By Kerry Torpey `19
Coming off of his 2015 Oscar win, Leonardo DiCaprio has signed on to star in a biopic about former NYPD detective and “Italian Sherlock Holmes,” Joseph Petrosino. Based on the New York Times Bestseller The Black Hand by Stephen Talty, DiCaprio continues down a path of taking roles based on real life people.
Petrosino was an Italian immigrant who moved to the United States and settled in New York City in 1874. In 1883, he joined the NYPD where he would work as a detective until his assassination in 1909.
One of Petrosino’s most infamous missions involved his manhunt for a group of Italian immigrants who kidnapped people in order to coerce their families into giving them money. Considered a precursor to the Mafia, their calling card was a black hand.
An Italian himself, Petrosino made it his mission to arrest as many of these gang members as possible in order to protect the image of Italian immigrants in the United States. While on a mission in Palermo, Sicily, Petrosino received a phone call from an “informant” who turned out to be his assassin.
Following his Oscar win for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role as Hugh Glass in The Revenant, DiCaprio starred in Before the Flood, a Fisher Stevens documentary about climate change. As of now, The Black Hand is one of the star’s first feature film roles since 2015.
Since the inception of his acting career, DiCaprio has starred in several movies in which he takes on the character of a real life figure. Some of his roles include: Jim Carroll in The Basketball Diaries (1995), Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can (2002), Howard Hughes in The Aviator (2004), J. Edgar in J. Edgar Hoover (2011), and Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013).
Of the almost 10 films in which DiCaprio takes on the persona of nonfictional characters, he has received three Oscar nominations with one win, five Golden Globe nominations with three wins, three Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations with one win, and many more.
With the vast amount of nominations for these particular roles, DiCaprio could very well go on to receive more if he continues selecting roles that organizations such as the Academy of Arts and Sciences, Hollywood Foreign Press, and Screen Actors Guild tend to gravitate towards.
Director Agnieszka Holland, who worked with DiCaprio in the 1995 film Total Eclipse, once said, “Talking to Leonardo I realized he has an incredibly deep emotional imagination. In performance he becomes a kind of medium—the soul of the character he’s playing is entering his body.” Then, the challenge becomes capturing the soul of a real human being, not a fictional character.
In an interview with Short List, DiCaprio said, “I don’t think an audience always wants you to do the same thing or try aggressively to prove anything.”
With a diversity of roles on his long list of acting credits, DiCaprio continues to succeed as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Audiences can see if his momentum keeps going when The Black Hand is released in 2018.