When I emerged from watching The Wolf Of Wall Street, I came away thinking the movie had done for stock brokers what Marathon Man did for dentists. The Martin Scorsese-directed film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as hedonistic drug-addicted stockbroker conman Jordan Belfort, who with dimwitted cohorts plunders his way to such decadence and immorality it’s a wonder he survived long enough to be arrested and sent to prison. The three hours of darkly comic debauchery has in some quarters been met with a “how dare you” reaction, a polarizing response that could be an issue during awards season for the $100 million film financed by indie Red Granite and released domestically by Paramount Pictures. The 71-year old Scorsese has provoked that kind of reaction several times in his career with films ranging from The Last Temptation Of Christ to Goodfellas and Casino, the latter two of which, like Wolf, left behind bitter victims of the mayhem perpetrated by the film’s main characters. The shrapnel is new to DiCaprio, who both starred in and produced the film through his increasingly prolific Appian Way shingle. Here, DiCaprio discusses that fallout and the challenge of trying to uncompromisingly depict bad guys without judging them.
DEADLINE: Appian Way was just building steam when you got involved in producing Jordan Belfort’s memoir Wolf Of Wall Street. Why did Belfort’s story fit into the profile of movies you wanted to make as producer, while sparking you as an actor as well?
DICAPRIO: Coming into it as an actor, I set my entire production company up in order to find material that not only was interesting and out of the box from an actor’s perspective, but that could be developed that way from the original source material. A lot of times, I’d gone through the process of getting a great book or finding a great story, and then too many people get their hands on it and it turns into something entirely different. It is very difficult to reverse that process. When I first picked this up, I found it a cautionary tale written by Jordan. His life is much different now, but he’s looking back and reflecting on a very hedonistic time period where he gave into every possible temptation. Greed was the main motivating factor, and he was unapologetic. He realized he’d completely lost his way, but there was an honesty to it that you rarely find. You rarely find someone willing to vilify themselves so completely and not trying to create false enemies to blame so they don’t have to look inward. Everything Jordan wrote in this book was so raw. The crash of 2008 was a huge motivator for me as well to want to really see what’s going on in our culture that creates people like this. Greed is a timeless virtue. I’ve been talking about greed a lot in interviews, and you can’t pinpoint it to any specific time period, or any civilization or even just human beings. It’s a fundamental characteristic of survival. As we are progressing into the future, things are moving faster and we are way more destructive than we’ve ever been. We have not evolved at all. (more…)