Leonardo DiCaprio's new film is making the international diamond industry nervous, and the 32-year-old two-time Oscar nominee says he never anticipated such an uproar.
"Blood Diamond," which hits theaters Dec. 8, examines the multi-million-dollar strip mining business that fueled Sierra Leone's devastating civil war in the 1990s.
After four months on location in Africa, DiCaprio sits down with ABC News Radio's David Alpert and a few other reporters to reflect on the controversial film and on filming in Mozambique -- a country where four out of 10 people are said to have HIV or AIDS.
Q: Did you anticipate the voracity of the response of the international diamond industry against this film? They seem to be mounting a campaign against it.
DICAPRIO: I didn't anticipate it, no, but, you know, when you approach situations like this, this is, these are things that are based on real events, you know? And we're depicting a specific time in recent history where, you know, these diamonds resulted in a lot of civil unrest in these countries. So, I had never anticipated, no, that it would be this intense, by any means.
Q: What was your knowledge of this problem before doing the movie, and how much did you learn?
DICAPRIO: I think I was like anybody else, you know, I heard whispers of it, but until I got there and until I read the script and started doing the research, I didn't really quite understand the immense impact these, uh, you know, that the diamonds had had on certainly Sierra Leone, and other places in Africa.
So it was, you know -- I certainly heard the Kanye West song, for example, and I heard, you know, bits of it in conversation, but it really wasn't until I got to Africa and heard the first-hand accounts and started to read the books that I really learned what was really going on, or what really had happened.
Q: Leonardo, what was the motivation for you to do this movie, was it the social message? And also, talk about the transition from being a kid to an adult.
DICAPRIO: First off, on the script, it uh, it was such a powerful character, it was such a powerful storyline, and that's what you look for first.
I mean . . . I wasn't personally going out seeking, you know, films with a social or political message to it, just to do it for the sake of doing it, you know? There has to have this entertainment value, it has to be a good movie and it has to, you know, convey a message without the audience feeling like they're being preached to. And I felt that this script accomplished that.
And to me, it was very representative of, you know, a huge sort of issue in the world today about corporate responsibility and what these corporations do. And certainly, you know, Africa's been a prime target for it, all the way to gold and rubber and all kinds of other resources. And here was this character who really represented somebody who was exploiting people less fortunate than him, dealing in the black market and not really being conscious of the world he lived in.
And I just felt it was a really powerful character. I thought the dynamic between Djimon Hounsou's character and my character was a real -- it was based on an earlier script and it was really [director] Ed Zwick and Marshall [producer Marshall Herskovitz] who learned about the diamond trade and brought these political aspects to the story, but in a way that I really didn't feel was preachy, in a way that I felt was really authentic, you know?
So, of course it's always great to do a movie that you find that is entertaining, but also can give some sort of political or social message, and I felt this movie did that. As far as growing up? What can I say?
I have to be honest, I've never thought of that ever in the entire course of my career about choosing a specific role because it would make me seem more manlike. . . . Even with roles like "Catch Me If You Can," I was eight years, ten years, older than the character I portrayed. It was an interesting character, and I knew, as well, you know, I could be playing a character like that . . .
Q: Leo, I want to know, being in contact with Africa and the poverty and the children soldiers, how did that affect you?
DICAPRIO: Well, you know, certainly, for me, playing a character like this, like I said, who was one taking advantage of the poverty around him, taking advantage of the continent, posed for a lot of, you know, what's the word, uncomfortable situations, as an actor, to portray this man on set amongst an African crew, you know, in locations like Mozambique, where there was a tremendous amount of poverty.
I mean, Mozambique is a country right now who's having a sort of economic resurgence. But still, you know, 4 out of 10 people supposedly have HIV or AIDS. There's astounding conditions. But what I, what I was left with after spending time with Africa, and this is not at all to sound trivial, but it is, it is, it really was the power of the human spirit there, and the fact that these people had been through so much.
They'd been through a civil war for 30 years, the poverty rate, but literally, people were still dancing in the streets. I mean, the joy and the energy and the happiness they exuded to everyone that came in contact with them was unbelievable, and it made me come back home and sort of not want to listen to anyone's problems, you know? I don't want to hear about what we as Americans have to deal with. When you're immersed in a place like that for 6 months and you see the extreme levels of what people have to deal with there, and what their lives are like, and yet they're able to keep a positive attitude. . . I just don't want to hear people's problems out here anymore.
