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DiCaprio's still living the dream

It's perhaps the only original blockbuster heading our way this summer, a beacon of hope in a sea of sequels, spin-offs and soul-sucking franchises. And its leading man is clearly proud of that fact. "I look around, and there's nothing like Inception out there," says Leonardo DiCaprio of his second major assault on the box-office this year.

His fourth collaboration with Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island, provided each of the Hollywood heavyweights with their best opening weekends ever in the US. Although Inception has every chance of breaking that record. "I love it when you can bring something this imaginative, this ambitious, this intelligent to a mainstream audience. I think it's the job of every artist who can reach a large audience to bring them something challenging every now and then.

"I've been incredibly lucky to do it twice this year," he says, before breaking into a smile. "I think I deserve the rest of the year off now . . ."

And so, that's just what Leonardo DiCaprio is doing. Once he's finished the press tour for Inception that is.

Having tinkered and toyed with the script for 10 years, it was only when writer/director Christopher Nolan broke the billion-dollar mark at the box-office with 2008's The Dark Knight that Warners gave him the go-ahead for his dream project. Dream being the operative word.

Seven months of principal photography, in six cities, over four continents, followed by seven months of post-production, and a final bill of $200m, and, hey presto, Inception is upon us. And thanks to a viral publicity campaign that set out to titillate and confuse rather than elucidate or enlighten, no one's been able to figure out what Nolan's long-gestating blockbuster is all about.

Well, I've seen it. And I'm still not quite sure what it's all about.

DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a 'subconscious security' specialist who can orchestrate and enter people's dreams and then extract information through manipulating and sleight-of-mind tricks. Business tycoon Saito (Ken Watanabe) needs Cobb to insert rather than extract a thought -- by heading inside the dreams of arch-rival Robert Michael Fischer (Cillian Murphy) and planting the idea of breaking up the billion-dollar empire of his soon-to-be-late father (a bed-ridden, gibbering Pete Postlethwaite).

In true heist fashion, Cobb pulls together a crack team, bright young architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) soon uncovering her boss's ulterior motive: going deep down into the rabbit hole to finally stop his vengeful dead wife (Marion Cotillard) constantly turning his dreams into nightmares. And then, hopefully, Cobb -- who's part Neo, part Deckard, part Richard Kimble -- can finally go back to their waiting children.

It's plain that Nolan likes his big bangs and his deep thinks, but, ultimately, this is a film that begs the question, do surrealism and popcorn really go together?

"Well, it's not often that the Hollywood studio system finances a movie like this," nods DiCaprio. "It's existential in a lot of ways -- it delves into the subconscious of the human mind -- and it also has everything that Hollywood can give to a mainstream audience, simultaneously.

"I think it was very brave of the studio to finance something like this. It's a testament to Chris Nolan's imagination, and his track record for pulling off multi-dimensional narratives like this, and being able to convey them to an audience in a way that is emotionally accessible and takes them to different areas of the imagination."

What convinced DiCaprio to get onboard?

"It was just a very ambitious idea to do this movie," he answers, "and a lot of times with visionary directors -- and Chris is definitely one of them -- you have to unlock the Rubik's Cube of what they're trying to convey on screen.

"So, for me, being able to sit down with Chris and sort of hash through this cathartic journey that he wanted the character to go on, and really create with me this notion of a man almost going through a therapy session, that was crucial.

"There are four different stages of the human subconscious and the deeper he gets in the film, the closer he comes to his own nightmares, and the truth about his past, what he had been suppressing. We made the analogy a lot -- although Chris doesn't like to talk about it on the press tour -- that this is a drug addict, a man addicted to the dream state, and escaping reality at all costs. And this was a journey for him to come to the truth of that."

Of course, this is the second time this year that Leonardo DiCaprio has played a troubled widower plagued by dark visions as he struggles with distortions of reality and perception. So, how's the head? Sleeping okay? Losing one wife in horrific circumstances is traumatic enough, but to lose two within the space of a few months . . .

"Well, that's where I live them out," laughs DiCaprio, "on screen. Because the truth is, I'm sleeping great. I couldn't be more excited about taking a little time off now after two very intense movies. My demons come out on film."

It was his late maternal grandmother Oma -- Helene Idenberken -- who advised her jet-setting grandson to take some time off from making movies, and become a bricklayer. Now that DiCaprio is finally taking that time off, where better to learn such a trade than Ireland? His last, and only, visit back in 2002 was something of a wham, bam affair.

"I made it there for one day, and I sat in a pub all day long and talked about a movie. I never got to see the city, so, I really regret not going back to Dublin. I want to see everything Ireland has to offer. A lot of my friends are going to go soon, so, hopefully I'll make it there."

Given that DiCaprio managed to get his acting career back on track after Titanic by taking two years off so the teen screams could die down, has he any advice for Twilight star Robert Pattinson, suffering the same kind of deafening and possibly career-crippling crazy love right now?

"I don't have any advice for him," offers DiCaprio, "other than, continue to work as hard as you possibly can when you get the opportunities to do other films.

"When you're a working actor who gets to choose your own material, then you've hit the lottery. Now it's time to maintain that -- that's it. You work as hard as you possibly can on every opportunity that you get. But he knows that -- I have no advice to give him. I'm sure he knows that . . ."

Inception lands in Irish cinemas next Friday