SCORSESE: There was a stack of scripts. The Aviator did very well, and we were looking for a third film, but we didn’t know what the hell it was. What I wanted to do was a down and dirty B film. The Aviator was a spectacle, in a good way. I’m terrified of flying, so I wanted to get in there and throw myself into it. Maybe that fear and that energy propelled a lot of that aura and inspired a lot of the montage of the picture, the textures of the plane, the sexuality of it, and the mental illness. Having done that, I said, “Okay, I just want to free myself and do a picture that’s just a street war.” I didn’t know that until I read the script that Bill Monahan wrote for The Departed. I was somewhat familiar with Infernal Affairs from Hong Kong cinema, but the police are different, in different parts of the world. They’re not necessarily very different, but it’s a different society with the Boston police and the New York police. I just liked the sense of the script. And then, Leo jumped in.
DICAPRIO: I think it was sent to both of us, at the same time.
SCORSESE: There were a couple of other scripts, too. There was one about the actual attack of the real whale that attacked the real whaling ship that Moby Dick was based on. But, I realized that I’d never get out of that picture, with the boats. Forget it! But, we could shoot this one quickly in Boston and make something really strong. It was a film that didn’t give a damn about anything. It just started right off with the street violence. It just all started to develop from there.
Leo, what was it like to work with Jack Nicholson?
DICAPRIO: There’s a confrontation that we have, where he’s basically sussing out whether I’m the rat that I am. There’s a bar scene that we had. And I remember that we spent a day doing the scene and it went okay.
SCORSESE: Yeah, it was good. We shot it with double cameras, and it was seated. It was all about the tension between the two of them. It went very well.
DICAPRIO: But then, Jack came up to Marty after the scene and said, “Look, I don’t know if I feel it.” And Marty was like, “I don’t know if I feel it either.” Jack said, “I don’t think he’s scared enough of me. Maybe that’s it. I think we need to do this again tomorrow, and I think I need to be more scary.” So, all I knew was that, on the call sheet the next day, we were going to do the scene again and get another crack at it. The prop guy, on the way to set, said, “I just want to let you know something for safety purposes that Mr. Nicholson has a bottle of Whiskey, some matches and a gun. I just have to tell you that.” I came in and he was fidgeting with himself, and he had this diagram of all these rats rushing towards the White House. I just sat down. What he wanted to have happen was to pour the Whiskey on the picture of the White House, light it and have the whole table go up in flames, and then there would be a fire in between us. It turned out to be Diet Coke instead of Whiskey because they couldn’t use Whiskey, so [it didn’t light on fire]. But, the energy of what he brought to it created a pretty cool dynamic between the two of us. I remember him actually reaching for the gun and he forgot where it was, and it fell. And then, I was like, “What the hell does he have under there?,” and he looks at it. But, it was great. That’s the great thing about that whole process. [Marty is] willing to give it another shot. He’s willing to wait for the actors, through their characterization, to ultimately tell what the story is. He always sees that as paramount.
SCORSESE: That’s why that particular scene is my favorite scene. It was well written. Bill Monahan’s script was very, very good. But with what was going on with the picture, up until that point, I felt that we could have gotten more, I just didn’t know what. So, after the four takes we did that night, Jack and I looked at each other and I said, “It’s very good, but it needs something.” That’s when he said to me, “I think he’s not scared enough.” So, I said, “We have another half-day on the schedule for this. Why don’t we do it again tomorrow and just see what happens?” He said, “What do you want to do?” I said, “Think of anything you’d like, and we’ll see what we come up with.” So, the next day, we were shooting and suddenly he comes up to me and says, “I’ve got ideas!” I said, “Good. Let’s go!” And I didn’t know that he wanted to burn the table. I didn’t know he had a gun. I said, “Let’s roll!” He was looking at Leo and saying, “Are you the rat?!” I just felt it was so important that Leo convince him that he is not the rat because he is the rat. He’s in that bar. They locked the door. That’s it. He’s dead. Everything can turn, if I don’t believe him. And he’ll make it such that he convinces him because he’ll keep going. I didn’t know about the Whiskey thing, or I would have put real Whiskey in there, but the fire would have been too much. The gun was enough.
Was The Departed fun to make?
DICAPRIO: Yeah. It was a little more stressful than most pictures, truthfully. Everyone was going off to do other movies.
SCORSESE: We were like chopped liver!
DICAPRIO: There were three commitments for other films, and I was there for the entirety of it. We had to work with some doubles at certain times, so it got a little bit frustrating. But being in Boston like that, the culture was percolating everywhere. Everyone that you talked to knew everything about the streets, the history and everything that went on in the underworld. We fed off that. It was great!
SCORSESE: It’s a true story, in a sense. The guy was FBI and he’s in jail now. He did turn. There are these moral issues that get clouded over. It’s wild.
Shutter Island was more of a genre film. How did you decide on that movie?
DICAPRIO: We were going to do Wolf, but that fell apart. And then, this script came along. We have similar tastes, and it just happened that way. It was a very difficult and interesting film to take on. It was especially difficult for me because I had multiple personalities. At the same time, if I gave that away at any point during the narrative, the entire plot structure would cave in. So, it was walking this tightrope with being able to do something that was audacious in a scene and could, on the second or third go-around, be looked at as clinically insane, but in context, you would think that he is just passionate and logical about cracking this case. It was a real tightrope for me, as an actor. It was basically me going a little bit overboard, and Marty going, “Less, kid.” It was a constant process of that. It was very challenging, and it was also very challenging to be outdoors in these windstorms.