Q: How was it doing scenes with Djimon?
DICAPRIO: You know, his character really is the heart and soul of the movie, you know: the story of a man trying to find his son. And he embodied this character and he -- the word is electrifying, the intensity he gives in this performance. And uh, what can I say?
He and I were kind of alone on set, it was me and him and there's no other actor that could have given this performance. I mean he's astounding in this movie, and the intensity and energy you get off him as an actor, is just -- you got to play off each other everyday. And it was... He's, he's, he's a, quite a brilliant actor. Djimon and I would sit there and talk to each other about the different types of hot chocolates you can get in Paris, and croissants and penechocolats, and we'd sit there and dream like two weird women, pastries and...
Q: Any injuries?
DICAPRIO: I hurt my knee. Yeah it was a lot of -- Djimon got banged up, I hurt my knee. You know, there are some of these sequences in this movie that are pretty... Ed set up that were pretty... yeah, a full week of squibs and diving behind cars. But you talk about that because I've never really been in an action sequence that was that well choreographed, and you accomplished a lot of stuff, action kind of things.
Q: I wonder when was the last time you bought a real diamond, and if this movie has changed your mind, if you ever get married, it won't be a diamond ring?
DICAPRIO: Hmm. Well, you know, I don't remember the last time I have. My Mom is the only person I'd really buy something like that for. And she, for a while now, hasn't wanted one. But that isn't to say . . . that people shouldn't . . . Look, these come from my conversations with, you know, global witness, or Amnesty International.
You have to go into the stores where you buy these diamonds at, ask for a certificate, ask for some sort of authentication that this isn't a conflict diamond, and you have to, as a consumer, use your best judgment to say, "you know what, I believe that, you know, you are truthful in what you're saying, and I see the documents, and you've proved to me this isn't a conflict diamond." That's one of the biggest ways this whole process can be put to a stop.
Q: So you're going to keep buying diamonds?
DICAPRIO: Does that mean... I don't know, I don't know, probably not, probably not. But that isn't to say that consumers shouldn't go out and do that. They should use their best judgment and ask the right questions, because, ultimately, diamonds are a source of economic stability in Africa. But what they're specifically trying to target is these conflict diamonds, these diamonds that have funded these kind of warlords and caused this civil strife in Africa, you know? It's about stopping those specific diamonds.
Q: Do you like doing these kinds of films, and is that a danger?
DICAPRIO: I'll tell you, quite honestly, it comes from being a fan of this art-form, of film, you know? It really is. I think this is the great modern art form, in my opinion, you know? There's been a hundred years of cinema but there's so much to be done in this art form.
I'm a fan of movies, and there's something about watching films that are burned into celluloid for all time. It's like this is now a piece of history. When you go watch -- being a fan of classic films, you watch these movies and they're gonna -- my children and their children are going to be watching these movies. To make a great movie, there's such a combination of different things that need to come into play to actually make a memorable film, and not have a film sort of fall by the wayside, you know, to have something live on through the years. And that takes -- you know, one of those elements is the commitment that the actors have towards their performance. It doesn't always come into play.
There've been a lot of great performances by actors in the past in films that weren't great, but if you're lucky enough to get that combination together and be in a memorable movie, that, to me, is like being a part of a piece of art that's going to last forever. So... that's where it really comes from.
Q: Speaking of change, we had a big change in this country, and as someone who's always been active in politics, can you comment?
DICAPRIO: Well . . . I think I'm going to just say that, uh, I'm happy. And I think that the country has taken a turn for the better, you know? And I think a lot of things that have been sort of uh, subdued politically and a lot of things that people have wanted to happen are hopefully going to happen now. It's really up to the Democrats to, uh -- not to say things anymore, but to take action now, and I think they will.
Q: And the Oscar buzz on "The Departed"?
DICAPRIO: And the Oscar buzz on it? Great.
Q: Did you feel with this role that you'd be competing with yourself come Oscar time?
DICAPRIO: I have no... I don't know. Once again, that goes into the hands of all you people to pick this all apart and critique it and compliment it or insult it. We'll see. Thank you, guys.
ABCNEWS.com's Buck Wolf contributed to this report.