Interview: Leonardo DiCaprio

Blood Diamond may look like just another epic adventure film with good looking guys running through deserts and jungles, dodging gunfire. It's got that, but it's about a real life issue. Corrupt governments and militaries of Africa have exploited their people, forcing them to mine for diamonds. There are now measures in place to prevent jewelers from selling these so-called conflict diamonds, but it may take a film like this to get the message out on a grand scale.

"I think I was like anybody else, I had heard whispers of it," said star Leonardo DiCaprio. "Until I got there and until I started to do the research I didn’t really quite understand the immense impact, certainly on Sierra Leone and other places in Africa. I had heard, certainly, the Kanye West song for example and bits of it in conversation, but it wasn’t until I really got to Africa where I heard the firsthand accounts and started to read the books and learn about it, that I really learned what was really going on."

DiCaprio plays Danny Archer, a South African smuggler who doesn't care much for the poor farmers whose families are torn apart by such militia. That's why he sounds different, because he's doing an accent.

"Spending a lot of time with the locals, drinking beers with them, hearing their stories, a lot of guys from the South African military. I got to hang out with this military expert and just listening to them talk. And of course, I had an accent coach and he was there, guiding me through it, but we had conversations with these people. Listening to their stories, made them say sentences over and over again. That’s just the kind of thing you do. I wanted to definitely go to Africa early, because that whole area was completely alien to me. I had never really spent any time in Africa, let alone a white South African man and their stories and accents. It was completely alien when I first heard of the film. It was about going there."

The actor devoted as much effort to accuracy as he does with all his period or location films, but it wasn't just about an accent.

"There was a lot of military training too and we had a great stunt team too. We did a lot of faux military activities of hunting in the bush and tracking in the bush. What it was like to track in the bush. Hanging out with a lot of guys in the South African army. And really, that was really the tough stuff, getting that military background, because they are some of the best trained guys in the entire world as far as tracking is concerned and living in the bush."

Don't worry, there are reasonable limits to DiCaprio's method. "I didn’t go out and live in the bush for them a week or even a day, but it was a matter of doing these exercises with them. A lot of spending time and hanging out with them and hearing their stories. There is a certain amount you can get from books. You need to speak with the real people and ask specific questions that affect your character, questions you have about your character, otherwise you’d be skimming through hundreds of books trying to get that specific answer."

All work and no play make Leo a dull boy, so he was sure to enjoy the sites as much as he worked. "What I was really overwhelmed with by Africa was its tremendous natural beauty. I got to go to some pretty amazing places. Every other weekend we got a day or two off and go on a safari or the natural wonders of Africa and if anyone gets the opportunity to go there, it’s something you have to do in your lifetime."

If Blood Diamond generates as much attention as DiCaprio's last film, he may be competing with himself in The Departed for an Oscar nomination. The actor removes himself from such speculation.

"That goes into the hands to all you people to pick this all apart and compliment it or insult it. We’ll see."

Blood Diamond opens December 8.