Extended transcript: Leonardo DiCaprio


DiCaprio: This is kind of-- (laughs) -- I mean, that was supposed to be the "Wolf of Wall Street" of its time. But it has many more layers to it, as far as a novel is concerned. But yes, I mean, that's what Gatsby did. And that's what's sort of in the undercurrent of it, is the fact that he went into the underworld to make his fortune to belong to the aristocracy of America, and belong.

I mean, they're both about characters that wanted to belong and wanted to have an identity. Certainly Gatsby was one of the most interesting characters I've gotten to play, and [it] works on so many different levels simultaneously.

This, to try to find the motivation of Jordan is a different one. Because he came from a normal upbringing, and you can't pinpoint it to his parents. It's just like I said before. He reverted to a reptilian part of his brain. And that's what was interesting in its own right, Because to me, I see that all around us in the world that we live in, and especially with the youth in America.

It's like the identification of being wealthy seems to be paramount. I mean, trust me, there's a lot of good being done, there's a lot of people doing very good things for the world. But that seems to be sort of rampant everywhere.

Cowan: So much has been made of how much you and Martin Scorsese worked together. But what is it about the relationship between the two of you that just clicks?

DiCaprio: It's interesting, you know. I come from a completely different perspective. My whole generation of friends, ever since I became an actor, we admired the films from the '70s, the era when the director was God. They had artistic control. And of course, there's a few that rise to the top, and at the top of that list was Marty's work with Bob. That relationship with De Niro and Scorsese is legend. It's the greatest sort of cinematic relationship ever.

Cowan: Was it your dad, actually, who pointed out the partnership between De Niro and Scorsese at first?

DiCaprio: Yeah. I remember my father taking me, I believe it was maybe to "Midnight Run," and saying, "You want to know what a great actor is? You want to watch a great actor, Leonardo?" I go, "Yeah. Yeah. Sure." "He's that guy right there."

And as soon as I got "This Boy's Life" with De Niro, I obsessively watched all of their films together. And, you know, that's a very impressionable age. And when you watch films like that, the threshold of what they accomplished, the bar is set so high (laughs) that you sort of say, "Okay. I gotta dig deep. And I wanna do something close to this good in my lifetime."

And that thirst never goes away. So, my approach in wanting to work with Marty was, okay, I want to work with my favorite director of all time. And hopefully when I'm in the position to be able to finance a movie some day, I'll get to work with him. So, since then, it's been this long relationship of trust. I think we've learned to trust each other more and more implicitly as each film goes along.

But what's been great is the collaboration and the fact that we've oftentimes gotten to discover what the film is while we're creating it. And ["Wolf fo Wall Street"] was, I think, the culmination of a lot of that relationship, this film. This was a huge collaboration on our part.

Cowan: Being the film historian that he is, you've said that he's taught you more about film and the art of film than probably anybody ever could.

DiCaprio: Yeah. It's just amazing. I mean, he is an encyclopedia. The man lives and breathes cinema. There's nothing that you can talk to him about that doesn't reflect--

Cowan: Come back to movies?

DiCaprio: -- and come back to movies. (laughs) Even if he's talking about a moment where he, you know, had a walk in the park with his daughter, he'll talk about a Fellini film or a Polish film that (laughs) had a similar shot, and start talking about that movie. You know what I mean?

That's how he grew up. It's so interesting coming from the sort of violent streets of New York, his connection with his father was through cinema. He was an asthmatic child and they got to connect through that. I believe that he's watched every film ever made up until 1980 or something like that. And so, my appreciation of film as an art form, as sort of the great modern art form, has been incredibly escalated as a result of my relationship with him. And it's ongoing.

Cowan: And your production company really, in large measure, sounds like [it] was formed as a way for you to sort of go outside the studio system and find scripts that you really were interested in, not just the regular studio fare.

DiCaprio: Well, it's interesting. 'Cause after obsessively watching movies when I was 15 years old, and I spent about a year doing it, and then getting opportunities after "This Boy's Life" and "Gilbert Grape," I started to notice that a lot of the things I was being offered were just, frankly, not that great.

Cowan: (laughs) They just didn't interest you?

DiCaprio: They just didn't interest me. And I guess they weren't different enough. My father was a huge sort of catalyst in pushing me towards more interesting films at an early age -- things like "Total Eclipse," which not many people have seen, which is about the great poet Arthur Rimbaud.

He kind of put it into a modern-day perspective for me in saying, "Look, this guy was kind of the James Dean of his time. He was a great poet, he was a radical, he was a rebel. He sort of revolutionized that art form. Just take a look at that, Leonardo. Take a look at that."

And so, therefore my taste kind of shifted. And I think the production company was in large part formed to try to go seek out material that I wasn't getting from the studio system. Oftentimes, studios give you great material. But by the time it's gone through that process, it becomes something different. It becomes something that from the onset is sort of -- I don't want to say sanitized, but packaged version of its initial inception.

Cowan: I mean, it seems like with "Wolf of Wall Street," you ended up making the movie you wanted to make.

DiCaprio: Very much so, yeah.

Cowan: Which is rare. Right?

DiCaprio: Very, very rare. And that was my pitch to Marty on this one. Because we were supposed to do it, really, seven years ago. And I think he had a little bit of resistance about the distastefulness of the subject matter with the studio.

And I think that he basically said to me, "Look. I've been doing this for way too long to get this type of resistance. Unless we're able to do this in a very real, authentic way, I I'm not really interested."

So you know, he went on to do another film and I sort of waited. And I was going to put it together with another director. But I kind of said to myself, "He's the only one that can capture this part of our culture and have the sense of humor with these characters and really give the actors enough time to have the freedom to portray these people." So, I waited until I got the right financing, the right people that would allow us to make the movie we wanted to make.