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German-American Actor Leonardo DiCaprio

Written by Nour Alsharif

As the 91st Academy Awards occurred this past weekend, it is the perfect time to become familiar with some famous German-American actors or actresses. If you happen to do a Google search using the keywords “German American Actor/Actress”, you will find a long list of familiar names, including Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner, and many more.Each of these celebrities has varying amounts of German heritage; some are half German from one parent, a quarter German from a grandparent, or an even smaller slice from a more distant relative. Whatever the percentage, they are considered German-Americans. Reading these familiar names, I was stunned to see how much German culture has affected the American entertainment circles. We see many famous movies with these successful actors and actresses, and German culture has been brought to Hollywood for many years through these celebrities.

How did their German heritage affect their career as an actor or an actress and how has German culture affected their personal value or personalities? I wanted to explore this question by using the example of Leonardo DiCaprio, whose German heritage comes from both of his parents. His father is an Italian-German and his mother is German while his maternal grandfather is German, and his maternal grandmother is a Russian-born German citizen (from whom he gets his middle name, Wilhelm). Although he recognizes himself as “half-Russian” during an interview in Russia, he built up his German cultural identity during his childhood living with his maternal grandparents in German. Leonardo is known for his closeness to his maternal grandparents, especially Oma Helene. He spent many summers in the small town Oer-Erkenschwick where she lived. Through this close connection, he retains his German language ability as well as a familiarity with German culture.

DiCaprio started his acting career at the age of 14 when he appeared in several commercials and educational films where he worked for several companies like Kraft single, Honda and Matchbox cars. In 1991, he began a recurring role on the successful ABC sitcom “Growing Pains” as Luke Brower, a homeless teen is taken in by the Seaver family. He then moved to a supporting role in the Poison Ivy film series in 1992. In 1996, he appeared as Romeo, in Romeo and Juliet. The film earned $147 million in worldwide box offices. In 1997, he starred in Titanic acting as Jack Dawson. The memorable shot in which he holds Rose from the back standing on the deck became  one of the epic shots of Titanic as well as an icon of everlasting love.  He won fame internationally through Titanic and continued to shine in many following films, including The Beach, Don’s Plum, Catch Me If You Can, Blood Diamond, Inception, The Great Gatsby, and many more. After 2011, besides acting, he started his own film production company and produced Red Riding Hood and Runner, among others. The latest film he has produced was Delirium in 2018.

Other than his career in the entertainment business, he is also known as an environmental activist. In 1998 he created the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to promote environmental awareness. He particularly focuses on the effects of global warming and promotes renewable energy. As part of his devoted concern for environmental protection, he has remained in contact with several German groups in promoting events associated environmental protection. For example, in 2009, DiCaprio traveled to Germany for various environmental events to support other associated organizations, including The Cinema for Peace International Green Film Award presented by BMW in 2009 and the 9th Cinema for Peace Gala in Berlin in 2010. DiCaprio has supported these German film awards by physically attending the events and giving speeches. During the International Green Film Award in 2010, he presented and supported a documentary film called Crude about how Ecuadorians fought against Chevron over contamination of the Amazon. His other interests and fight for causes such as environmental issues and humanitarian concerns have been developed and supported well in Germany, while his insightful concerns and speeches are inspiring for local Germans.


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