A Best Actor nomination is just one award-season reward this year for Leonardo DiCaprio, who not only stars in Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf Of Wall Street but produced the passion project alongside his mentor and five-time collaborator. The dark biopic based on ex-Wall Streeter Jordan Belfort‘s memoirs has sparked debate among audiences — and DiCaprio, speaking with Deadline after Wolf scored four more noms this morning (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Jonah Hill), says that was his and Scorsese’s goal from the start. “I knew that this film was going to be polarizing in some respect,” he said. “We knew that Jordan’s life was written as a cautionary tale but displayed the hedonistic, flagrant world of Wall Street at that time. We wanted for there to be a dialogue about this attitude — his is a very destructive attitude, and what some people don’t get is that is ultimately not a cautionary tale but an indictment of this world.”
DiCaprio won the rights to Belfort’s story in 2007 and began developing it with Scorsese, with whom he’d by then made Gangs Of New York, The Aviator, and The Departed. “I became obsessed with putting it up on screen, certainly after 2008,” he said. “But what Marty does is he doesn’t judge his characters. He ultimately puts these people onscreen as authentically as he possibly can and lets the audience extract what they can from it.”
Even in his fifth go-round with Scorsese, Wolf felt like a different beast for DiCaprio. “As an actor for me this endeavor was like what Marty did with King Of Comedy,” DiCaprio said. “There’s a certain level to acting that’s very precise and there’s one where you improvise and then you re-improvise that improvisation and you have to adapt to the surroundings, and this was one of them. Marty said, ‘Plot is irrelevant to me — what’s relevant is that we portray these people accurately, and that’s going to be the story.’ The nature of who these people are is going to be the narrative, and that’s a wonderful concept. I haven’t done much of that. It’s not often you get the opportunity to do movies that are that loose and take that many chances.”
This is the second time Scorsese has directed DiCaprio to an Oscar nomination following 2004’s Aviator. Their first film together was 2002’s Gangs Of New York (“He was the one director I just wanted to be able to work with once,” DiCaprio recalled) and in the dozen-odd years since their relationship has become increasingly collaborative. By the time Wolf made it out of development after being bounced around at Warner Bros and eventually financed by newcomers Red Granite, DiCaprio and Scorsese’s bond made it easier to make the tough creative decisions. “I’m just thankful that he saw that I had similar tastes and over time things have become more unspoken,” said DiCaprio. “There were a lot of opportunities where we could have taken a traditional approach to this film. That would be, you know, cutting away to the victims, making a clear-cut enemy, having the characters be punished in a traditional manner… But we had to keep reaffirming in ourselves that this was a film that was going to take risks because wanted to tell the truth about the darker nature of who we all are in this film. That means two people who collaborate with one another need to keep reminding each other of that, and that’s what he did with me and vice versa. We had plenty of opportunities to have this character be redemptive and we tried our best to avert from those paths.”
After living in Belfort’s skin for Wolf Of Wall Street, DiCaprio was keen to step away from the character’s dark side. “The truth is that attitude is a very destructive one and I shook it off pretty quick, I’ve got to say. While you’re making that movie you’ve got to be in that mindset but the second I left there it was like being able to take a bath,” he said. “A lot of those sequences that people think are incredible to witness or watch are disgusting. You think about wanting to take a nice cleanse afterward.”
Next up for DiCaprio? “I want to do some environmental work this year – I’ll hopefully work on a documentary on the environment,” he said. “Doing the last three films back to back took a lot out of me. The culmination of that was Wolf of Wall Street, which was an adrenaline rush from beginning to end and you can see the energy that went into it onscreen from everybody. I was so passionate about just making this happen and it took a long time.”
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