As far back as he can remember, Leonardo DiCaprio always wanted to be a Martin Scorsese actor. “I remember my father taking me to see one of his movies,” the actor recalls. “He said, ‘If you have the opportunity and a green light in this industry, there’s one person you should work with.” It was the director of “Mean Streets,” “Goodfellas,” “Raging Bull,” “After Hours.” When DiCaprio became the biggest actor in the world, it wasn’t too long before he was headlining Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York.”
Their fifth film together — including “The Departed” and “Shutter Island” — was DiCaprio’s idea. He read “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a tell-all memoir by unfathomably hedonistic broker Jordan Belfort that he felt would fit Scorsese’s sensibilities, in addition to being sobering commentary.
“I thought [his book] was a reflection of everything that was wrong with today’s society,” he says, chuckling. “Jordan gave into every carnal indulgence possible.” The film, written by “Boardwalk Empire” scribe Terence Winter, chronicles the many hedonistic exploits of Belfort, who rises from a nobody selling penny stocks by the thousands to schnooks to dominating the Financial District.
“He represents something within our very nature, something that is very wrong. You can link those attributes to everything going on in our world today,” DiCaprio says. But he adds, “He’s not the problem. I quickly realized these weren’t the fatcats that were destroying our economy. They were the street urchins. They were part of the underworld trying to create a little island and emulating Gordon Gekko,” he explains, referencing Michael Douglas’ slick-haired “Wall Street” villain (and, to some, idol). “They were trying to be the guys that were robbing our country of billions and billions of dollars.”
DiCaprio spent time with Belfort, who he describes as reformed. “He looks at this [period] as an isolated period in his life. He’s been paying the price ever since, trying to pay his debt to everyone he ripped off.”
Belfort even told him how to play high on ‘ludes, for a lengthy sequence where he and the fellow broker played by Jonah Hill take too many drugs and find their bodies won’t work. “He told me what quaaludes were like,” he recalls. “I had him rolling around on the floor for me.” He also says he watched, on a loop, a YouTube clip called “The World’s Drunkest Man,” in which someone tries to get a beer but his body won’t let him.
As for reuniting again with Scorsese, he’s predictably gushy, talking about a mantra he gave him: “As long as you portray these people for what they are, and you don’t try to sugarcoat them or apologize for their actions or depict them in any way apart from what they are, audiences will go along with you.”