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Leonardo DiCaprio has starred in a variety of movies, from romance dramas like Titanic to sci-fi thrillers such as Inception. This has made his movie characters as diverse as his features. But there was one character DiCaprio played that he found especially difficult to separate from.

Leonardo DiCaprio once shared what it was like playing this historical figure

Leonardo DiCaprio posing at the premiere of 'The Aviator'.
Leonardo DiCaprio | Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

In 2004, audiences saw DiCaprio team up with filmmaker Martin Scorsese once again for the project The Aviator. DiCaprio famously played inventor and businessman Howard Hughes in the biopic, focusing on the man’s younger years. DiCaprio first conceived the project after receiving a book covering Hughes’ life.

“As an actor, you’re constantly searching for that great character. And, being a history buff and learning about people in our past and amazing things that they’ve done, I came across a book about Howard Hughes, and he was set up as, basically, the most multi-dimensional character I could ever come across,” DiCaprio once told Black Film.

One of the most fascinating discoveries DiCaprio made about Hughes was the inventor’s mental health challenges. Hughes experienced extreme OCD, which DiCaprio wanted to focus on in the feature.

“It’s that great see-saw act in the movie that goes on. On one side, he’s having all the successes in the world and, on the other side, the tiny microbes and germs are the things that are taking him downwards because of his OCD and being a germaphobe,” he added.

Although DiCaprio immerses himself deeply in his characters, he normally manages to shake off his acting roles successfully. But when it came time to separate himself from Hughes, the process was a little more challenging than it was for other characters.

“I’ve always been pretty good at being able to go home and be me again,” DiCaprio said. “But, as much as, for this character, I’d say more than any other character I’ve played in the past, this one stayed with me the most. Especially with this stuff having to do with obsessive-compulsive disorder. We all have obsessive things we do to some degree, a primal thing in our brain, that’s a part of our brain mechanism.”

At first glance, Hughes and DiCaprio had little in common. But there were certain aspects of Hughes the star could relate to. People knew Hughes to be very private, and DiCaprio also tried to maintain privacy despite his fame. Although DiCaprio noted that he and Hughes were private for different reasons.

“I have to say I’m, for the most part, a pretty private person, but this came, like I said, from a genuine mental disorder, and I’m just fundamentally not like that,” DiCaprio said. “I try to — my reasons for being a private person are different from Mr. Hughes’. My are because I’m an actor and I want people to believe me in different roles and not necessarily know way too much about me. I want to be around in the business for a long time and he had an intense fear of being around people and germs, as displayed very well in the film.”


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DiCaprio also felt he could relate to Hughes’ passion, but only to an extent.

“I think he certainly took things farther than I could ever imagine,” DiCaprio said. “He was such an obsessed human being. He was so obsessive about everything he’d gotten involved with whether it be planes or women or films he made. And that is the direct result of his OCD. I wouldn’t go to those extremes, but certain, the “Hell’s Angels” sequence, being a part of films that have gone on for many, many months, and you’re sitting there with the director trying to get things perfect and do things over and over and over again, that was something that I think Scorsese and I immediately identified with.”