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Kate and Leo: A Retrospective

Analise Lipari | Thursday, January 15, 2009

More than a decade after their first onscreen pairing, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio recently reunited on film in their adaptation of the 1961 novel “Revolutionary Road.” As a suburban couple stifled by society and their own disillusioned malaise, the pair has garnered much critical acclaim. But how did these two actors get from where they were in 1997, when they were first paired onscreen, to where they are now in 2009?

In 1996, director James Cameron decided to cast two up-and-coming actors as the male and female leads in his latest big-budget blockbuster, “Titanic.” The film, a special effects-laden retelling of the sinking of a fated 1912 ocean liner, plucked these two leads from pseudo-obscurity. The male lead was an alum of sitcoms (“Growing Pains”) and a few critical successes (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “This Boy’s Life”). The female lead, a British actress, had even fewer high-profile credentials under her belt (Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures”).

In 1997, “Titanic,” was an astronomical success. A critical and box office smash, it went on to win 11 Academy Awards while grossing more than $1.8 billion dollars worldwide.

And those two little-known actors? Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for “Titanic,” went on to become two of contemporary Hollywood’s highest-profile actors.

The paths of their careers have wound and twisted in surprising ways. DiCaprio has emerged from his post-“Titanic” teen idol status to play with Hollywood’s big players: Russell Crowe, Tom Hanks, and Martin Scorsese, a working relationship often likened to that between Scorsese and Robert De Niro two decades prior. Winslet, called the “best English-speaking film actress of her generation” by David Edelstein of “The New Yorker,” is a five-time Academy Award nominee who won herself two Golden Globe awards Sunday.

While several of his other roles, particularly that of the young male lead in “This Boy’s Life,” may have led DiCaprio to critical success at the beginning of his career, it was his portrayal of Jack Dawson in “Titanic” that gave birth to the Leo-Mania phenomenon.

Yet DiCaprio didn’t see himself gracing the cover of “Tiger Beat” for life; he told Time magazine in 2000 that “I have no connection with me during that whole Titanic Phenomenon and what my face became around the world. I’ll never reach that state of popularity again … It’s not something I’m going to try to achieve either.”

His films that followed, such as “The Man in the Iron Mask” (1998), may have benefited from his heartthrob status. But it was his later projects that would cement DiCaprio as one of the top American actors of his generation.

In 2002, he starred in the Scorsese-directed film “Gangs of New York” alongside Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day-Lewis, as well as the Steven Spielberg-helmed “Catch Me If You Can.” The chain of films that followed reads like a laundry list of the new millennium’s most critically acclaimed releases: 2004’s “The Aviator,” 2006’s “The Departed,” which went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and 2006’s “Blood Diamond.” “Revolutionary Road” is only the latest building block of his career; upcoming projects of DiCaprio’s include Scorsese’s “Ashecliffe,” and his future role as Atari and Chuck E. Cheese’s founder Nolan Bushnell in a yet-untitled project.

Winslet has rarely backed down from challenging projects in the years since her first collaboration with DiCaprio, taking on quirkier or more difficult projects than most actresses of her age. In 2001, she starred in the biopic “Irish” as Irish novelist Irish Murdoch. Three years later, she played Clementine Kruczynski in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” portraying a woman who chooses to have all memories of her former lover (Jim Carrey) erased.

Winslet would tackle suburban complexity first in 2006 as Sarah Pierce in “Little Children,” a role for which she was awarded another Academy Award nomination. Several of her other projects have included her role as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies in “Finding Neverland” (2004), the lovelorn Irish Simpkins in the 2006 rom-com “The Holiday,” and her recent portrayal of former Nazi guard Hanna Schmitz in “The Reader.” Both “The Reader” and “Revolutionary Road” won Winslet Golden Globe awards this year, and her path towards winning an Oscar seems a sure one.

DiCaprio and Winslet have come a long way since they were first matched as the ill-fated Rose and Jack in Cameron’s “Titanic.” With the production of “Revolutionary Road” now behind them and awards season ahead, audiences and fans wait in anticipation of what might come next.