it’s hard to be king

When you blog about the people and places that catch your fancy*, there is always the question of how much is too much; when you step onto the slippery slope of exploitation. The only time I’ve ever posted anything I felt some unease about was a conversation between my ex-husband and Leonardo DiCaprio about the Tesla Roadster. Not that it was such a big deal — but because Leo happens to be Leo, it got picked up and circulated a bit, in a way I did not expect, and whereas other people in this blog either a) don’t mind being written about or b) don’t mind being written about so long as I keep them anonymous and/or praise them to the skies (marvel over their godlike qualities**, their incredible animal charisma, etc.) I can’t exactly say that Leo falls into either category. Especially when privacy is something he must guard and fight for.

I did it, I realize now, for two reasons, the obvious being that the subject of the Tesla Roadster was of special interest to me. The other was more subtle, and has to do with that weird one-sided relationship people form with famous people — or rather, with a certain idea of a person living in some dark little place in your head. And here’s the thing. I just didn’t like the guy enough — my idea of the guy — to pass up that juicy tidbit.

Because what lodged in my head about Leo had nothing to do with his acting. As an actor I recognized him as talented but he didn’t strike resonance with me until Blood Diamond (when I had this uncanny feeling I was watching some man I must have met in South Africa, or perhaps in the US when mingling with my ex-husband’s South African relatives). Although I did note that Leo seemed to be accomplishing the Val Kilmer/ Johnny Depp feat of transforming himself from pretty boy teen idol — the kind young girls (and some boys) post on their walls next to posters of unicorns — into serious character actor, in itself worthy of at least some shock and awe.

But no, what part of my mind held against him was the “pussy posse” stuff from years ago, the rumors about how he and his friends used and discarded young women — that whole frat-boy bullshit I loathe, girls as material to be sorted through and picked over (and how eagerly the girls volunteer for this is beside the point – or at least this point). Kind of ironic, considering my friendly relationship with Notorious Neighbor — or, for that matter, my film-producer yoga buddy Octavian*** — both of whom have reputations as wildly notorious womanizers. I knew the reputations years before I met and came to know — and in the end become quite fond of — both men.**** Not to mention that I have blogged more than once about how the media reduces complex individuals to total caricatures. And yet here I was, actively disliking this guy I don’t even know based on some vague sketch of him handed down years ago through that same media. You can analyze the machinery and not even know you’re caught in the treads.

At any rate, I crossed Leo’s orbit a couple of times last week, which is what got me pondering this whole thing in the first place. What intrigued me about him was the same thing I noticed about John Cusack: how both men deal with an utterly insane, constant, and intrusive level of attention when neither seems the type to particularly enjoy it: fame as a price to be paid and not some holy grail.

Both can deliberately downplay their appearance so that when you see them you think, Wow, he’s actually not that hot. Except it’s hardly what they’re wearing or not wearing. Both men cast off an extraordinary sense of presence — why they became stars in the first place — but seem to have learned to manipulate it instead of being manipulated by it.

Cusack can turn it on and off like a computer switch. My impression of him — I’ve met him a few times — is of a smart, intensely charming man***** who can invite you inside this little zone of Cusack-ness and make you wish he wasn’t some famous dude so the two of you could go to Starbucks or someplace and hang out. (I had that same, damn-I-wish-you-weren’t-famous experience with Robert Downey Jr, who is utterly lovely, and the drummer from Coldplay, who is damn cool). But Cusack can also retreat, even when still in plain view: throw up invisible walls, like a magician who doesn’t even need a dramatic hand gesture. The wall is there, it’s not there, it’s there…You know to approach him, or to stay the hell away. Who knows how aware he is of doing this; just that he’s had many years of developing the art of it.

My interaction with Leo has been minimal to non-existent, but whether he’s in his dressed-down, scruffy-as-hell mode (a look that Cusack also favors), or every inch the impeccably suited-up movie star, the guy throws off charisma so intense it’s like a personal force field. Get too close it could fry you alive. Cusack comes off as this relaxed, amiable guy who has a way of making you see him, and then a way of shutting himself down so that you don’t (and even if you do, you don’t). Leo is polite and poised, but in the way of a king surrounded by his royal guard. He can seem almost over-the-top imperious, head lifted high, eyes scanning the room beneath the brim of his hat. The paradox is that by commanding every gaze in the place, he also manages this odd, fierce solitude (or vice versa). You could describe him as arrogant as all hell — and I have — but that’s like looking at a pride of lions and saying Gee, that alpha sure has attitude! Those lions sense how they’re studied for any and all vulnerability. How others wait for the moment to attack — to kill or send them into exile. Not that Leo thinks he’ll be run out of Hollywood and forced to live off lesser food sources in Encino or someplace until he starves to death or dies in a territorial skirmish with someone stronger and younger (or who maybe has a better agent). *****

Just that while some people — Madonna springs to mind, Tom Cruise — seem to feed off the very people feeding off them, others perhaps need to dominate and conquer just to be left the hell alone.

This is my sense of Leo — someone who finds the attention and intrusions of others so exhausting, someone who was possibly quite shy as a kid, and has learned to deal with fame through mastering the role of himself as movie star, this fierce glossy image meant to distract and deflect. Behind it, the real him can then go about his life in whatever kind of ‘normal’ is possible for him. Even as idiots like me insist on writing posts like this because — well, because he is performer and I am witness, and in the end some degree of enmeshment can’t be helped. But there’s a difference between writing a person, and gossiping about them; it’s my job to do the former, leave the latter to Perez.

*that is such a quaint old fashioned phrase — ‘catch your fancy’ — and possibly the only time I’ve ever used it.

** you are a god, Jason Calacanis. A god come to walk among us mortals. In your pink buttondown. Which you wear like no man has ever worn pink — or a buttondown — in the history of humanity, nay, the universe!

*** he is abroad, working on very cool film, and I do kind of miss him

**** keep in mind, I haven’t dated either man. So I have not been to the dark side.

***** with unusually engaging eyes, and an unusually big head. I don’t mean he’s an egomaniac — although he might be — I just mean that he physically has a big head, and because he’s so tall it just hangs over you, like the great hallowe’en pumpkin or something. I mean that in a good way.

****** It ain’t easy being alpha. Especially when the end comes for you as it comes for us all.

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