Here's what it's like to pretend to be Leonardo DiCaprio, according to his "Titanic" body double
Ahhh, the glamorous life of an actor! The adoration! The money! The standing around for 14 hours to be the back of someone’s head! The—oh, wait, you didn’t know about that last one? Unfortunately, for all but a few stars, Hollywood’s famed golden glow is something of a special effect, and Brett Baker is here to shatter the illusion completely.
Baker, a classically educated actor, recently spoke to Vanity Fair at length about his first big break in Hollywood—playing Leonardo DiCaprio’s double in the 1998 mega-blockbuster Titanic. A stunt double, you say? But aren’t they tough badasses who get to do amazing acrobatic tricks a mere actor can’t handle? Nope! Baker instead was Leo’s body double, a thankless, grueling role that involves standing in for the star actor in shots where his face isn’t visible.
Baker was 29 at the time, several inches shorter than Leo but a close enough resemblance in hair and stature to serve as Leo’s non-face; mostly he stood in for shots where Leo’s back is to the camera, or over-the-shoulder shots. The job, however, was far from cushy, involving 14-hour days of standing around and, of course, several days in that unpleasant tank serving as dead-Jack’s-back-of-head.
Taking the job because he needed the money and hoped that the exposure would lead to better roles, Baker, now in his 40s, is unsure about his youthful choice.”I was thrown into big-budget Hollywood features, unseen, with no role and no lines. I wonder sometimes if I made the right decision,” he told VF.
Instead of being the career-launching vehicle Titanic was for Kate Winslet and Dicaprio, Baker recalls it as mostly disappointing, after his initial astonishment at the enormous set. He hoped to become pals with rising star Dicaprio: “Privately, I hoped Leo would invite me out for a beer with some of his friends,” but the star already had an entourage of buddies and wasn’t interested.
Most of all, he hoped that the career choice would lead to exposure, that great currency of Hollywood on which a thousand ships are sunk. “Hollywood propagates the myth like it’s occurring all the time. To my knowledge, none of the connections I made on Titanic ever led to an audition, a meeting, or even a phone call. Certainly not a speaking role.” In the end, his name wasn’t even listed in the credits.
Despite the disappointment of having a celebrity-shaped head not leading to better things, Baker has done what most actors do: kept at it, and to good results. This year, he has speaking roles in both Rob Reiner’s LBJ and the upcoming remake of the groundbreaking miniseries, Roots. Cheers to you, Mr. Baker, for upholding the real story of Hollywood: the tale of hard work.