NEW YORK • The stars were aligned for Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio to put their dashing good looks to use on big-budget films, but both Hollywood golden boys have instead taken on more idiosyncratic career paths – especially in working with Quentin Tarantino.
And now for the first time, the actors are starring side by side in Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, which the American director screened on Tuesday to rapturous reviews at the Cannes film festival.
Both men have already starred in past Tarantino films – the 55-year-old Pitt in Inglourious Basterds (2009) and DiCaprio, 44, in Django Unchained (2012).
Despite the age gap between them, they both began making a splash in Hollywood in the early 1990s.
Pitt set tongues wagging in 1991 with Thelma & Louise and DiCaprio hit the big time in 1993 with This Boy’s Life and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, the latter earning him an Oscar nomination.
The two men belong to the timeworn class of dapper A-listers including Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Steve McQueen who have enchanted audiences with their features and charisma.
Soon after their big breaks, both Pitt and DiCaprio quickly climbed through the ranks thanks to their acting chops and movie-star looks – but like Johnny Depp before them, they were not afraid of subverting their mega-watt stardom.
Even before the theatrical release of This Boy’s Life, Disney had offered DiCaprio a major role.
He said in 2014 that he did not know where he got the guts at 16 years old to say he was going to wait it out because he wanted to “audition for this other film”.
“If there’s one thing that I’m really proud of in my entire career, it’s that moment.”
The role in that “other film” was the mentally disabled adolescent in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, a role director Lasse Hallstrom initially thought DiCaprio was too cute for before taking the actor on.
The film did not make more than US$10 million but scored the 19-year-old his first Academy Award nomination, for best supporting actor.
Pitt said it was with 1993’s gritty Kalifornia – several months after Thelma & Louise – that marked “the first time I tried to do something away from where I was headed, take a right turn”.
For both actors, it was the beginning of a meandering trajectory far from blockbusters, even if DiCaprio became a global star thanks to Titanic (1997), a role that continues to define his career.
The pair have never shied away from danger or playing the bad guys, with Pitt doing so in Kalifornia and DiCaprio going rogue in Django Unchained.
Pitt has worked with boundary-pushers like the Coen brothers, Terrence Malick, Terry Gilliam, Steven Soderbergh and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – who heads the Cannes jury this year.
DiCaprio has also worked with the Mexican director as well as the likes of Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood.
It took decades for both men to get their Oscar due, after always falling short despite multiple nominations.
DiCaprio finally won best actor in 2016 for Inarritu’s The Revenant, while Pitt took home the statuette in 2014 as a co-producer of best picture 12 Years A Slave.
After more than three decades in the limelight, the pair finally teamed up in front of the camera for Tarantino, who won the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1994 for Pulp Fiction.
“I’m looking for someone with an interesting point of view and a strong voice,” Pitt said after working on Inglourious Basterds.
“And that certainly would sum up” Tarantino, the actor said.
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