It isn’t easy getting a movie made, even for guys like Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese. Then again, considering the duo was out to make a movie about a notorious stockbroker with an insatiable sexual drive, obsessive lust for drugs and habit of indulging in highly debauch activities, it is somewhat understandable that studios were hesitant to bring Jordan Belfort’s story to screen.
The Wolf of Wall Street covers Belfort’s (DiCaprio) rise in the stockbroking realm in the 1990s. He walks in hungry for money, but strives to attain it honestly. However, the instant he gets a taste of life with the big bucks, it flips a switch and he’s got no problem throwing all of his morals out the window in exchange for enormous paychecks, an endless supply of Quaaludes and the ability to keep his firm on top, even if he has to scam his clients to make it happen. Hit the jump for more.
To ring in The Wolf of Wall Street’s Christmas Day debut, DiCaprio and Scorsese as well as Rob Reiner who plays Belfort’s father, Kyle Chandler who steps in as the FBI agent trying to bring Belfort down, writer Terence Winter, producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff, and the guys who took the plunge and gave the project a chance, Red Granit’s Joey McFarland and Riza Aziz, hit the press circuit in New York City. The gang talked about finding the material, financing the production, the soon-to-be infamous Quaalude overdose scene and loads more, and you can catch it all for yourself in the press conference transcription below.
Question: This is the fifth film that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have done together. It’s the second film on which Leonardo has served as a producer. We know that frequently in Scorsese’s career, there have been projects that have been initiated by the actors rather than himself. In the cases of Raging Bull and King of Comedy, those are projects that were really pushed by Robert DeNiro. And in the case of Wolf of Wall Street, this is material that was discovered by Leonard DiCaprio and developed with Martin Scorsese. Can you two talk about the development of the movie?
LEONARDO DIPCAPRIO: About six years ago, I picked up this novel by Jordan Belfort, which was a fascinating read simply because I felt like his biography was a reflection of everything that’s wrong in today’s society. This hedonistic lifestyle, this time period in Wall Street’s history where Jordan basically gave into every carnal indulgence possible and was obsessed with greed and obsessed with himself essentially. He was so unflinching in his account of this time period and so honest and so unapologetic in this biography, I was compelled to play this character for a long period of time. We almost got the financing during Shutter Island and the film fell apart, but I was obsessed with having Marty direct this film. Terry Winter wrote an incredible screenplay that I think was really catered to Marty’s strengths and his style, and so it was a long waiting period to get this film financed and finally, our friends here at Red Granite said, ‘Look, we want to take a chance on this film. We want it to be a grand American epic of greed and pull no punches, push the envelope, and go the distance with it.’ So I re-approached it and brought it back to Marty and said, ‘Look, we really don’t get opportunities like this very often. These things really don’t come out of the studio system.’ And thankfully he agreed to do the film again and here we are.
MARTIN SCORSESE: I came into it I think when [Leonardo] gave me the script and then I met Terry and the meeting was about coming up with a television series, which became Boardwalk Empire. [Laughs] But in any event, I read the script and as in many, many times for me, when something is given to me by other people, I don’t necessarily respond to it right away. King of Comedy was 10 years before I was able to come around to it. Raging Bull took six years, seven. I have to find my own way with it, I think. I had in mind to do another film, but we had just finished Departed and that’s when we tried to get the financing of The Wolf of Wall Street and we found a lot of resistance from the studios for that. And I wonder having gone through Departed and having gone through some tougher films, the issue is it worth fighting that process because it’s all about fighting that, unfortunately. It isn’t about good people, bad people. It’s about what they need, what we want to do, what we could deliver for the market place that still we feel is strong with the kind of work we do and could you go through it again. It may not be worth it. It just isn’t at a certain time in your life. And so, at the same time, the market came apart, September 2008, and we decided to do Shutter Island. And after that, [it] came back again, came back again, but I owed Hugo. I wanted to do Hugo. The reasons why I wanted to do Hugo are personal. And after Hugo is when we finally pulled it all together. As I said, the opportunity was back and I thought I found a way that I could approach the material in a different perspective from my other films.
