My Secret Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; LEONARDO DICAPRIO EXCLUSIVE (AND HOW IT HAS HELPED ME PLAY HOWARD HUGHES)
Byline: JULIE RAYNER in Hollywood
H E has played a conman, a simpleton and a murderous hoodlum but Leonardo DiCaprio's latest role, as eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, would seem his greatest challenge.
Yet the Hollywood star has more in common with the late tycoon than with any role he has yet played.
Like Hughes, Leo is a big player in the movie industry, has enjoyed flings with some of the world's most beautiful women and is fiercely protective of his privacy.
And most bizarrely, the actor reveals today that he - like the reclusive airline owner - suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder.
But while Hughes's ailment fuelled a descent into madness, 30-year-old Leo says he has a firm grip on it.
Although Leo is reluctant to step on the cracks in the pavement and has to force himself not to step on every chewing gum stain, he insists he is not a slave to his compulsions.
He also fights the urge to walk through a doorway several times and touch it in a certain way. Talking for the first time of his condition, Leo admits: "I'm able to say at some point, 'OK, you're being ridiculous, stop stepping on every gum stain you see.
"You don't need to do that. You don't need to walk 20ft back and put your foot on that thing. Nothing bad is going to happen.'"
But when it came to The Aviator and his portrayal of Hughes - who became so consumed by his hygiene fixation that aides were made to clean his room inch by inch - Leo gave his own disorder free rein.
"Yes, I let it all go and never listened to the other voice," he recalls.
"So I remember my make-up artist and assistant walking me to the set and going, 'Oh God, we're going to need 10 minutes to get him there because he has to walk back and step on that thing, touch the door and walk in and out again.'
"I let myself do it because I wanted that to come out. I was trying to be the character but it became really bothersome - and it continued way after the filming.
"I can talk myself through it, whereas Howard Hughes couldn't do that and people with hard-core OCD can't."
Obsessive compulsive disorder wasn't a recognised condition when it took over Hughes's life, causing him to repeat phrases, continually wash his hands and break down at the sight of a spot on another man's suit.
A scene in the film depicts him naked in his screening room, unable to face anybody and conducting a deranged experiment with bottles of his urine.
"I think it tied into his women, too," adds Leo, as we talk in a Los Angeles hotel. "He was never able to stay with one woman because he looked on them like planes - he wanted to get the faster, sleeker plane with the bigger turbines."
A dashing oddball, Hughes, who was born in Texas in 1905, forged careers as a film-maker, pilot, aircraft designer and airline owner. But his disorder dominated his life and he retreated into hiding, scared of germs and the world outside.
It led to years of isolation in a series of Las Vegas hotels before his death in 1976. It's a tale that has fascinated Leo since he read a biography eight years ago.
He took the project to Martin Scorsese, who directed him in Gangs Of New York. Scorsese was rivetted by a story of adventure, greed, corruption and madness.
The Aviator's plot opens shortly after Hughes arrives in Hollywood in the 1920s and ends in 1947, with Hughes' one and only flight in the Spruce Goose, the giant flying boat he designed. …