The young ‘great gatsby’: meet leonardo dicaprio’s teen counterpart

Jay Gatsby wasn’t always Jay Gatsby. Long before Daisy Buchanan, the palatial mansion and the twinkling green light, the enigmatic millionaire at the heart of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic was simply a poor boy named James Gatz. And while actor Leonardo DiCaprio plays the grown-up Gatsby chasing after the American dream, it’s an up-and-coming Australian who portrays his younger self in flashbacks.

Meet 18-year-old Callan McAuliffe, who’s on the brink of something big. Case in point: Just today, news broke (via The Hollywood Reporter) that McAuliffe had landed the lead role in “Our Robot Overlords,” a sci-fi thriller co-starring Ben Kingsley and Gillian Anderson. And while audiences may recognize him from the 2011 big-screen adaptation of Pittacus Lore’s “I Am Number Four,” “The Great Gatsby” is his most high-profile project to date. So what ran through the teen’s mind when he learned he’d play DiCaprio’s counterpart?

“Obviously I’m very nervous because it’s pretty big shoes to fill, but I was more than ecstatic inside,” McAuliffe told MTV News while at “The Great Gatsby” premiere in New York.

In person, the actor doesn’t much resemble DiCaprio, necessitating a makeover.

“They gave me blue contacts. They gave me long, blond straight hair. That was a pain in the ass for the next couple of months because I wasn’t allowed to cut it in case we did pick-ups, so I was walking around with a blond mop on my head,” McAuliffe recalled. “But nonetheless, I’m sure there was a little bit of CGI in there somewhere; there has to be. I mean, come on. I looking nothing like the guy, but even still, I’m very grateful that [director] Baz [Luhrmann] went out on a limb and cast me as this character because I certainly wouldn’t have.”

For his part, Luhrmann admitted he did consider using effects to create a young version of Gatsby, but ultimately opted against it.

“There was a moment where I went like, ‘Is this a good idea?’ Is everyone going to go, ‘That’s not Leonardo!’? Should we do a CG trick? And I thought, no,” Luhrmann explained.

And it all worked out for the best, as Luhrmann had only praise to offer his star.

“He’s a young man who’s really got a future,” Luhrmann said. “He had to put up with a lot of difficulties because the weather played havoc with our life. ‘We’re going to shoot. No we’re not. Yes we are.’ And what I was very impressed with was that he waited, and he wasn’t grumpy about it, and then when it was his moment he really gave his all, so that was terrific. He does a great job.”

McAuliffe can next be seen in “Beneath the Harvest Sky” and “Kite.”

“The Great Gatsby” opens Friday.