It might have been the night’s most predictable result, but Leonardo DiCaprio’s Best Actor win for his role in The Revenant still felt like Oscar doing right by a guy nominated five times before, first for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? back in 1993, when he was 19. Fox’s campaign for The Revenant focused heavily on how much DiCaprio suffered for his art – all crawling around in the dirt, chewing on raw bison liver and braving sub-zero temperatures. He beat out four actors whose films, at least, featured plenty of indoor shooting: Bryan Cranston for Trumbo, Matt Damon for The Martian, Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs and last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl.
But for all the surety of his win this season – DiCaprio had picked up every major acting prize on his route to the Dolby Theatre – the 41-year-old actor still was visibly relieved when the envelope was opened. “The Revenant was the product of an unbelievable cast and crew,” he said in his speech. “First off to my brother in this endeavor, Mr. Tom Hardy. Tom, your fierce talent onscreen can only be surpassed by your friendship offscreen. To Mr. Alejandro Inarritu, as the history of cinema unfolds, you have forged your way into history these past two years. What an unbelievable talent you are. Thank you to you and Chivo [cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki] for creating a transcendent cinematic experience for all of us. “
DiCaprio thanked Fox and New Regency and called out Arnon Milchan before thanking people “from the very onset” of his career, including Michael Caton-Jones, who cast him in This Boy’s Life, his regular collaborator Martin Scorsese and Rick Yorn. “And to my parents: None of this would be possible without you.” In fact, DiCaprio revealed on the red carpet earlier that he’d brought his mom with him tonight. In Mike Fleming Jr’s interview with the Oscar winner published this month, he revealed she would drive 45 minutes each way, twice a day, just to take DiCaprio to a better school.
He finished his speech with a climate-change plea. “Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world, a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history,” he said. “Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters or the big corporations, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people who will be most affected by this, for our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed. I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.”
The Revenant follows DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass, a fur trapper abandoned by his colleagues after he’s savagely attacked by a bear. Left for dead and double-crossed, Glass crawls his way to safety, dodging Native American warriors and fixing to take his revenge on Hardy’s John Fitzgerald, who murdered his son and conspired to take his share.
Backstage, DiCaprio continued the climate-change thread by relating it to the upcoming presidential election. “If you don’t believe in climate change, you don’t believe in modern science or truth and you’ll be on the wrong side of this issue,” he said. “We need to vote for leaders who recognize the truth and will do something about it.”
He reflected on the support he’d received on his road to the Oscars, in response to a question that mentioned the public White House petition that called for President Obama to step in and give him the award. “It all feels incredibly surreal,” he said. “It’s surreal because you can’t reach out and physically meet everybody. You hear it on the Internet and from other people, and the truth is we always strive for the best in what we do, but this year I’ve been overwhelmed with such support by so many fans and so many people in the industry. It’s shocking actually and what can I say except I’m very grateful.”
He came backstage with his director, who also won tonight, and thanked three-time winner Lubezki. “It’s incredible that two outsiders like Chivo and Alejandro stuck to their beliefs and here we have two- and three-time winners. These guys represent everything the industry should be.”