He Should Have Won the Oscar – Leonardo DiCaprio

In the early 1990s, I was up for a series role on the sitcom Growing Pains. The show’s original teen heartthrob Kirk Cameron had become a born again Christian and was urging the writers to steer his character away from the rebellious, girl crazy storylines that had earned him his success. As such, the producers were looking for a young teen to become the show’s new heartthrob.

The role was Luke Bower, a homeless boy who is taken in by the sitcom’s central family – the Seavers. The actor who beat me out for the part? Leonardo DiCaprio.

I have always liked DiCaprio as an actor. The performance that won me over was his portrayal of the mentally handicapped brother of Johnny Depp’s lead character in the 1993 film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

DiCaprio is captivating in the role. He spot-on, perfectly captures the intricate tics of his mentally challenged character. These minute details made his performance utterly authentic, and thus riveting. At no juncture did he drop character. You would not think that level of detail was possible without being real. You believed he really was Arnie Grape.

I was not the only taken with DiCaprio’s performance. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He was 19 years old.

Interestingly enough, my analysis of the Best Supporting Actor nominees of the 66th Academy Awards did not start out with a focus on DiCaprio. Rather, my intention was to be a voice that the award should have gone to Andrew Bryniarski – a little known actor who turned in one hell of a performance early in his career.

Bryniarski, a former bodybuilder, played collegiate football player Steve Lattimer in the 1993 film The Program.  The film is a behind the scenes look at the corruption in college football. It stars James Caan, Halle Berry, Omar Epps, and Craig Sheffer.

Bryniarski’s character has been a non-spectacular player for the college team coached by Caan. Determined to be a starter in his senior year, Lattimer embraces steroids and becomes a testosterone fueled monster on the field. As the coach, Caan wants to win so he just turns a blind eye to the obvious steroid abuse.

I don’t think it is possible to have a physique like that sported by Bryniarski in The Program without doing steroids at some point. I applaud Bryniarski whether or not he did steroids. If he did do them than it shows dedication to creating a realistic character. If he didn’t do them, then it shows even more so how great his performance is.

There are very few supporting actor performances in the 1990s that I would rank on the same level as Bryniarski in The Program. However, DiCarpio’s performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is one of them.

The winner of the Best Supporting Actor Award for the 66th Oscars was Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. I am a big fan of Tommy Lee Jones. I think he is one hell of an actor. But, The Fugitive was a so so movie, in which Jones played a ho hum character. Jones has turned in Academy Award-worthy performances in his career, but The Fugitive is not one of them. He was out acted by Bryniarski, and Bryniarski was out acted by DiCaprio.

Bryniarski has gone on to a respectable career in film. He is most widely known for playing Leatherface in the 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the 2006 prequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.

DiCaprio’s career has been nothing short of impressive. He has turned in amazing performances in several films including The Basketball Diaries, Romeo + Juliet, Catch Me If You Can, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He won the Best Actor Oscar in 2016 for The Revenant.         

If you haven’t seen What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or The Program, I suggest you give them a viewing. They are both excellent pictures. And, both feature Academy Award-worthy supporting actor performances.

Peace. Love. Trust.

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