Girls, take heed. ”The Beach” (opening Friday) may be Leonardo DiCaprio’s first major role since ”Titanic,” but don’t look for shades of Jack Dawson in this R-rated film. Not that Fox executives didn’t try their best to make DiCaprio’s character, Richard, more lovable for his diehard fans. ”The whole point was the first half of the film appears to have all the perfect ingredients of a romantic adventure,” says director Danny Boyle. ”That’s hopefully how you lure an audience in, then you twist and turn it into something much darker in the second half. But Fox would have liked us to continue the romantic adventure. They wanted Leonardo to stay with the girl and have it be a romance, but we were absolutely adamant [we wouldn’t do that[.”
What’s more, DiCaprio’s on-screen involvement in several murders, some snake-blood slurping, and being a less-than-perfect beau to costar Virginie Ledoyen didn’t exactly thrill studio brass. But those character flaws paled in comparison to one seemingly tame misbehavior. ”This was fascinating to me, but the worst thing they found was that he lies a few times in the film,” says Boyle. ”And that he lies not for the greater good, but to save his own skin. They found that really, really difficult. I said, ‘Look, people lie, the President even lies,’ and they said to us, ‘But this is a movie.”’ Boyle, however, refused to budge, and eventually Richard got the okay to fabricate away.
So is Leo worried that his character’s heart of darkness will disappoint ”Titanic” fans? Not really — after all, his last role as a sleazy, heartless celeb run amok was far shadier than this one. ”Remember, I did ‘Celebrity’ before this,” he says. ”After ‘Titanic’ I wanted to find a film that spoke to me, and I loved the theme of this movie, which is about how we’ve become so desensitized and influenced by the media that this character goes in search of something real that he can connect with.” In fact, DiCaprio sees a lot to love about his adventurous character. ”I’m not as courageous as he would be. I wouldn’t swim over to an island at the drop of a dime. I think I’d probably look around for a boat first.” A lifeboat, no doubt.