Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio appeared to have a lot in common in the 1990s. Both were Hollywood heartthrobs on the rise to superstardom as leading actors. However, DiCaprio, who is over a decade younger than Depp, caught the bus to the top at a much earlier stage in his career.
In the late 1980s, DiCaprio rose to prominence by appearing in commercials before proving his acting capabilities in several television programmes. His first major film role came in 1993 as he portrayed Toby Wolff opposite Robert De Niro in the critically acclaimed drama, This Boy’s Life.
Throughout the ‘80s, Depp played several minor roles, including an appearance in Oliver Stone’s 1986 Vietnam War drama, Platoon. He garnered notable fame through his more extensive role in the Fox television series 21 Jump Street, which aired from 1987 to 1991, but he felt that the series “forced [him] into the role of product.” It was only in 1990, when he first collaborated with Tim Burton for Edward Scissorhands, that he felt he could show his full potential as a character actor.
The rising stars, Depp and DiCaprio, converged in the early ‘90s to film 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. In the classic drama, Depp plays the part of Gilbert Grape, who looks after his mentally disabled younger brother Arnie, the role played by DiCaprio. Despite the on-screen chemistry between the two, off-screen, they had little in the way of brotherhood.
In an interview with Cosmopolitan, Depp explained that he had been going through a hard time while filming What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and it played a part in his rough treatment of DiCaprio on set. “It was a hard time for me, that film, for some reason,” Depp revealed. “I don’t know why. I tortured him. I really did.”
It seems that Depp looked to prey upon DiCaprio’s age disadvantage. Depp continued: “He was always talking about these video games, you know? I told you it was kind of a dark period… ‘No, I will not give you a drag of my cigarette while you hide from your mother again, Leo.’”
Despite his rough treatment of the young star on the set of Gilbert Grape, Depp pointed out that he has a deep respect for DiCaprio’s talent as an actor. “I’d say the absolute truth is that I respect Leo a lot,” Depp asserted. “He worked really hard on that film and spent a lot of time researching. He came to set, and he was ready to work hard, and all his ducks were in a row.”
Ostensibly, the “dark period” that Depp had referred to in the interview was related to his 1993 public split from his then-fiance, Winona Ryder. This was undoubtedly a cause of stress in Depp’s life at the time, not least because he had to change an awkward tattoo on his bicep from “Winona Forever” to “Wino Forever”.