Leonardo DiCaprio’s Role After ‘Titanic’ Left Audiences Seeing Double

In 1997, James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ propelled Leonardo DiCaprio into the stratosphere of teenage heartthrobs. While he had already built a career with romantic roles in films like ‘Total Eclipse’ (1995) and ‘Romeo + Juliet’ (1996), ‘Titanic’ cemented his status as a heartthrob, a position that can sometimes pigeonhole actors.

DiCaprio, however, sought to break away from this stereotype. His first major role after ‘Titanic’ came in Randall Wallace’s ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ which capitalized on his looks and fan following but also allowed him to showcase his acting talent.

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Leonardo DiCaprio Titanic
Image Courtesy: Collider

Before ‘Titanic,’ DiCaprio had already gained respect for his performances in serious roles such as ‘This Boy’s Life’ and ‘The Basketball Diaries,’ earning an Oscar nomination for the latter in 1994. However, the overwhelming popularity of ‘Titanic’ posed a challenge. DiCaprio felt objectified and pressured to prove himself beyond his heartthrob image. In his own words to Newsweek in 2007, the experience was both life-changing and disheartening, pushing him to seek roles that offered more depth and challenge.

‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ based on Alexandre Dumas’ novels and historical legend, provided DiCaprio the opportunity to portray dual roles: King Louis XIV and his imprisoned twin, Phillippe. Despite the film’s uneven reception due to pacing issues and melodrama, DiCaprio’s performance stands out. As King Louis, he exudes cruelty and decadence, contrasting sharply with Phillippe’s innocence and kindness.

Leonardo DiCaprio Titanic
Image Courtesy: Collider

While ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ wasn’t critically acclaimed like some of his later works, such as ‘Catch Me If You Can’ and ‘Gangs of New York,’ it was commercially successful, grossing $183 million worldwide. DiCaprio’s commitment to his roles and his ability to elevate the material contributed to the film’s appeal. It marked a pivotal moment in his career, demonstrating that he could thrive in diverse roles and genres beyond romantic leads.

In hindsight, ‘The Man in the Iron Mask’ remains a notable entry in DiCaprio’s filmography, showcasing his early efforts to navigate post-heartthrob roles and establish himself as a versatile actor capable of tackling complex characters.

–Farheen Ali