Cowan: "The Wolf of Wall Street" really was a passion project for you, wasn't it?
Cowan: Ever since you found the book.
DiCaprio: Probably about seven years ago, when I picked up the novel. And I was kind of enveloped by his honesty of his debauchery.
Cowan: "Warts and all"?
DiCaprio: Yes, everything. I mean, there's nothing he didn't divulge about this incredibly hedonistic time period during his life. And if you're going to do a sort of portrait of this culture and put it up on screen, you want to start on a basis of somebody being very honest. And that's what I appreciated about the novel, and certainly after 2008 I became really obsessed with putting this up on screen.
Cowan: Why so obsessed? What was it that you thought would make such a compelling story?
DiCaprio: 'Cause the world that we live in seems to be very surreal sometimes, you know. And certainly after the economic crash, the blatant corruption and this incessant need for more is a part of our culture. I see it all around me.
And doing this movie, we wanted to put that darker nature of humanity up on screen, like you said, warts and all. We were doing a press conference recently and people were talking about the sort of crudeness of the characters in this movie. And Marty said something very pertinent: "Why should I be polite about my portrayal of these people? They weren't polite, you know? What they were doing wasn't polite. So I'm not gonna make a movie that's polite about them."
Cowan: And you said that the whole hedonism aspect of his life really carried out on set. You guys acted like you were some sort of Roman emperors -- I mean, there was nothing that wasn't sort of allowable.
DiCaprio: Yeah. (laughs) Absolutely. Well, he infused that attitude in all of us. More so than that, it was, you know, we had no moral compass. None of the characters really had, except for my first wife in the film, none of us have any sort of moral high ground. It's just about consuming as much as possible and feeding every primal urge and giving into the sort of reptilian part of our brain. (laughs)
And so, Marty created an environment where we got to improvise and anything goes. And it was incredibly reflective of what these people were doing at this time. And so, you know, that attitude permeated through every cast member.
Cowan: And he said because it was that way, it was almost experimental, in a way, right? 'Cause you sort of just went with it?
DiCaprio: I've never really done a film quite like this. I've worked with Marty [before]; this is my fifth movie with him now. But I kind of realized doing this film that plot is almost irrelevant to him. (laughs) Truly. I mean, it--
Cowan: He's all about character.
DiCaprio: He's all about character. And as you've seen in so many of his films in the past -- these masterpieces, "Taxi Driver" or "Raging Bull" -- the characterization of these people and approaching them in a way that is nonjudgmental, even if you're exploring the darker nature of who they are, is what he does.
Because he's said many times in the past, "I don't know who I would've been if I'd grown up in a different environment. So I'm not gonna impose my judgment on them." And I think that those types of films last because he's being very honest about them. And he's therefore reflecting something about humanity.