Terry, do you want to talk about writing the script?
TERENCE WINTER: I read the book in galley form somewhere in 2007. Read it in one sitting. I just could not put it down. I couldn’t believe that what I was reading was actually a true story about a person who actually was still alive at the end of it. [Laughs] Just hilarious. Leo came on board. I had the luxury of being able to then proceed to write the script with Leo’s voice in my head, knowing that, god willing, Marty would also be directing it. I set about the research process. I met with Jordan several times – lunches, dinners, had dinner with his parents who are absolutely lovely, his ex-wife, spoke to the FBI agent who arrested him who assured me that every single thing in that book was true, which was even more incredible to me. I went out to Stratton Oakmont, his house, I actually had Jordan come in to CAA and give one of those incredible speeches to a room full of assistants to see him actually do it, which was pretty incredible. And I think the early conversations about the writing were that I really wanted to preserve Jordan’s voice. The whole idea of his observations about things, the various stages of being high, that sort of thing, is it didn’t necessarily lend itself to dialogue, but were really incredible and fascinating and compelling, and we had had some conversations about maybe approaching the script in that style where you’d actually hear Jordan’s observations and once I had the license to go do that, I wrote the script and Marty and Leo took it from there.
JOEY MCFARLAND: First and foremost, Riza and I read the book around the time that it first started with Leo and we watched it collapse and our relationship with Leo was pretty strong through our investors and different circles, and he had always said it was one of the most compelling characters he had ever read and it was at the top of his list of projects that he wanted to see get made. So we dove in. We went and met with Jordan who at the time had taken the rights back from Warner Bros. because they had reverted. He was very hesitant about giving them up because the movie had died and had been on the shelf for so long. He wanted to be make sure that the next people who took it over were actually gonna see it through. So it was a very, very tough decision for him and it took a significant amount of meetings and a lot of trust, and it wasn’t about the purchase, it wasn’t about the money; it was about getting the project made and we assured him that as a new company, this was our springboard into what we saw our place in Hollywood. It was a movie that we feel didn’t belong in a studio because of the way we hoped Marty and Leo would push the envelope. Little did we know how far they would push it, [laughs] but that’s a whole ‘nother story, but we love it. And so he took a chance on us, we took over the underlying rights and then circled back to Warner Bros. and got into the negotiations of the actual screenplay because it was living on the shelf in there and as everyone knows, it’s not easy to extract a script from a studio because I think the only thing worse than not making the film is watching someone else make a film and it go on to be extremely successful and they are the ones that let it go. But ultimately, they did not want to stand in the way of Leo and Marty, they valued their relationships, they blessed the project and we were off to the races. Leo finally was able to introduce Riza and I to Marty, actually at the premiere of Hugo I think was the first meeting. We met you, you had took the time to give us a chance and, financing aside, these guys believed in us as much as we believed in them. It was a huge opportunity and we couldn’t be happier to have that opportunity. Riza and I, we’re successful in gaining the financing behind us, we have a team of investors overseas that value our taste in material and the belief in our ability to execute and really, we were off to the races. Once these guys said yes, it was one fast ride. They wasted no time, Leo was finishing Django at the time. I believe you came off three films, back to back to back, and this was a very, very challenging movie. I think we shot 87, 88 days and Leo probably shot 86 of them and of course Marty did as well. In New York, not easy. But luckily we had miss Emma here who was there just greasing the wheels along the way and making sure it was a flawless, smooth production and getting these guys everything they needed.
EMMA TILLINGER KOSKOFF: I have had the great privilege of working with Marty for many, many years and really, as soon as Riza and Joey, once it all came together and they said we’re off to the races, it was really where I kicked into high gear and helped put together an ace New York production team. The script was influx, everyday we were met with new challenges that these guys didn’t bat an eye to, and it was a very challenging but fun experience and we all couldn’t have done it without them. Leo was amazing, Marty, everyone just got down and dirty and went for it.
Marty, I heard a rumor that you’re going to retire. Is that true? And I also heard there were cuts made to avoid an NC-17 rating.
