By: Todd Van Luling
Back on Halloween night in 2003, Kasi Brown found herself talking to her friend and boss Leonardo DiCaprio about whether she would have the energy to go to a party later that evening.
DiCaprio and Brown, his assistant, were in the actor's trailer as they waited to go back to the set of "The Aviator," the film that would eventually earn DiCaprio his first of four nominations in the Best Actor category at the Academy Awards (the latest of which DiCaprio may finally win this Sunday for his role in "The Revenant").
But DiCaprio wasn't interested in that. He wanted to talk about Halloween.
"'Halloween is my favorite holiday,'" Brown recalled DiCaprio telling her. The holiday was Brown's favorite, too, so she asked why.
"His face got serious and he said he liked the anonymity," Brown told The Huffington Post over an email. "He said it was nice to be able to walk amongst people and interact with them without recognition. Just be like everybody else without any expectation."
A note Leonardo DiCaprio gave his assistant, Kasi Brown.
Throughout the fall of 2003, Brown would come to understand this desire, as she was simultaneously embedded into DiCaprio's day-to-day life and entrusted with protecting various aspects of it. Occasionally, when DiCaprio was out of his trailer, Brown would hold an umbrella over his head so that the paparazzi "couldn't snap photos of him making weird faces while he rehearsed," as Brown explained.
Because of their long hours together, Brown and DiCaprio found points of connection. One was Halloween. Another was rap music.
"Leo and I always had fun on set," said Brown. She claimed that they particularly bonded over how they "love[d] to observe people and goof around playing characters, doing accents, whatever."
One recurring joke between the pair involved acting as if DiCaprio were the archetypal celebrity.
"Sometimes, I would pretend that he was the stereotype of an entitled celebrity and when he would ask me to do something, I would bow and in a beaten-down voice say, 'Yes, sir, anything you like sir, anything else, sir?' and he would laugh and tell me to knock it off," Brown said.
On the left, a gift Leonardo DiCaprio gave to the crew. On the right, Kasi Brown.
Brown got the job by way of a particularly lucky connection. In 1999, Brown moved from Kansas to Los Angeles to pursue her Hollywood dream. Her best friend at the time was working as DiCaprio's assistant on 2002's "Catch Me If You Can." When this friend again assisted DiCaprio as he started filming "The Aviator" in Montreal, Brown headed to Canada to hang out with her.
During the day, Brown would visit the set. At night, Brown, her friend and DiCaprio "would go out on the town."
"Those Montreal girls were crazy for him!" said Brown. "One punched me in the arm in a club to get close to him."
So when the set relocated to Los Angeles and her friend moved on to assist Kate Hudson, Brown was already in a prime position to be the replacement. Making it an even more seamless transition was the fact that Brown and her friend have nearly the same name, though with different spellings. And so, Kasi Brown became the new Kayce Brown.
"She asked me if I was interested in taking over the position," Kasi Brown recalled over email. "I thought, why not? It would give me the opportunity, as a filmmaker, to watch Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio work. I'd be an idiot to turn down a learning opportunity like that!"
While on set, Brown learned many things about DiCaprio. He was "very smart." He knew quite a bit about "politics, pop culture, history, you name it." He had a "wicked sense of humor" and would spend his rare down-time chatting with everybody on the set, including crew and extras.
At the end of filming, DiCaprio gave the entire crew embroidered flight bags with a note written in the style of Howard Hughes, the eccentric business tycoon DiCaprio played in the movie.
"He's extremely down to earth, and he likes to share stories and life experiences with people," said Brown.
But Brown also learned from the young actor. Witnessing DiCaprio's relentless devotion to his craft ended up being an inspiration to her.
"On the way to set one day, I saw that he kept stepping on all the cracks and spots on the floor in our path," Brown recalled. "He was playing Howard Hughes, who has OCD, and I realized that he was getting into character."
At the very end of the shoot, Brown even got to act alongside DiCaprio, with Martin Scorsese directing her. The actress that played DiCaprio's mother in the movie wasn't available to do a particular reshoot, so Brown stepped in to play the offscreen ghost for the last scene of the movie.
Brown said that she had memorized the Southern drawl the former actress had used and was able to imitate the original performance. "When they cut, Marty came up to me and said, 'You're an actress!' and Leo stepped off set and said, 'Kasi!' in an impressed voice," Brown said. "They both made me feel really good about my acting and the work that I was doing to learn everything I could on set while assisting Leo."
After they finished filming "The Aviator" and DiCaprio was no longer her boss, Brown and her former club-mate still kept in touch. As Brown worked on her own projects, DiCaprio remained encouraging, inviting her to submit to his production company, Appian Way, and giving feedback on a sketch comedy show she produced nearly a decade later.
Finally in 2015, Brown fulfilled her goal of making her own movie when she wrote and directed the comedy "Gone Doggy Gone" with her partner Brandon Walter. According to Brown, DiCaprio, "gave [her] encouragement all along the way," despite all the years that had passed.
At least from Brown's account, DiCaprio seems to be someone who'd like to achieve being "just like everybody else without any expectation" by helping those around him achieve their own dreams.