Few actors in the world have had a career quite as diverse as Leonardo DiCaprio's. DiCaprio has gone from relatively humble beginnings, as a supporting cast member of the sitcom Growing Pains (1985) and low budget horror movies, such as Critters 3 (1991), to a major teenage heartthrob in the 1990s, as the hunky lead actor in movies such as Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Titanic (1997), to then become a leading man in Hollywood blockbusters, made by internationally renowned directors such as Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan.
Leonardo Wilhelm DiCaprio was born November 11, 1974 in Los Angeles, California, the only child of Irmelin DiCaprio (née Indenbirken) and former comic book artist George DiCaprio. His father is of Italian and German descent, and his mother, who is German-born, is of German and Russian ancestry. His middle name, "Wilhelm", was his maternal grandfather's first name. Leonardo's father had achieved minor status as an artist and distributor of cult comic book titles, and was even depicted in several issues of American Splendor, the cult semi-autobiographical comic book series by the late 'Harvey Pekar', a friend of George's. Leonardo's performance skills became obvious to his parents early on, and after signing him up with a talent agent who wanted Leonardo to perform under the stage name "Lenny Williams", DiCaprio began appearing on a number of television commercials and educational programs.
DiCaprio began attracting the attention of producers, who cast him in small roles in a number of television series, such as Roseanne (1988) and The New Lassie (1989), but it wasn't until 1991 that DiCaprio made his film debut in Critters 3 (1991), a low-budget horror movie. While Critters 3 (1991) did little to help showcase DiCaprio's acting abilities, it did help him develop his show-reel, and attract the attention of the people behind the hit sitcom Growing Pains (1985), in which Leonardo was cast in the "Cousin Oliver" role of a young homeless boy who moves in with the Seavers. While DiCaprio's stint on Growing Pains (1985) was very short, as the sitcom was axed the year after he joined, it helped bring DiCaprio into the public's attention and, after the sitcom ended, DiCaprio began auditioning for roles in which he would get the chance to prove his acting chops.
Leonardo took up a diverse range of roles in the early 1990s, including a mentally challenged youth in What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), a young gunslinger in The Quick and the Dead (1995) and a drug addict in one of his most challenging roles to date, Jim Carroll in The Basketball Diaries (1995), a role which the late River Phoenix originally expressed interest in. While these diverse roles helped establish Leonardo's reputation as an actor, it wasn't until his role as Romeo Montague in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet (1996) that Leonardo became a household name, a true movie star. The following year, DiCaprio starred in another movie about doomed lovers, Titanic (1997), which went on to beat all box office records held before then, as, at the time, Titanic (1997) became the highest grossing movie of all time, and cemented DiCaprio's reputation as a teen heartthrob. Following his work on Titanic (1997), DiCaprio kept a low profile for a number of years, with roles in The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) and the low-budget The Beach (2000) being some of his few notable roles during this period.