SCORSESE: You’ll have to stop me yourself. You’ll have to just tackle me to stop me.
For Leo, you’re walking with a cane today and I wondered if it was the role that put you over. And I understand that there’s a scene with a candle in the movie. You were really giving your all for your art in a way that nobody’s ever seen before. Can you talk about that?
DICAPRIO: The cane is because I sprained my ankle on a floorboard. Nothing as exciting as maybe you hoped it would be. But yes, look, my attitude about doing this movie is we were trying to depict a modern day Caligula and all the debauchery that comes with it so you detach yourself from your own individuality for the accurate portrayal of a character. That’s what we do, so all the stuff that came with it, you know, it was a fun process because there was really no limits to what we could do because Jordan’s biography depicted stuff that we could have never imagined and Terry captured it all from the novel.
SCORSESE: There’s much more in there, of course. In terms of the candle thing, the idea is his wife is really mad at him, she’s very angry, and he’s denying even knowing where he was, what he was doing and so then we show you what he was doing, and he says, ‘Oh, yes!’ [Laughs] ‘Oh, yeah, no. I remember now!’ [Laughs] It’s rather extreme. That means he was really, really out of it in a way and it’s part of the humor of it in a way. It’s in the book.
And as far as our trims with the MPAA, actually, it went rather smoothly, and as you know I’ve been dealing with that system since 1973, Mean Streets, where I had to cut a few lines of dialogue that are now used on regular newscasts and every other word in British newspapers. You know, it was 40 years ago. And so we just worked with them. It got a little difficult because of the time limit. I had to decide which frames, which scenes and I also had to finish the cut of the film and that became rather pressured in a way, but we finally worked it out. Nothing that I would feel in any way I missed.
DICAPRIO: It’s baby vitamins.
SCORSESE: Yes, it helped them.
DICAPRIO: Vitamin B. It certainly burned our noses and we were energized for the day. [Laughs]
Did you have to do multiple takes?
DICAPRIO: Yeah, a lot of it. Yeah, we did a lot of it in this.
Rob, you’re more into directing nowadays than performing, so I’m wondering how you were approached, why you were approached and what made you take the part.
ROB REINER: I don’t know why I was approach. You have to ask Marty about that, but I can tell you that when Martin Scorsese calls to ask you to be in a movie, you just do it. You don’t ask questions. You just do it. He’s one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and when I got the chance, first of all I thought, he wants me to play Leonardo DiCaprio’s father so I thought, well, maybe I’m a lot more handsome than I think. I took it to mean that. But when you go into a situation, I mean, Marty and Leo have worked together on five movies I think now and so they have a shorthand. They’re like family to each other, you know? So it’s always interesting when you’re an actor coming into a situation like this, you don’t know. How are you gonna fit in? And the thing that was such a pleasure for me is that Marty and Leo both make you feel right away at home. You never know as a director what other directors do, you know? Because you don’t get to see what they do. Aside from the fact that [Marty] is one of the great filmmakers of all time and he knows how to use a camera better than anybody, he does the one thing that every director should always try to do, which is he sets a tone and he makes a playground where you can do your best work. And the one thing I did take away from it is, and Marty’s done this so well – he did it in Raging Bull, he’s done it in Taxi Driver, he did it in Aviator, he’s done it many times – he will make the character the story. He is not in a traditional way constructing stories with plot devices and things that go like that. And I do those! Even though I do a lot of character driven movies, I’m kind of married to those kinds of things and what I learned is that he’s gutty. He’s out there on an edge and that’s a good thing because what he does is he lets the characters be the story and in the case of Jordan Belfort, he is the epitome of everything that was bad about deregulated Wall Street. If you’re gonna let the character be the story, you better set a tone that allows the actors to do the best work they can do and so we were allowed to improvise, we were allowed to find things because Marty knows that when an improvised moment comes out of a real situation, it’s gonna have more life and more going on than anything you can imagine and that’s how the character can become the story, so I watched him do that. It was a great, all-time experience for me.