Leonardo DiCaprio: From The Basketball Diaries to Serial Killer

Like a lot of people, my introduction to the seemingly innate brilliance of Leonardo DiCaprio was in the 1995 classic The Basketball Diaries. At that point, DiCaprio was nearing two decades on this planet when he gave what is widely accepted as one of the most beautiful performances by a young actor in the history of American Cinema. The long, storied list of roles that illustrate DiCaprio’s creative prowess would take at least 20 articles to gather. So in the interest of time — and my fingers — let’s just say DiCaprio is his generation’s Marlon Brando.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jim in The Basketball Diaries

But something Leo — we’re on a first name basis — has only recently dove headlong into is the world of villainy. Calvin Candie from Django Unchained immediately springs to mind on that front. I’m a huge Quentin Tarantino fan and I can say, with no hesitation whatsoever, that Candie is my favorite villain in Tarantino’s directorial canon (close second goes to Col. Hans Landa from Inglorious Basterds). This scene is all you really need to watch to know why I’m such a fan of his performance. Editor’s Note: The version below is shorter and edited for language, but for the not-so-sensitive among you, I recommend checking out the full version if you want to be blown away.

Tarantino, though, is not the only director who loves getting his Leo on. Martin Scorsese has done four films with the prodigy to-date. And now, we get the fifth in the form of the long-anticipated cinematic adaptation of Erik Larson’s
Devil in the White City. DiCaprio will play real-life serial killer H.H. Holmes in the film, which is set largely at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. For DiCaprio, the film represents the fruition of a long-fought battle for production that began five years ago.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what DiCaprio does with his first proper serial killer role. If his past is any indication, I think we’re looking at levels of iconography and cultural impact approaching Sir Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lector.

Recommended Reading:

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, Erik Larson (Vintage, 2004)

book cover devil in the white city

While it’s not exactly new, it’s important to know that Devil in the White City is one of the more influential books of the early century. Erik Larson’s highly dramatic writing style is so well done that it feels more like fiction than nonfiction. A lot of why I’m excited that Leonardo DiCaprio’s playing H.H. Hughes in this film stems from my understanding of the character in Larson’s work. And, in the interest of not spoiling anything, I’ve left most of that out. Reading this book (or re-reading it) with DiCaprio in mind gives the twisting, disturbing, almost unbelievable narrative a new life that I find reignites my love of Devil all over again.