April 24, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Do you mind if we call you Leo?

We know how crazy things have been lately, and we wanted to drop you a line just to make sure everything’s shipshape. (Forgive the Titanic pun — you must be almost as sick of them as we are.)

Titanic is the biggest movie ever — so big, even The Man in the Iron Mask has been able to ride its coattails to a respectable $50 million-and-counting gross. So here you are at 23, dealing with being Hottest Star in the Universe (at least this month), perusing the $20 million paychecks being waved temptingly under your nose, and fending off a world willing to give you almost anything you desire.

We want you to know one thing: We feel your pain.

How unnerving to face a flurry of decisions, to be surrounded by people who can’t stop their sycophantic slobbering long enough to offer some guidance. Thus the burden of counseling you has fallen on Entertainment Weekly. It’s a responsibility we shoulder proudly, because as far as we’re concerned, you should aim for our Power Issue and avoid our back-page ”What Ever Happened to” department. Now…

What moves should you make in the coming years in order to maintain both your status and your sanity? Trust us, and…

1. Don’t keep your eyes on the prize.
Sure, it’s a bummer you didn’t get an Oscar nomination for your turn in Titanic. But worse disappointments will follow if you make the following assumption: Since you failed to win a nod for playing a straightforward romantic leading man, and you did get nominated for your performance as a mentally retarded boy in 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, esoteric and small must be a better career path. Wrong. Your Gilbert Grape costar Johnny Depp got trapped in the moonstruck-sensitive-oddball ghetto for years before playing a recognizable earthling in Donnie Brasco, and Nicolas Cage once ate a live cockroach to get into character for Vampire’s Kiss, a movie that, incidentally, did not win him an Oscar. Don’t be those guys.

2. Don’t be afraid to think big…
To write your own ticket in Hollywood, it’s crucial to have the kind of big-ticket success that Titanic brought you. The next few decisions you make will be the most important of your career. As producer Jim Jacks (Michael) says: ”If you make two or three bad choices and disappoint your audience, there is always someone waiting in the wings. If you don’t believe it, look at Richard Gere. After An Officer and a Gentleman, nobody was ever hotter, but the films that followed were Breathless and Beyond the Limit. Sure, he came back, but it took a while.”

You’ve already completed a small role in Woody Allen’s upcoming Celebrity, with Kenneth Branagh — a good move for actorly prestige (Allen has directed more than a dozen Oscar-nominated performances) if not visibility. But you should have jumped at a role Matt Damon just got: the lead in Billy Bob Thornton’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. It’s a project that promises to marry a critically successful book with box office potential.

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