Once upon a time in Hollywood, two stars on the rise made a movie with their pals — then fiercely fought for decades to keep it from seeing the light of day.
Those actors, now worldwide superstars, were Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. And the flick is “Don’s Plum” — an ad-libbed, mid-1990s indie film that’s been banned from ever being shown in the US and Canada.
“ ‘Don’s Plum’ was a group of friends saying ‘Let’s all make a movie …,’ ” one of the flick’s producers, Dale Wheatley, recently told The Post. “In many ways, [it] was a love letter to our friends.”
Though rumors and articles have circulated about “Don’s Plum” over the years, court documents, footage of depositions from the actors, images and other materials exclusively obtained by The Post tell the full story of the movie DiCaprio and Maguire never want you to see.
Shot over six days between July ‘95 and March ‘96 in “Clerks-like” black-and-white style, it tells the story of a group of 20-something guys who gather every Saturday night at a Los Angeles diner the film is named for, each with a new girl.
In it, DiCaprio plays rude, standoffish Derek, whose standout lines are: “Do you girls masturbate at all? and “I’ll f–king throw a bottle at your face, you goddamn whore.” He does then throw a glass — at Amber Benson of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame — in a cringe-inducing scene meant to scare the actress away from the set.
Maguire’s character Ian, meanwhile, in one scene — that was cut from the final version of the film at his behest — reveals his unusual masturbation habits.
The characters the stars portray are, “not necessarily who [DiCaprio and Maguire] are,” said Tawd Beckman, one of the producers.
“But of course it is so free-flowing and it seems so natural, that an audience is gonna look at that, look at DiCaprio, look at Maguire and say ‘Oh that’s who they are.’ ”
It’s for that reason Wheatley, Beckman and others suspect DiCaprio and Maguire didn’t want a US audience to ever see their characters on the big screen.
In depositions given as part of a 1998 lawsuit — that resulted in the film being banned in the country — DiCaprio and Maguire said it was because they never meant for the film-school-like project to become a full-length feature.
In the aftermath, DiCaprio moved on to unimaginable fame and star-studded projects, and Maguire got his big break as “Spider-Man.”
But the others involved, like Wheatley, had to live with the fallout: ruined careers, destroyed friendships, divorce and thoughts of suicide.
In the “Don’s Plum” days, DiCaprio was fresh off his Academy Award nomination for “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” Meanwhile, Maguire was trying to build himself as a marketable performer in Hollywood, having just made waves in “This Boy’s Life.”
At the time, they had a growing reputation as obnoxious, skirt-chasing party boys — part of the so-called “Pussy Posse” — a moniker bestowed on the group by Nancy Jo Sales in her seminal 1998 New York Magazine piece “Leo Prince of The City.”
“The group’s core members constitute a frat house of young men, some of whom are actually famous, like Leo …,” Sales wrote. “And then there are the other guys in Leo’s pack, who make up a kind of former-child-actor brigade.”
“Don’s Plum” makes a cameo in the article, with Sales writing that it “may provide an inadvertent glimpse behind the curtain shrouding the secret society of Leo and his friends, mostly because it was made and largely ad-libbed by Leo and his friends.”
Just weeks into moving to Los Angeles, wide-eyed Canada transplant Wheatley says he fell in with the Posse — including DiCaprio, Maguire, Kevin Connolly and R.D. Robb — after an introduction from Jeremy Sisto of “Clueless” fame.
Wheatley was starstruck the moment he laid eyes on DiCaprio — and had his own aspirations of making it big.
“I was obsessed with success … ” Wheatley said. “I didn’t come to L.A. to stare up at the Hollywood sign, I wanted to make something of myself.”
An advantage of hanging with DiCaprio’s crew was that “there wasn’t a club I couldn’t get into, there wasn’t a famous person that didn’t want to meet us,” Wheatley said.
‘We believed we were making a film with our friends and foolishly didn’t pay attention to paperwork.’
“We were really in one of the most-watched circles in Hollywood at the time.”
Wheatley collaborated with aspiring filmmakers David Stutman and Beckman on the project that eventually became “Don’s Plum.”
DiCaprio was in.
“Having that guy in your corner obviously means that the rest are probably going to follow him,” Wheatley said. “That’s exactly what happened. Everybody got excited about the experiment.”
Former child actor Robb, who appeared in 1983’s “A Christmas Story,” was tapped to direct. Later, as Sales would note for NY Mag — he was “‘expelled’ from the [Posse], according to someone still inside it, for attempting to spin the film’s straw into the Leo gold of a commercial release.” Robb didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Stutman went to Beckman’s dad, Jerry Beckman — who helped to create the Happy Meal and Monopoly — for about $70,000 in funding.
When it came to contracts — the naive first-time filmmakers went with handshake deals.
“We believed we were making a film with our friends and foolishly didn’t pay attention to paperwork,” Wheatley said. “‘Don’s Plum’ was on the road to failing because of our inexperience and our lack of prep.”
To take the project to the next level, the amateurs brought on two experienced producers, John Schindler and Gary Lowe.
As the group filmed in the LA diner, Wheatley said he was amazed at the “improvs that were coming out.”
On DiCaprio’s last day on set, “we’re outside by the car and I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude,” Wheatley said.
“I just can’t believe what he has done for us. And I’m expressing that … and I give him this really big hug … ” Wheatley recalled. “And then he just says ‘just make me look good.’ God damn it. You know he’s like ‘just make me look good.’ And it was like something happened for me, in terms of like a responsibility, not to him alone.”
After his two days of filming on “Don’s Plum,” DiCaprio flew off to work on 1996’s “Marvin’s Room” with Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro.
With an additional shoot, that DiCaprio wasn’t involved in, the team had about 30 hours of actual film and Wheatley was fired up about having done what he believed was near-impossible — a feature on his first try.
“Nobody expected that we could pull off the kind of movie that deserves a full-on theatrical release, a big festival run … ” he said. “We pulled it off, and you know, we finally got there.”
Beckman added that, especially for Robb and Stutman: “There was this idea that we’re going to make millions of dollars from this film.”
“And everybody’s going to be big, all of the careers are going to open up for us … as opposed to getting our foot in the door they were like, ‘This is our path to kick it down.’ ”
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