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Leonardo DiCaprio's ''Blood Diamond'' experience

Leonardo DiCaprio’s ”Blood Diamond” experience: The actor tells Joshua Rich about the people of Mozambique and an on-set incident that was way exaggerated

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Leonardo DiCaprio: Craig Barritt / Retna

With The Departed generating serious Oscar buzz and $118 million at the box office, it’s already been a career year for Leonardo DiCaprio. But he’s not done yet. In Blood Diamond, the star plays Danny Archer, a smuggler and mercenary who gets caught in Sierra Leone’s civil war while trying to track down a rare gem and help a fisherman (Djimon Hounsou) reunite with his family. So what was it like making such a politically charged movie in the middle of Mozambique under the always-watchful tabloid lens? Read on.

Was this the first time you shot a film in Africa?
Second time. I had shot a week during Total Eclipse in Djibouti, which is the hottest inhabited place on Earth. But that was only a week, and this was five months.

So what was the weather like in Mozambique?
Not a lot of rain. [Chuckles] You know, I’ll say this: Forget weather-wise. Condition-wise, there are a lot of hardships for the people that live in Mozambique, and there’s a lot of situations going on with poverty and AIDS and unsanitary water. You name it. But the most intriguing thing I found about shooting in Mozambique was the triumph and adaptability of the human spirit: People were still filled with so much joy. They were literally dancing in the streets every night. It was an amazing thing to see.

Did you participate at all?
[Chuckles] I was working! I barely had time, I couldn’t dance if I tried. But you know what I’m saying? It’s the energy from the people that you feel. They constantly have a smile on their face.

In spite of whatever harsh circumstances they live in.
Yeah. It’s an amazing thing to see. I mean, that’s not just to say that every fortunate country around the world should do everything in their power to make living conditions better for the children and the people there and try to resolve some of these huge issues in Africa. But it’s also to say that, you know, it’s amazing to see how much we in the modern world think we need a certain amount of things to make us happy. And when you’re not from that environment, it’s pretty amazing to see how naturally happy these people are just to be alive.

Did making this movie change your opinion about diamonds?
[Deep breath] Well, without getting into the whole political aspect, because I think the movie should speak for that, to me diamonds represent any sort of natural resource that we get from foreign countries and how that affects the economy and the politics and the conditions of those people. You know, the [civil war] in Sierra Leone in the late ’90s was a result of the diamond trade that was going on. The diamond happens to be a symbol of love and unity in marriage — that’s what the diamond represents, that’s what it’s been marketed as — and then you find out about some of the things that occurred to obtain these stones. So to me it’s a symbol of a much larger issue of what happens when we demand any of these things. What is the result? What happens when there’s such a huge demand for oil, for example? How does that affect the places that have it? You know, what’s going on now in the world we live in?

Switching gears here, there were reports that you were injured on the set of the movie and that you had to be airlifted to a hospital in South Africa. Your director, Ed Zwick, told me that your injury happened while you were doing a simple running stunt and wasn’t a very big deal. True?
Wasn’t a big deal? [Laughs] Is that what he said?

Well, he said it was a ”garden variety” injury, that you strained a muscle in your leg.
Oh, in other words it was printed as being a giant thing.

Right, it was printed as if you were on the verge of death or something.
Right, right. Because I got an X-ray, right. [Laughs] It got blown up all over the Internet. But no, it was an injury. It’s not like anything was broken.

So you don’t need a cane to walk?
No, nothing was broken… It was a cartilage thing. And then I had to go do three weeks of stunt work right after that, which really sucked. But it certainly got blown way out of proportion.