“I’ve always been fascinated with wealth in America,” says Leonardo DiCaprio. “There’s something about the American dream and its corruption. It’s something I always wanted to put up on screen.” He got his wish in the Oscar-nominated Wolf of Wall Street as producer and actor. His director: Martin Scorcese.
The duo revealed all at the recent Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Years ago, Robert De Niro tipped Scorsese off about DiCaprio in a phone call. Said MS, “It’s unusual for Bobby to do this, but he said, ‘I’m working with this young kid; he’s really good. Check him out.’”
Funny thing is MS never saw What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in the movies. “I saw a clip on television and I thought it was a documentary! I realized this was the boy that De Niro told me about.”
Their first collaboration: Gangs of New York. Said LDC, “All the actors of my generation were influenced by films of the seventies, the directors’ era of filmmaking. I remember watching Taxi Driver and having the protagonist really affect me. I really felt a passion for the character. I remember saying to myself, some day I want to do something that good.”
Gangs was a difficult undertaking that was shot in 57 days in Rome, made to look like 19th century New York. Something clicked with this duo and they started their long association.
When LDC wanted to bring the Aviator project to Scorsese, he was warned that he didn’t know anything about aviation. Said MS, “I didn’t know anything about fighting either! I was afraid of both!” Said LDC, “I was fascinated with Howard Hughes. I developed a script.” They worked in Montreal.
“When you are playing a real-life personality, it’s a lot more work to get into character. Here was a billionaire who was simultaneously afraid of microscopic germs. Yet he had a vast empire and was influential.”
The duo reteamed for The Departed because the director wanted to do a down-and-dirty B-film about street wars. It brought him an Oscar. LDC recanted stories about how Jack Nicholson used scare tactics to frighten his character.
LDC‘s character suffered multiple personality disorder in their teaming in Shutter Island. Before, they tried to get Wolf of Wall Street made. But trouble with the studios prevailed.
Scorsese was not sure he wanted to repeat the studio pressure to do it right. LDC found investors and went to bat for him. The rest is history with the film’s five Oscar nominations.
LDC adds, “I didn’t want anyone else as director; I had other opportunities. We knew we weren’t taking on precious American literature or The Great Gatsby. [He tackled that with another director.] There’s nobody I know that could make the characterizations needed to tell this story.” He was right.
It was shot in 87 days. Said MS, “I had to live with it for another 10 months in editing. I said, corrosion, corrosion.”
Wolf’s Oscar-nominated Jonah Hill presented them with their Cinema Vanguard award.
Sue Facter writes about the luxury brand. You can follow her on Twitter @TheFacter.