Nov. 9, 2011 at 9:41 AM ET
It's hard to look at Leonardo DiCaprio, even under the heavy makeup that takes him well into J. Edgar Hoover's 70s in "J. Edgar," and not see the little kid he was.
He's our most babyfaced actor, not just because he still looks boyish, but in past because he grew up onscreen. If you don't remember him as a regular on "Growing Pains," you may know him from "This Boy's Life" or "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" He's the same age as Kate Winslet, his "Titanic" co-star, but you'd be forgiven for thinking she was robbing the cradle in that movie. His Jack Dawson just seemed like a spirited boy rather than a young man.
But I'd argue that his youthfulness is only an asset. Yeah, sure, everyone wants to be young in Hollywood, hence all the plastic surgery and shooting botulism into stars' eyebrows. But DiCaprio isn't playing Kim Kardashian here, he's playing a U.S. Marshal ("Shutter Island"), Howard Hughes ("The Aviator") and J. Edgar Hoover. He's playing men with gravitas, guys who you have to be a little afraid of. You'd think his babyfaced appearance might be a detriment in those roles.
But as I watched "J. Edgar" Monday night, I found the opposite to be true. Sure he gets slathered in old-guy makeup, his hands all liver-spotted up, but you can't hide his essential look. Not only does he appear physically young, but he looks likable.
Some actors just have that look and never lose it. It's especially beneficial for comedians -- think Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and Jim Carrey. But DiCaprio makes it work in dramas too. It's not that you'd blindly like his characters because the portrayer appears young, but it allows him to carry an innocence and an uncertainty into his roles. Even his tough-guy characters feel human, like they could fail at any moment.
What's DiCaprio's best role? Tell us in the comments.
Update: Funny or Die has a hilarious video spoofing "J. Edgar" and making it all about DiCaprio's failed quest for an Oscar.