These days the world-famous actor devotes much of his time and money to saving the planet, and this passion, along with his interest in history, is among the reasons that led him to star in the movie The Revenant.
You frequently star in films based on real people and events in history. Why?
I like stories in specific time periods. The Revenant’s era of American history was fascinating because it was this lawless no-man’s land. It defined the idea of the American frontiersman as man conquering nature. In a way, the story of Hugh Glass is about man dominating nature.
Why does that interest you?
It relates to what is going on in today’s world in a much more destructive manner—taking over nature for our own luxuries.
Why is the role of women in the movie so small and the men so gruesome and dominating?
This represents the savagery of a lawless culture. Women have been the most persecuted people throughout all of recorded history, more than any race or religion.
You said your choice as a kid was between marine biology and acting. Why did you choose acting?
Very early on I was always impersonating different characters, imitating people who came by. I loved doing that and getting the amazing experience of seeing people’s reactions. You see your parents laughing. It’s a communal family experience, and you share that love, you know?
Is acting an escape for you?
Sure. Acting always represented a way out for me. I saw many things in the neighborhoods where I grew up that were pretty terrifying. Acting takes you away from reality. Being able to escape was important. Movies do that for me. Two hours inside of a theater can transport you into a completely other universe. To me, that’s the beauty of movies.
What does acting give you that you wouldn’t get from a different profession?
Life can get pretty monotonous. Acting is like living multiple lives. When you make a movie, you go off to different places, live different cultures, investigate somebody else’s reality, and you try to manifest that to the best of your ability. It is incredibly eye-opening. That’s why I love acting. There’s nothing as transformative as what a film, a documentary, can do to get people to care about something else besides their own lives.
You’re 41 and still single. Do you believe in marriage?
That time will come when that time comes. The truth is, you can’t predict marriage. You can’t plan it. It’s just going to happen when it happens.
The Revenant aside, which of your films is your favorite?
The Aviator was the one where, for the first time, I felt I was taking adult responsibility for a film, unlike ever before. In my whole life, the two films I developed were The Aviator and The Wolf of Wall Street. They’re projects from my production company that I put together from my own steam, and so they have a special attachment to me.
Is fame worth the price that you pay for it?
Fame for fame’s sake? No. But if I wanted to quit acting, I could have done it a long time ago. I love making movies. I feel fortunate to do it, and it is absolutely worth sacrificing a lot of my private life. I don’t think anyone [famous] ever really gets used to it. It’s always surreal. At the end of the day, there are people with much harder jobs who sacrifice a lot more of their own lives to do them, people in the armed forces. I don’t want to hear myself complain about the hardships of being famous—because I do have the freedom to stop, if I wanted to.
What makes you happy?
My dad always told me, “Go out there, son, and whatever you do, I don’t care if you’re successful or not, just have an interesting life.” I believe I’m doing that.