Leo DiCaprio: What I learned from Martin Scorsese

Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar-nominated star and producer of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” was greeted with howls of delight by more than a thousand fans who braved the threat of a supersized snowstorm Thursday in New York City.

He was joined by his movie’s Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, Terence Winter, and three-time Oscar-winning film editor Thelma Schoonmaker for a 30-minute discussion at the Ziegfeld Theatre. The panel was the highlight of Bowtie Cinemas’ “The Collaboration of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio,” a two-day retrospective of their five films. Kent Jones of the New York Film Festival moderated. (Scorsese couldn’t attend; he’s in Berlin with his new documentary, “The New York Review of Books.”)

“Working with Marty has been beyond my wildest dreams,” says DiCaprio. “I grew up in a generation of actors that really admired the works of the 1970s, and at the top of the list was Marty. I can’t put into words everything I’ve learned from him. Cinema is in his DNA.”

Their teamwork began with “Gangs of New York” (2002) and continued with “The Aviator” (2004), “The Departed” (2006) and “Shutter Island” (2010). But the international movie star says their partnership has “really culminated” with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which is Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actor and Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill).

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He has invested seven years into turning Jordan Belfort’s outrageous memoir about sex, drugs and stocks and bonds into a movie, and it’s been paying off in big dividends. Box Office Mojo reports that ”The Wolf of Wall Street” is now Scorsese’s highest-grossing hit, surpassing $300 million worldwide. Plus, it’s earned DiCaprio his first Critics’ Choice Award and his second Golden Globe.

“We had an incredible script from the onset,” says DiCaprio, but Scorsese encouraged the cast to improvise and “infused all the actors with the idea that we were in a modern-day Roman empire. Our characters were to give in to every amoral temptation. We were hedonistic to extremes. It was incredibly exciting. It was like a giant Hieronymus Bosch painting.”

Scorsese also knew where to locate the laughs, says Schoonmaker. “I was roaring at the dailies. It was tremendous fun. I remember [the wide shot] where Leo [is on Quaaludes] and dragging himself across the ground to get to the car. I asked Marty, ‘Didn’t you shoot any closeups?’ And he said, ‘No, no, no. The humor is in there in the master shot.’ And he was dead-right.”

As for the debate over whether “Wolf” glamorizes a debaucherous stockbroker’s rise and fall, DiCaprio says, “We’re not glorifying this world [of greed and excess]. We’re doing this [film] as a reaction to the chaos in our culture. It culminates in how the movie ends. Some of these people don’t get punished properly. We didn’t cut away to the victims. That’s why Marty’s so brilliant. He doesn’t judge his characters. He puts you in the mindset of those people and says, ‘Let’s create a dialogue for that.”’

Controversy is nothing new to Scorsese, who also directed “Taxi Driver,” ”The Last Temptation of Christ” and “Raging Bull.”

Schoonmaker added, “People used to ask, ‘Why make a movie about Jake LaMotta?’ Well, I think it’s held up pretty well.”

Though he and Scorsese come from different generations, DiCaprio says they both like to see the bigger picture in cinema: ”I always feel like a kid in the industry. I’ve been acting since I was 13 and I’m almost 40. And here’s Martin Scorsese at 71. He’s taught me so much, and he’s still pushing the edge of the envelope [with ‘Wolf’]. I really want more films like this to get made. It’s a grand American epic where it’s truly the director’s vision. Sometimes, it’s gonna be disturbing and dark. Sometimes, it’s gonna be hilarious. It may be misinterpreted, but that is what we wanted to put on-screen, and that is what I’m absolutely most proud of.”

(The Scorsese-DiCaprio series wraps up Friday with “Gangs of New York,” “Shutter Island” and “Wolf.” Info: bowtiecinemas.com.)


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