s planet, as if pretending that climate change wasn’t real would somehow make it go away. But I think we know better than that.

  • Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.

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