Scorsese's Lion Roars

Maui Time | September 30, 2006
Scorsese’s Lion Roars About His Master

Leonardo DiCaprio

By Cole Smithey (1525 words)

Ever since Leonardo DiCaprio’s career shot into the celebrity stratosphere with the thunderous success of “Titanic,” the gifted young actor has guarded his talent with a defiantly defensive temperament, as if someone would come along and take it all away. He seemed to take the failure of his “Titanic” follow-up “The Beach” (Danny Boyle) personally, and turned a laser-like determination toward choosing large-scale projects with Steven Spielberg (“Catch Me If You Can”) and primarily Martin Scorsese (“Gangs of New York” and “The Aviator”). With “The Departed” DiCaprio completes a trilogy of films under the direction of America’s preeminent master filmmaker.

In the movie Leonardo DiCaprio plays Billy Costigan, a rookie undercover cop in South Boston where he infiltrates the Irish mob run by Frank Costello (played with volcanic energy by Jack Nicholson). Billy’s problem with Frank’s do-or-die trust is exacerbated by the presence of Frank’s secret mole in the police department, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). Screenwriter William Monahan (“Kingdom of Heaven”) adapted “The Departed” from the successful Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs” (directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak), and the result is a flawless police thriller filled with top-drawer performances all around, especially from one Mr. Leonardo DiCaprio.

CS: What were your influences for developing your character's violent temper?

DiCaprio: I guess by watching Martin Scorsese movies, right? It's not really familiar to me, that form of immediate violence, but that's what you do as an actor. If you can't draw upon anything in your real life, you go meet people that have done these sorts of things and part of the process for me was going to Boston--I had never spent any time there--sort of learning about the Boston subculture, meeting some of the real people who were around during the late '80s, sort of the whitey era, we may call it. But I really wanted to meet some guys from south Boston. I met a guy in Los Angeles and spent a lot of time with him. He told me a lot of stories about the streets there.

Boston's a really interesting place because everyone knows each

other's business. It's like a little microcosm there and everyone waves to each other on the street and they all have overlapping stories. But for me, it was very important to meet some of the real characters and get to know them and hear some stories. You can read books, and I read a few books, but to be able to

penetrate some of these guys, their minds, and really get deep into what they were thinking was important.

CS: Was there anything that stood out from your adventures?

DiCaprio: Matt [Damon] actually went on a crackhouse raid with cops.

We had a great technical advisor named Tom Duffy who was there throughout the entire filmmaking process who knew the entire history of Boston and knew what the streets were like and the police gave us unbelievable advice. He was there constantly, but Matt went on those raids.

CS: Were you familiar with the Hong Kong film?

DiCaprio: Yeah, I mean we all [the actors] watched it. And we all enjoyed the film,

but I think we had to separate ourselves from it to a certain extent. Certainly, the construct and the skeleton of the story is very similar in this version, but it's dealing with an entirely different underworld. It's dealing with Irish-Americans in Boston and we watched it very early on but we also had to forget a lot of those elements because we knew that we had to invent an entirely

different film.

CS: I’m sure you have more than a few Jack Nicholson stories to tell.

DiCaprio: Well, as far as Jack was concerned, we kind of expected the unexpected. We knew that Jack Nicholson joining up with Martin Scorsese to play a gangster is something that, I think, a lot of movie fans have been waiting for. For me, there were a number of different scenes where I had no idea what was going to happen. One scene in particular--we did the scene one way, and I remember Jack speaking to Marty because he didn't feel that he was intimidating enough. It was one of the table scenes. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life as far as being an actor is concerned. I remember coming into the scene one way, and then I came in the next day and the prop guy told me, “Be careful, he's got a fire extinguisher, a gun, some matches, and a bottle of whiskey.’ Ok, so some things are in the film that he did that day and some things aren't. I’m playing this guy that has to relay to the audience this constant 24 hour panic attack that I'm going through for my life, surrounded by people that would literally blow my head off if I gave them any indication of who I was, coupled with the fact that I'm sitting across the table from a homicidal maniac that will maybe light me on fire. It gives you, I don't want to say as an actor a sense of fear, but as a character a whole new dynamic. And it completely altered the scene in a completely different direction. I think we all knew that if he [Jack Nicholson] came on board that he would have to grab the reins with this character, and let him be freeform and we all were completely ready for that every day that we walked up on the set. He had a short run. He filmed his scenes and then he left, but those were some of the most intense moments of the film for me certainly, and as a human being as a person. There were some memories that I will never forget.

CS: How did you relate to the script when you first read it?

DiCaprio: I received the script and it was really Bill Monahan's work. Here was this tightly woven, highly complex ensemble piece—this gangster thriller. It's very, very rare in this business where a script lands on your lap ready to go. And this was one of those rare occurrences. There was a certain amount of work, character

development, taking things out, changing dialogue, but to have the construct of the story there and really complex characters there, duplicitous characters, information, disinformation, plot twists, all leading to a satisfying ending is something that you hardly ever get to in this business. So I know I got the script around when Marty got the script and we just talked to each other and it was one of those things that we really didn't need to discuss. He really wanted to do it. I really wanted to do it. And for a lack of a better term, the rest is history.

CS: Your role in “The Departed” is uniquely entertaining because you share a weird symmetry with Matt Damon’s character. It’s a strange unity of opposites.

DiCaprio: Certainly, I've said it before, they're two sides of the same coin. They're products of their environment. They make certain choices early on in their own lives that affect everything that goes on in the film. But for us, I think the working experience was interesting because it was almost like we were shooting two entirely different films, and of course they intersected at moments but they were two different films and they were entirely completely different experiences. Matt is an unbelievable actor, he really is. I enjoyed the moments I had with him. I think there's a lot of really, really interesting characters in this film, that's what I love about Mr. Scorsese's work--that he not only gives the same appreciation to the entire film and the construct of the film, but he really lets the audience engage with every character no matter how small they are. Each character is fulfilling.

CS: What is it about Martin Scorsese as a director and a person that

attracts you to his films?

DiCaprio: Well, I'm a fan of his work, number one. The truth is, I suppose for me it all started wanting to work with him doing “This Boy's Life” with Robert DeNiro and getting familiar with Robert DeNiro's work. Obviously that means Martin Scorsese's work as well. So I became a fan of his work at a very early age. If you asked me who I wanted to work with starting out in the business, it would have been Martin Scorsese, and I got fortunate enough to work with him on “Gangs of New York” in 2000. I think from there--I don't have an exciting term for it other than we have a good time working together and we have similar tastes as far as the films we like. He certainly has broadened my spectrum as far as films that are out there in the history of cinema and the importance of cinema. And it really brought me to different levels as an actor. I look at him as a mentor.


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