An aviation kingpin, movie mogul, daredevil pilot and ladies’ man, Hughes became one of the most celebrated men in America, but he died in 1976 an eccentric recluse. With Martin Scorsese directing, DiCaprio ages from 26 to 46 onscreen, as Hughes gradually falls victim to obsessive-compulsive disorder. “Every day was intense,” says Aviator producer Graham King. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actor work as hard as Leo did.”
To play Hughes’s most famous conquests, rocker Gwen Stefani (in her film debut, as Jean Harlow), Gate Blanchett (Katharine Hepburn) and Kate Beckinsale (Ava Gardner) “did their homework and watched a lot of footage.” says King.
In the film Hughes has little to fear from matinee idol Errol Flynn (Jude Law), who flirts with Hepburn as they dine at ’30s Hollywood haunt Cocoanut Grove, rebuild on a Montreal set. Alec Baldwin’s Pan Am head Juan Trippe, who battles with the Hughes-owned TWA, poses a far greater headache. “He’s the closest thing to villain in the movie,” says King.