Revolutionary Road: DiCaprio as Frank Wheeler

“Frank was neat and solid, a few days less than thirty years old, with closely-cut black hair and the kind of unemphatic good looks an advertising photographer might use”–Novelist Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road, about Frank Wheeler.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives such a strong performance as the young, troubled husband Frank Wheeler that with some justice he should receive his fourth Oscar nomination for this demanding role.

For DiCaprio, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is fresh territory. Though he is a three-time Oscar Award nominee for his diverse roles in Edward Zwick's BLOOD DIAMOND, Martin Scorsese's THE AVIATOR and Lasse Hallstrom's WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, the film marks the first time he has played a husband and father.

Frank Wheeler is also among the most complex characters in American literature. At 29, he already has many accomplishments: he's a graduate of Columbia, a combat veteran and working his way up the ladder in his job at Knox. Moored in his times, he makes many of his biggest decisions on the basis of “being a man,” of proving his worth to his friends, neighbors, co-workers and, most especially to April.

Yet Frank is also mortified by the feeling that he is play-acting: that he isn't anywhere near the man he pretends to be in front of others, that he may not prove to be the talented hot-shot full of potential with whom April fell in love. So when April draws his masculinity and courage into question, he is sent reeling. He loves April with all his fragile heart, but as she pushes him to start over and as he pulls back into the life they already know, their paths are wrenched apart.

To bring Frank to life would require an ability to simultaneously embody his charisma, his masculine bravado and his terror of failure, something that DiCaprio seemed to tap into. Says screenwriter Justin Haythe: “Leo plays Frank in a way that you can see all his potential and smarts but you also understand that he shares many of our own darker qualities: the way things eat at him, the nature of his underlying anxieties, the way he winds up finding himself becoming his own father.”

For DiCaprio, it was the story's complexity, both in the novel and the screenplay, that got under his skin. “I'd never read anything like this before about two characters who aren't heroic, who aren't victorious at the end of the day, but are just two people desperately trying to make things work,” he says, “and struggling with what they believe their lives should be.”

He was also drawn to the period, as much for what it said about the present as the past. “The 50s era seems so different and bizarre when you look back at it. But at the same time we've held onto a lot of the same moral feelings that we still connect with — about what the American dream is, what a family is supposed to do, what the American lifestyle is supposed to be, how a family is supposed to act and react to each other,” DiCaprio observes. “That was the starting point of the moral code we have now and Yates' novel was revolutionary in that he had a lot of foresight that the image of what the American marriage and family should be wasn't necessarily going to last.”

DiCaprio was futher intrigued by the challenge of peering deep into a marriage. “The dynamic between Frank and April is so powerful and realistic, you feel like you're a fly on the wall watching an intimate relationship disintegrate,” he says. “But there's also a good section of the film where our characters are completely in love and re-energized with each other ƒ² until the realities of the life that we've chosen creep back in. So it's a really full psychological portrait of a relationship.”

Most of all, DiCaprio was looking forward to exploring these depths with Kate Winslet. “We've been very dear friends for a long time so I felt we could bring something out of the dialogue of these two characters that would be very realistic, very raw and intense,” he says. “I knew we could bring that out in each other and I think she knew it, too. There's a real trust factor that allows us to push each other. And I've never seen an actress who cares as much about making not only her performance better, but everyone's performance and the movie better, as Kate.”

The process was, DiCaprio confesses, all-enveloping at times. “I've never been a part of a film where we talked about and analyzed our characters more,” he says. “A lot of that comes from Sam's theater experience, his ability to work with actors, his attention to detail in the performances. He really cares about getting to the most accurate portrayal of each character. It can be confrontational at times, and draining, but he has an ability to bring out things in actors that's truly amazing. Sam's able to bring out the subconscious voice in each one of the character's heads and let the audience tap into that.”