Tough-guy Putin calls DiCaprio 'a real man'
Not everyone gets to be called a "real man" by Vladimir Putin himself.
But Russia's tough-guy prime minister awarded that honour to Hollywood heart-throb Leonardo DiCaprio, whose plane had to make make an emergency landing on the way to a summit on tigers in Putin's native Saint Petersburg.
Putin was reading from prepared remarks on tigers when he suddenly spotted the "Titanic" star in the crowd.
The Russian leader then revealed an uncanny knowledge of DiCaprio's difficulties in getting to the conference and described him as a hero who made the tiger cause proud.
"I would like to thank you for coming despite all the obstacles," Putin told DiCaprio, who also pledged one million dollars to the campaign to save tigers from extinction.
"A person with less stable nerves could have decided against coming, could have read it as a sign -- that it was not worth going," Putin said during an extended departure from his address.
The Russian prime minister said DiCaprio had "literally torn his way through to Saint Petersburg", calling DiCaprio "a real man" (or "muzhik") for his persistence.
Putin's comments were briefly interrupted by shouts of "Bravo!" from the audience, forcing a brief smile and acknowledgment from the film idol.
The Russian prime minister then asked DiCaprio, dressed sharply in a black suit and tie, if he spoke any Russian -- to which the Hollywood star replied no.
But DiCaprio revealed that two of his late grandparents were Russian, and that he had always wanted to bring his grandmother to Saint Petersburg.
DiCaprio then called himself half-Russian, the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported.
"Well, you will get to know Saint Petersburg tomorrow and grow proud of your Russian roots," Putin replied.
He ended his speech by walking off the stage and through the aisle to shake a visibly delighted DiCaprio's hand.
DiCaprio was among the passengers on a Delta Airline jet that was forced to make an emergency landing in New York on Monday after losing an engine.
His second plane faced strong headwinds and was required to make an unscheduled refuelling stop in Helsinki, Putin told the audience.
"This is not even funny," said Putin with a smile.
"In our country, they have a saying -- a real man," he concluded.
Putin has carefully cultivated a tough-guy image throughout his political career, using strong language in speeches and practicing judo and even co-piloting a fighter jet in front of the television cameras.
His latest stunt came earlier this month, when Putin burned rubber on a racing circuit in a Formula One car.
© 2010 AFP