The Cast of Blood Diamond
Despite all the success he's achieved at the age of 32 , Leonardo says he's not sure if he's yet a grown up. "There's some shift, but it's never one of those things where you wake up in the morning and you finally feel like a man," he says. "I think 35 is probably the age I'm going to have to start growing up."
Leonardo says he's flattered to have gained praise for his work, but he never sets out to win awards. "You never go in with that intent, you really don't," he says. "I got to work with two incredibly talented directors."
Working with Jack Nicholson was a dream come true for Leonardo...and a real challenge as an actor. "He's entirely unpredictable," Leonardo says about Jack. "All the actors who stepped on the set ... knew that we had to be prepared for absolutely anything. ... He's just a force of nature and he's doing such incredible work at this age in his career. I mean, it's astounding that he's still pushing the envelope in every role that he does."
The Departed was also Leonardo's third time working with director Martin Scorsese. The previous two films were 2002's Gangs of New York and 2004's The Aviator.
"He knows more about film than anyone I've ever met. He's a film historian and he is a mentor to me in a lot of ways. I learned a tremendous amount about the commitment that it takes to make a movie," Leonardo says. "He's a really powerful force to work with every day on set."
Leonardo plays Danny Archer, a South African smuggler who sells "blood diamonds"—the illegal stones that finance the rebels who slaughtered, raped and mutilated thousands of innocent people during the Sierra Leone civil war. Djimon Hounsou plays Solomon Vandy, a fisherman brutally forced from his family and sent to work in the diamond fields.
When Solomon unearths a prized pink diamond, he risks his life to hide it. For Solomon, the diamond is the bargaining chip he needs to find his family. For Danny, it represents a chance at a new life.
Solomon and Danny, with help from a journalist played by Jennifer Connelly, embark on a dangerous mission through rebel territory to save Solomon's son.
Blood Diamond isn't just about politics, though, Leonardo says. It's also a dramatic story with well-developed characters. "It has to work dramatically," he says. "And here you have two different men from polar opposite places in their lives—both African men."
However, he says that Blood Diamond was a special challenge. "This happened to be the most difficult film I have ever partaken in," he says. "From the emotional content to the physicality of the film, it was just so mind-blowing."
Even the locations in Africa—mostly in South Africa and Mozambique—where they shot the film made for an emotional experience, Djimon says. "It was very difficult to, day in and day out, be living through the film. [Then], once you leave the film to see the makeup of the people...it was just difficult to not be affected."
Djimon remembers that Leonardo was especially gracious when they were at former South African President Nelson Mandela's house. As attention turned to Leonardo, he quickly shifted the conversation to include Djimon. "He turned around and looked at Mandela and said, 'Mandela, this gentleman here was assigned to play your life story at one point.'"
Though Blood Diamond was a difficult movie to make, Ed says it was completely worth the effort. "It was an opportunity that I just couldn't pass up," he says. "It's like falling in love. You feel magnetized towards something and you have to do it."
He sees this movie as a way to help the country of Sierra Leone heal from what they endured. "When you think about [the end of Apartheid in] South Africa, most of all you think about truth and reconciliation," he says. "The important thing that comes out of that is you need to tell the truth—that's the only way you can prevent these things from happening again."
Ed says he never could have made Blood Diamond without the total commitment of his actors. "These guys won't talk about it but they got beat up every day, having to crawl and having to bang each other up and all the things they did," he says. "It was a remarkable dedication that you do because of something you believe in."
According to the World Diamond Council, 71 countries have ratified and adopted the Kimberley Process. Participants are held responsible for tracking raw diamonds, while companies agree not to purchase stones from countries where the profits contribute to abuses. Sources say the flow of conflict diamonds has been slowed to 1 percent of the industry.
With those protections, diamond-producing countries have benefited. Botswana has built schools and provides education and healthcare. In South Africa, diamond companies fund free HIV screening and treatment programs for their 19,000 employees and their families. Profits from diamond mining have helped build new schools, providing a formal education for close to 12,000 students. And in Sierra Leone, the legal trade of conflict-free diamonds is helping to jump-start the economy.
"This is a wonderful circumstance in which the public was able, by virtue of their awareness, to create something that has changed the world. And it's a process that has to go further," Ed says. "You can sit there when you walk into a diamond dealer, to a jeweler, you can say, 'I want to see a warranty. I want to see a certificate.' And you can make a difference that will affect thousands of lives."