‘Great Gatsby’ Stars Remember Their First Time … Reading The Novel

Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and director Baz Luhrmann recall initial impressions of enigmatic millionaire.

NEW YORK: The Jazz Age took center stage Wednesday (May 1), as the stars of Baz Luhrmann’s glitzy “The Great Gatsby” — including Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan — walked the black carpet outside of Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall for the world premiere of their ’20s-set film (which opens in theaters May 10).

Often considered one of (if not the) great American novel, the F. Scott Fitzgerald tale — about an enigmatic millionaire trying to win back his long-lost love — is a mainstay of high-school and college curricula, yet the manner in which the stars were introduced to the book are as many and varied as Gatsby’s extensive shirt collection.

DiCaprio, like many, read the novel as a boy but found new meaning in it as a man.

“I had a connection with the character very early on, but not until I picked it up as an adult did I really understand the nuance or the complexity or the symbolism and the genius of Fitzgerald’s work,” he said.

Co-star Isla Fisher, who plays Myrtle Wilson, recalled a similar experience.

“I never read that much into it. I was a kid at the time,” she said. “And then I re-read it as an adult, and obviously now I see Gatsby as this flawed, obsessed, arrested development kind of guy who’s interested in the American dream.”

Maguire, rather surprisingly, never read the novel as a young adult and only sat down to page through as he contemplated the role of narrator Nick Carraway.

“I just thought the book was unbelievable,” Maguire said of reading it recently. “The words are just gorgeous. What F. Scott Fitzgerald writes — I’m reading thinking like, ‘Oh, I might be playing Nick, and I might get to say these lines.’ It was pretty exciting.”

Yet, leave it to Luhrmann to have the most dramatic, two-fold tale of Gatsby initiation.

“My real experience was through Robert Redford,” he recalled. “My father owned a cinema, because of that, I saw ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ and I went, ‘That man is cool.’ And then I saw ‘The Sting,’ and then I saw ‘Gatsby.’ I wasn’t quite sure who Gatsby was. Only 10 years ago, I was on a train to Siberia; I was in a little first-class cabin going on my way to meet my wife in Paris with my newborn child. I heard ‘Gatsby’ on the spoken book, and I went, ‘I don’t know that book. It’s about us. It’s who we are right here, right now.’ And I really wanted to find a way to bring the immediacy of that book to the cinema.”

Check out everything we’ve got on “The Great Gatsby.”