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How a Teddy Roosevelt Biopic Could Help DiCaprio Save the Planet

The actor will be donning a mustache and spectacles for the presidential role.
By  · Published on September 27th, 2017

The actor will be donning a mustache and spectacles for the presidential role.

In news that only adds to a steadily growing pattern of collaboration, Variety are reporting that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are teaming up again on Roosevelt, a biopic about the first President who had that name. Despite not exactly being a dead ringer for Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., DiCaprio is set to star in the title role, with Scorsese directing.

The duo is frequent collaborators, having worked together on five already-released features, and another two that are currently in production, not counting Roosevelt. Of these, two were true biopics (The Aviator and The Wolf of Wall Street), and DiCaprio took the lead in both. For their next collaborations, Killers of the Flower Moon and The Devil in the White City, the latter will see DiCaprio star as con artist and serial killer Dr. H. H. Holmes, while more details on his already-confirmed involvement in the former film are yet to be released. Importantly, though, both are also rooted in true stories, suggesting DiCaprio is only interested in projects based in reality post-The Revenant.

It’s hard to tell which aspect of Teddy Roosevelt’s life Scott Bloom’s script will cover – as an explorer, author, military man, and 26th President of the United States, he certainly led a life worthy of detailed cinematic portrayal.

But DiCaprio’s attachment to this project suggests one particular pursuit of Roosevelt’s will be getting considerable screen-time here. A keen environmentalist, Roosevelt enshrined in law the protection of millions of acres of land through his establishment of the United States Forest Service, 150 national forests, and over 50 bird reservations. He also granted national monument status to 18 of America’s most stunning landmarks, helping to ensure these wonders would remain untouched by commercial development interests. One such monument was the Grand Canyon, which was being eyed by mining companies for potential exploitation. Roosevelt’s determination ensured sights as beautiful as the Canyon were preserved for generations to come. Policies like this one ultimately endowed him with the honor of being America’s first “conservationist president”, and led to his being celebrated as one of history’s most determined defenders of America’s natural wonders.

DiCaprio has earned himself a similar reputation as a steadfast guardian of Mother Earth. Since 1998, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has been working to conserve and protect the planet’s resources, wild spaces and species threatened by climate change and human exploitation. His recent non-fiction projects reaffirm the growing overlap between his cinematic career and activism: DiCaprio’s 2016 documentaries The Ivory Game and Before the Flood tackled the illegal international trade in ivory and provided viewers with the “cold hard facts” about climate change respectively.

Roosevelt considered commercial interests like the type that threatened America’s natural wonders to be “mean and sordid”, a kind of skepticism he shares with his future portrayer (see this 2014 speech DiCaprio gave to the United Nations). But while both men would undoubtedly agree on much, Roosevelt’s disturbing love of big-game hunting sets the two starkly apart. Aside from The Ivory Game, DiCaprio has marked himself out as a staunch protector of wildlife through his foundation’s work protecting elephants, rhinos, chimpanzees and other threatened species from cruel human sports. In contrast, Roosevelt’s 1910 account of a safari trip he took with his son documents the staggering slaughter he was responsible for and suggests he had a much laxer approach towards wildlife conservation. Amongst the 500-plus animals the two men killed, 11 were elephants, 20 were rhinos, and 14 were monkeys. While the Roosevelt men’s exploits weren’t as shocking for their time as they sound now, they will certainly limit any sense of affinity DiCaprio might feel with Teddy.

Interestingly, the above conflict between the real-life Roosevelt and the principled actor portraying him could end up meaning that Roosevelt will cast a shadow over its subject’s golden environmentalist reputation. Given that it directly contradicts some of DiCaprio’s life’s work, it’s certainly possible that the actor will decline to gloss over Teddy’s controversial status in modern conservation circles.

Even if Teddy Roosevelt’s hunting escapades do end up being played down, though, his legacy of environmental conservation will likely take up a good portion of the spotlight in this movie, providing DiCaprio with another chance to remind viewers that protecting our planet is a duty incumbent on all of us. If Scorsese and Bloom are similarly inclined, Roosevelt could end up being the newest addition to Leonardo DiCaprio’s activist portfolio.

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Farah Cheded is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects. Outside of FSR, she can be found having epiphanies about Martin Scorsese movies here @AttractionF and reviewing Columbo episodes here.