Leonardo DiCaprio Talks About "Blood Diamond"

Leonardo DiCaprio in "Blood Diamond.". © Warner Bros Pictures

Leonardo DiCaprio’s in the enviable position of possibly competing against himself for Best Actor honors this year. DiCaprio earned high praise for his leading role in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, and reviews of his performance in Blood Diamond are equally as positive.

Blood Diamond was directed by Edward Zwick and stars DiCaprio as an ex-mercenary who now makes his living trading diamonds for arms.

The Appeal of Blood Diamond: “First off on the script, it was such a powerful character. It was such a powerful storyline and that’s what you look for first. I wasn’t personally going out seeking films with a social and political message, just to do it for the sake of doing it. It has to have an entertainment value. It has to be a good movie and it has to convey a message without the audience feeling they are being preached to, and I really felt this script accomplished that.

To me, it was very representative of a huge issue in the world today of corporate responsibility and what these corporations do, and certainly Africa has been a prime target for it - all the way to gold and rubber and all kinds of other natural resources. And here was this character that was exploiting others that were less fortunate than him, dealing in the black market and not really being conscious of the world he lives in.

I just felt it was a really powerful character.

…It was really Ed Zwick and Marshall [Herskovitz] who learned about the diamond trade specifically and brought the political aspects into this story, but in a way that I didn’t feel was preachy. In a way that I felt was authentic. So, of course, it’s always great to do a movie that you find is entertaining, but also can give some sort of political or social message and I felt this movie did that.”

Working on the Accent: DiCaprio captured the South African accent by spending a lot of time with the locals. DiCaprio said, “…Drinking beers with them, hearing their stories - a lot of guys from the South African military. I got to hang out with this guy [who was] really a sort of military expert and just listening to them talk. And, of course, I had an accent coach and he was there guiding me through it. But we had conversations with these people, listening to their stories, [and] made them say sentences over and over again. That’s just the kind of thing you do.

I wanted to definitely go to Africa early, because that whole area was completely alien to me. I had never really spent any time in Africa, let alone [with] a white South African man and their stories and accents. It was completely alien when I first heard of the film. It was about going there.”

Preparing for Blood Diamond: “There was a lot of military training too and we had a great stunt team too. We did a lot of faux military activities of hunting in the bush and tracking in the bush, what it was like to track in the bush. Hanging out with a lot of guys in the South African army. And really, that was really the tough stuff – getting that military background, because they are some of the best trained guys in the entire world as far as tracking is concerned and living in the bush.

I didn’t go out and live in the bush for a week or even a day, but it was a matter of doing these exercises with them.

There is a certain amount you can get from books. You need to speak with the real people and ask specific questions that affect your character. Questions you have about your character, otherwise you’d be skimming through hundreds of books trying to get that specific answer.

What I was really overwhelmed with by Africa was its tremendous natural beauty. I got to go to some pretty amazing places. Every other weekend we got a day or two off and [could] go on a safari or see the natural wonders of Africa. If anyone gets the opportunity to go there, it’s something you have to do in your lifetime.”

What Did Leonardo DiCaprio Take Away From This Experience?: “You know, certainly paying a character like this who was taking advantage of the poverty around him and taking advantage of the continent, it posed for a lot of…what’s the word?

It was uncomfortable as an actor to portray this man in front of an African crew in locations like Mozambique where there was a tremendous amount of poverty. Mozambique is a country that is having an economic resurgence, but 4 out of 10 people supposedly have HIV or AIDS. It’s an astounding [number].

What I was left with after spending time with Africa, and this is not at all to sound trivial, but it really was the power of the human spirit there. The fact that these people have been through so much. They have been in a civil war for 30 years, the poverty rate, but literally, people were still dancing in the streets. The joy, the energy, the happiness they exuded to everyone was unbelievable. It made me come back home and sort of not want to listen to anyone’s problems. I don’t want to hear what we as Americans have to deal with. When you are immersed in a place like that for six months and you see the extreme levels of what people have to deal with there, yet they are able to keep a positive attitude. You just don’t want to hear people’s problems out here anymore.”

Working with Djimon Hounsou: DiCaprio had nothing but praise for Hounsou’s work on Blood Diamond. “I mean, his character is really is the heart and soul of the movie, you know? The story of a man trying to find his son,” said DiCaprio, “and he embodied this character and the word is electrifying, the intensity that he gives in his performance. What can I say? He and I were kind of alone on set and it was me and him, and there is no other actor who could have given this performance. He is astounding in this movie and the energy and the intensity that you get off him as an actor, you get to play off each other every day. He is quite a brilliant actor.”

