Leonardo DiCaprio: Honored to be a working actor

This year, when they ask for "The envelope, please ..." at the Oscars, many expect to hear his name announced as Best Actor for his latest film. Lee Cowan tells us how Leonardo DiCaprio fought to get it made:

It ended up, said Leonardo DiCaprio, being the movie he wanted to make.

Which is rare, right?  "Very, very rare," he told Cowan. "I waited until I got the right financing, [and] the right people that would allow us to make the movie we wanted to make."

The movie DiCaprio was so desperate to make was "The Wolf of Wall Street." It's a vibrant and polarizing look at the greed and excess of the bull market of the 1990s -- especially one charismatic, almost cult-like broker named Jordan Belfort.

"You said that it wasn't really until you started doing those speeches that you sort of got the sense of that rock-star quality that he had?' asked Cowan.

"Yeah, they're almost like out of 'Gladiator' or 'Braveheart,'" said DiCaprio. "They're like a war cry to your troops, except they're completely twisted, and encouraging his soldiers to go out there and screw over as many people as possible."

"There is no nobility in poverty. I've been a rich man, and I've been a poor man, and I choose rich every time. At least as a rich man, when I have to face my problems, I show up in the back of a limo wearing a $2,000 suit and a $40,000 gold watch!  … So you listen to me and listen carefully. Are you behind on your credit card bills? Good. Pick up the phone and start dialing. Is your landlord threatening to evict you? Good. Pick up the phone and start dialing. Does your girlfriend think you're a ****ing loser? Pick up the phone and start ****ing dialing! I want you to deal with your problems by becoming rich! I want you to go out and spend money! Leverage yourself, back yourself into a corner, let the consequences of failure become so ****ing unthinkable that you'll have no choice but to do whatever it takes to win!"

DiCaprio was intrigued by Belfort's autobiography, an unvarnished tale of drug abuse, and abuse of his clients, cheating investors out of millions, before going to prison for securities fraud and money laundering.

DiCaprio spent "many months" with Belfort himself. "Certainly he helped me with the Quaalude sequences, because I had no idea what that stuff was like! He re-enacted a lot of that for me. He crawled around on the floor and showed me what it was like."

"Did you like him?" Cowan asked.

"You know, he's a likable guy," DiCaprio said. "His action were deplorable, and he'll admit that. But when somebody's such an open book and is so candid about what they did, and unflinching, you have to appreciate that as an actor, because there's not many people that really do that."

DiCaprio shopped the movie around for seven years, with no takers. Even director Martin Scorsese was reluctant at first.

"Leo was the one who stayed on the project," Scorsese said. "He would just keep coming around telling me more about the project."

"He was pretty persistent?"

"Yes. I said, 'Alright, I'll look at it again, but please don't even let me read it if there's no possibility of doing the picture the way it should be made.'"

"Why so obsessed?" asked Cowan.

"Because the world that we live in seems to be very surreal sometimes," DiCaprio said. "The incessant need for more is a part of our culture, and I see it all around me. And you know, doing this movie we wanted to put that darker nature of humanity up on screen."

His persistence paid off. His performance has already earned him a Golden Globe, and he's up for an Oscar -- his fourth nomination for acting -- and one of five nominations for the film itself.

 

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