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Leonardo DiCaprio reveals his childhood surrounded by drugs as he defends The Wolf of Wall Street role

The actor said he has experienced life at both ends of the income spectrum

In his latest role, he plays a wealthy stockbroker living a life of decadent excess.

But Oscar-nominated star Leonardo DiCaprio has revealed that his own upbringing was poverty-stricken – and that he would never experiment with drugs.

The Wolf of Wall Street actor, who spent the first nine years of his life in a run-down Hollywood neighbourhood, explained that there was a "major prostitution ring on my street corner, crime and violence everywhere".

"It really was like 'Taxi Driver' in a lot of ways," he said.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the 39-year-old talked about being "very poor", as he defended his decision to play the amoral Jordan Belfort in Martin Scorsese’s critically acclaimed The Wolf of Wall Street.

The film received five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. But some critics have called out its amoral portrayal of a life fuelled by sex, drugs and, of course, money.

DiCaprio has publicly defended his role, but his wealth and success have served to weaken his arguments in the eyes of some.

But his latest comments set the record straight. "Who am I to talk about this? It goes back to that neighbourhood. It came from the fact that I grew up very poor and I got to see the other side of the spectrum," he said.

DiCaprio told the Los Angeles Times that acting served as a route out of a life where it was not unusual for him to witness "people smoking crack and shooting heroin".

He would beg his mother to take him to auditions because he hated attending public school.

And when success came, DiCaprio’s early experiences meant that avoiding the wilder excesses of Hollywood proved a "walk in the park" and that he has "never done [drugs]".

The 86 Academy Awards takes places on Sunday 2 March the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Watch the trailer for Wolf on Wall Street