Injuries on the Set of Blood Diamond: “Djimon got banged up; I hurt my knee. There are some of the sequences in this movie that Ed set up, a full week of squibs and diving behind cars. …I’ve never been in an action sequence that was that well choreographed.”

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Leonardo DiCaprio’s Knowledge of the Diamond Industry Before Shooting the Film: “I think I was like anybody else. I had heard whispers of it, but until I got there and until I started to do the research I didn’t really quite understand the immense impact, certainly on Sierra Leone and other places in Africa. I had heard, certainly, the Kanye West song for example and bits of it in conversation, but it wasn’t until I really got to Africa where I heard the firsthand accounts and started to read the books and learn about it that I really learned what was really going on.

What really had happened.”

The Response by the Diamond Industry to Blood Diamond: “I didn’t anticipate it, no,” said DiCaprio. “But when you approach situations like this, these are things that are based on real events and we are depicting a time in recent history where diamonds resulted in a lot of civil unrest in these countries. I had never anticipated, no, that that it would be this intense - by any means.”

DiCaprio on His Last Diamond Purchase: “I don’t remember the last time I have. My mom is the only person I would buy one for and she, for a while now, hasn’t wanted one. But that isn’t to say people shouldn’t… Look, these come from my conversations with Global Witness of Amnesty International. You have to go into the stores where you buy these diamonds and ask for a certificate. Ask for some authentication that this isn’t a conflict diamond. You have to, as a consumer, use your best judgment to say, ‘You know what?

I believe you are being truthful in what you are saying. I see the document and you’ve proved to me this isn’t a conflict diamond.’ That’s one of the biggest ways this whole process can be stopped.”

DiCaprio added, “[Consumers] should just use their best judgment and ask the right questions, because ultimately diamonds are a source of economic stability in Africa.

But what they are specifically trying to target are these conflict diamonds that have funded these sort of warlords and civil strife in Africa. It’s about stopping those specific diamonds.”

On His Intensity and Commitment: “I’ll tell you, quite honestly, it comes from being a fan of this art form – of film. It really is. I mean I think this is the great modern art form, in my opinion. There have been 100 years of cinema, but there is so much still to be done. I am a fan of movies and there is something about watching film that is burned into celluloid for all time, that is now a piece of history. You go watch, being a fan of classic films, and my children and their children are going to be watching these movies.

To make a great movie is such a combination of different things that need to come into play, to actually make a memorable film and not have a film to fall by the wayside, you know? To have something live on during the years… And one of those elements is the commitment the actors have to their performance. It doesn’t always come into play. There have been a lot of great performances in the past in films that weren’t great, but if you are lucky enough to get that combination together and be in a memorable movie, you know, that to me is like being a part of a piece of art that is going to last forever.”

The Role of Cinema in Terms of Influencing the Public: “I don’t think it’s too much to hope for at all. There is tremendous capability there,” said DiCaprio. “Certainly in the world of documentary, absolutely. I look at films like Fahrenheit 911 and numerous other films that have changed political climate. I think there is a tremendous role to be played in that respect.

Not to comment on this film or talk about how great this movie is, but I think this movie is the weird combination where you are able to get people into the audience, you are able to get people to get involved with a compelling story, and meanwhile they are getting this political message - and it isn’t hitting them over the head. They are going to absorb this social message, I believe anyway. Traditionally it’s been one thing or the other.

I think this is one of those rare opportunities or combinations that is going to affect people like that and simultaneously while entertaining them.”

The Status of DiCaprio’s 11th Hour Documentary: “It’s something that I have been trying to do for many years. Ever since I started in this environmental work, I’ve wanted to do a documentary that really is an environmental checklist, that really encompasses every major environmental issue in the world – speaks to all the greatest experts.

A lot of times what bothers me about watching people talk about the environmental movement in the media is that you have one person who represents the minority; they are 5% of the collective great minds in the world - the greatest scientists and Nobel laureates. Then you have somebody else sitting on the other side of the chair that represents 95% of scientific thought. But when you are in a format being on the news talking about an issue like global warming, it becomes an argument. It becomes 50/50, when that’s not the case. So the idea for this is to give these people a platform to talk about environmental issues without the argument anymore, because we are beyond that.

And certainly I want to also mention An Inconvenient Truth. For me, being part of the environmental movement, I’ve never seen the issue of global warming become more a household term since that film. It really blew the lid off that issue. Talk about change from a film. It’s everywhere now. There is no generation that doesn’t know that issue.”