LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Born of Hollywood, acting as a teenager, Oscar-nominated by age 19, Leonardo DiCaprio is a product of the film studio's star-making machine.
He made young women swoon in the biggest box office hit of all-time, 1997's "Titanic," but his youthful looks meant the transition to strong, leading man roles would be difficult. Yet, as he left his 20s and entered his 30s, he earned Oscar nominations for playing Howard Hughes in 2004's "The Aviator" and two years later, a gem smuggler in "Blood Diamond."
He has become an activist for environmental issues, making a global warming documentary, "The 11th Hour."
Donald De Line, producer of DiCaprio's new spy thriller "Body of Lies" dealing with the CIA and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, called him "an intellectually curious man who has a mature world view and way of looking at things."
DiCaprio spoke about "Body of Lies," in which he plays a CIA agent trying to make sense of his life inside the agency.
Q: As you've grown older, has it been important to take movie roles that have something to say to audiences? "Blood Diamond" delivered a message, as does "Body of Lies."
A: "Absolutely. You are unconsciously drawn toward subject matters like that. They are exciting and slightly dangerous and provocative. That doesn't always mean that people: a) are going to want to see them, or b) they are going to be quality pieces, or c) they'll have any kind of impact whatsoever. First of all you have to make a good movie that is entertaining. Then you have to say, 'Now let's talk about the politics.' If you do a film just for the sake of making a statement to the world -- which I don't think this movie is -- and people don't see, it's a profound waste of time."
Q: When do movies preach too much?
A: "You have to check your own politics at the door. You have to search for the truth, and use what the research shows is most realistic. In 'Body of Lies,' we've used collective stories and operations that, allegedly, did happen. But there has to be entertainment value, too."
Q: The message seemed to be that evil begets more evil, whatever side you're on.
A: "That's what I liked about my character. He's a highly trained CIA agent. But if you were put in some of the situations he is, you could identify with his moral dilemmas -- trying to be honorable and loyal to your country but at the same time be a good person when everyone is deceiving everyone else. There is a moral compass in him people can identify with."
Q: What's the update on you and activism?
A: "I have the Greensburg project, which is rebuilding an entire city in Kansas. I'm continuing to work with outreach programs. The most profound lesson I've learned in all of this work is that people don't want to be told what to do or how to think. My big message on this next election is, hopefully, the youth movement will come out in full force -- enough young people who care about the policies of the next 50 years will vote for the candidate they think best represents the United States. That is the big push that I'm on now."
Q: It seems that for you giving back is as important as getting. Why?
A: "You work on these movies and you're creating fantasy all the time. When you come back to the real world, you realize the problems that are out there and if you can give any kind of help or insight on these issues, it's something that fulfills you, that's all. It fulfills you, and it's a great feeling to know you are possibly contributing some small element to helping the world be a better place.
Editing by Patricia Reaney