I certainly haven't been a lifelong Leonardo DiCaprio fan. Apparently he played a role on the TV show Growing Pains. The first role I can recall him playing was Titanic, which I grew to hate as my sister watched it repeatedly.While I do recall his role in The Quick and the Dead, it didn't really strike me as being spectacular. Romeo + Juliet was... Interesting. Again, Leo played more of a teen heart throb than serious actor.
Since his role in Gangs of New York, he's chosen roles much more to my liking. From the lighthearted Frank Abagnale in Catch Me If You Can, to Billy in The Departed, Leo has starred in a number of high profile, dynamic roles.
I've just recently seen Inception, and DiCaprio's casting worked wonders. He brings a certain intensity to the screen, mixed with guilt and loss. When you look at his filmography, even his lighter roles have been marked by tragedy. He seems almost Odyssean in his ability to sustain loss and pain.
Maybe my perceptions have changed due to the increase in facial hair? His pretty boy image was pretty much destroyed when Cobb undergoes the first kick in Inception. Slow motion shots of him being pushed into a tub doesn't really present a pleasant view. Regardless of the cause, any project with his name attached seems to be a safe bet for the studios. I'm sure he has his choice in projects, and I'm hopeful that he continues to make good choices.
The question I'm now pondering, is whether Leonardo DiCaprio has matured as an actor, or have I merely matured as a viewer?