SCORSESE: What happens is what they call the director’s disease. My A.D. said, “There’s a storm. Half of the script will be in a storm.” I said, “Come on, it’s a few days of water.” It was a big miscalculation, in terms of that. You think it’s going to be not easy, but that you can get going. If you ever really thought about it, you wouldn’t do it. You think about getting it finished and creating something, but the minute you start to get into it, you realize that there’s no way out. It was the same way with the character. We realized in rehearsal that we were screwed. It was three, four or five levels, in every take.
What was Shutter Island like, as a script?
SCORSESE: How does one do a dream? Usually, an actor wants to know where they came from. They go, “I just came in from the street. I went up the stairs. I opened the door, and there you were.” So, where does the ghost come from? Where has she been? It’s very difficult for actors to stay in a dream state. So, what [Leo] did there is so beautiful. It’s still very moving to me, and I designed the shots. It’s always a problem, doing a dream scene.
DICAPRIO: Yeah, it was right around the same time, we had gotten the opportunity to do Wolf, but I feel like Marty really wanted to make it an American epic. If we’re going to do a film that is putting this very dark part of our culture up on screen, that is also a very comedic one, at the same time, with these characters that are essentially incredibly narcissistic and have no moral compass, we wanted to push the envelope with it. We wanted to be able to portray their lives in an authentic way. And I think he got a little resistance from the studio, initially, so he backed off saying, “Look, if we’re going to do this film, we’ve got to do it the way it should be done.” And we kind of agreed, and the whole thing went on ice for awhile. So, we ended up doing Shutter Island. I had a couple opportunities to do it with other directors, and got down the road with them, and right when it came down to committing, I just couldn’t do it. I really had to have him do it. We knew we weren’t taken on precious American literature. We knew we weren’t taking on The Great Gatsby. We were trying to put this culture up on the screen. And there’s nobody that I knew that would give the actors enough time, through their characterization of these people, to ultimately tell the story. That’s what The Wolf of Wall Street needed. It needed someone that took the time to allow the actors to breathe, to experiment and to improvise, and come up with these moments that are the fabric of the story. I needed that for this movie.
SCORSESE: The Departed worked out very well, for all of us, but it was a struggle. There was a lot of concern from the studio and the studio system, for each word, the sexuality of it, the violence, the racism, and all of those sort of things, and I just didn’t know if I could do it again, or if I would have the energy to go through it again. So ultimately, [Leo] pulled it together, over these last few years. He was able to get Joey McFarland and Riza [Aziz] at Red Granite to be able to finance the picture with total freedom. We went overboard, in the sense of the excess of what they’re doing with the language and the sex, and all that. We had to have the trust to be able to shape it. We had to have that freedom. It couldn’t be done with a studio. That would have been too much for me.
With most directors who have been making films for 40 years, their films get a little slower and a little more stately, as they get older. The Wolf of Wall Street has more energy than any film you’ve ever made. What was that like to do?
SCORSESE: That’s one of the reasons that I didn’t want to do it. It’s hard to get through the day. But Leo, Jonah [Hill] and Margot [Robbie] would give me this extraordinary excitement, and we’d just go. We shot in 87 days. I knew that not only did I have to be there, but after it was finished, I had to live with it for another 10 or 11 months. That’s when you really kick in, in the editing room. I can’t saying, “Ferocious, goddamn it! Ferocious! Kick its ass! Let’s go! Really, go at this scene. Come on, rip it down!”
Leo, did you have to do multiple takes for the big speeches?
DICAPRIO: That was a very interesting. I’d been thinking about these speeches for like six years. To me, they were like Braveheart speeches, but they’re war cries for greed and debauchery, and persuading his co-workers to go screw over as many people over as possible. I had been thinking very meticulously about how to do them, and I had planned out each line. We had a re-writing process, and I honed it down. Even though I knew that every single person there was paid to applaud and cheer me, you felt like you were, Bono. You felt like you were a bona fide rock star. That was a very compelling, interesting moment. I felt closer to what he must have felt like – somebody that had crossed that line of being honest with himself, as far as what he was doing, breaking the law and slowly crossing the line, more and more, and then persuading a gigantic group of people and, in a sense, creating a cult for himself and having to uphold that cult with a surge of energy of lies. I felt very close to Jordan, at that moment, and how he must have gotten lost, completely, with the audience there. There was something about the audience.
SCORSESE: We kept the speeches to the end of the shoot for Leo. The first one – the Steve Madden one – he came in and I saw right away that he was moving differently. His tonsils were infected.
SCORSESE: So, I said, “Just go home.” And I shot other stuff for a day and a half. And then, we shot the Steve Madden scene on a Sunday because we were running out of time. We had to pull it together. And that was the day that Steve Spielberg decided to come and visit. He was coming for an hour, but he hung out the whole day.
DICAPRIO: The actors were not only intimidated to have Marty on the other end of the monitor watching them, but then to have Spielberg and Marty, both sitting there, talking about the scene and watching the actors, everyone was shitting in their pants.
SCORSESE: He was laughing. We had a good time.