I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that Leonardo DiCaprio is my favorite actor working in the film industry today. I enjoy watching a lot of actors’ movies, but when a new DiCaprio film comes out, it’s a major event for me. I’m fascinated by his career trajectory from a child actor into one of the biggest stars in the world, his ability to make incredibly smart decisions, and his track record working with top-notch directors like Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Ridley Scott, Sam Mendes, Christopher Nolan, Danny Boyle, and, of course, Martin Scorsese.
This past Sunday, DiCaprio stopped by the Cinerama Dome at the Hollywood ArcLight to talk about his fifth collaboration with Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street (our review here). During a 30-minute Q&A after the film (moderated by Pete Hammond, ugh), the actor spoke about the challenge of getting this movie made in the current entertainment biz climate, the most difficult scene he had to film (spoiler alert: it involves ham and KY jelly), and how it was actually his idea to incorporate Matthew McConaughey’s chest-beating chant into the final movie.
On the controversy surrounding the film since its release:
I think it’s interesting, but I think it’s pretty cool. You think of films like the original Scarface, or even Al Pacino’s Scarface, or some of these films that they had to put some sort of didactic beginning where they had to explain to an audience that this is a cautionary tale – Marty was ferocious in saying, ‘Look, I’m going to be unapologetic about who these people are.’ If there’s a reaction, in a way, to me that means it’s somewhat groundbreaking. It shakes the foundation of society in a weird way. I’m not saying this film’s going to change the world, but it takes a lot of chances. There are no films like this in the marketplace. There’s nothing like this. You will not see a major Hollywood epic with this kind of atrocity in it. It doesn’t exist because it doesn’t get financed. It just doesn’t happen.
Marty, very specifically, he wanted to do this film because he felt like this is a reflection of where our society is going. Jordan gives into every possible temptation and has complete disregard for anyone except himself and the almighty dollar, and we both think that that’s one of the most destructive attributes of human nature. And it’s becoming even more destructive as we ever increase in population and move on into the future.
On Scorsese’s approach to the material:
Marty’s approach to this was not to have this film have a didactic ending. Not to teach a lesson here. It was a reflection of Jordan’s life. Marty’s approach in doing films like Goodfellas or any of these portrayals is to portray them as honestly as he possibly can. To be unapologetic about their actions. Then we can somehow, as an audience, insert ourselves into their mindset. Ultimately, that’s why his films are so powerful: they’re about the darker nature of who we are, and we do learn something from these people.
On taking drug-trip lessons from the real Jordan Belfort:
I spent many, many months with him. I literally videotaped him while he was imitating what it was like to be on ‘ludes. He was rolling around on the floor and slobbering, and I said, ‘Go further! Tell me exactly what it was like.’
On whether or not everything in the film actually happened:
None of it’s really made up. The only thing that’s slightly glorified is that conversation on the boat, because [the real Jordan] did have a telephone conversation with them [FBI agents] but we wanted to push it up a notch and make it on my yacht with the hot chicks and the caviar and lobster and all that. But even the plane crashing on the way to get him, the boat sinking, every single one of these things absolutely happened to him and none of it is glorified whatsoever.
On the film’s original ending, and why it changed to what it is now:
The original concept of the script was the irony of somebody who had screwed so many people over going to a country club institution where he doesn’t really get properly punished. And then he gets out and recreates himself in America. That was the original ending, but I think Marty wanted to have the perspective of the audience looking back, a mirror image of the audience looking back onto itself and what we are like – a reflection of America in a lot of ways.
On having one of the best-known actor/director collaborations in film history:
It’s bizarre to think about that. I grew up in L.A. and most of my friends are actors and all we did was watch Scorsese/De Niro movies. That’s all we did. When I think of a Scorsese relationship, it’s those two.
On incorporating Matthew McConaughey’s chest-beating mantra into the film:
That mantra, [Matthew McConaughey] was doing this as an acting exercise. He was beating his chest like an Indian to expand his voice. And I said to Marty, ‘We should film him doing this.’ So we started filming, and it expanded more and became like a rap from the eighties, and then when I was doing all those speeches later on, I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to bring that mantra back as sort of the Indian war cry of greed? Let’s get everybody to do it and have it be this insane Indian dance.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, go for it.’
On the comedy in The Wolf of Wall Street:
We approached this very much like any other film. It became comedic because of the absurdity of these people’s lives. Marty also intended Goodfellas, for example, to have comedic elements to it. But his approach was to try to be as authentic to what these people were as he possibly could and we knew that a lot of the stuff was going to be absolutely absurd and hilarious. Those are the kind of comedies that I laugh at, anyway – something that comes from a grounded place. Not that this film is grounded…so I didn’t really think about the comedy aspect of it, to tell you the truth. I didn’t think about trying to be funny, it was just the hedonistic environment we were in day to day.
On the most difficult scene to shoot:
The one I remember the most was doing that Quaalude sequence – not only having to get a chiropractor for a week afterward, but that one day I was doing CPR on Donnie after doing the cocaine and seeing Popeye and try to save his life, I remember we had built this entire rig to get that angle of me doing CPR. There were a hundred people around, trying to protect the shot. We set it all up, and he’s got to spit up ham on my face. It was a combination of ham and KY jelly. I asked the prop guys, ‘How are we going to get this ham on my face? How are we going to do it?’ They tried to throw ham on my face, and it wouldn’t stick. We had to do probably about 70 takes and their only suggestion was a plastic catering spoon with ham and KY jelly, and a guy was under the rig just like this [mimics a guy flinging stuff at his face with the spoon]. It took about 70 times for that piece of goddamn ham to stick on my face.
The Wolf of Wall Street is in theaters now.
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