Q: This is the 5th film that Martin Scorsese and Leonard DiCaprio have done together. It’s the second film of which Leonardo served as a producer. If we read our Scorsese and movie history carefully, we know that often or frequently in Scorsese’s career there have been projects that have been initiated by the actors rather than himself. In the cases of Raging Bull and King Of Comedy, those were two projects that were really pushed by Robert DiNero. And in the case of Wolf of Wall Street this is material that was discovered by Leonard Dicaprio and developed by Martin Scorsese. So, I’d like you two to talk about the development of this movie.
Leonardo Dicaprio: About six years ago I picked up this novel, by Jordan Belfort which was a fascinating read, simply because I felt like it was really a reflection of his biography. It was a reflection of everything that’s wrong in today’s society. This hedonistic lifestyle, this time period in Wall Street’s history where Jordan basically gave in to every carnal indulgence possible and was obsessed with greed and obsessed with himself essentially. He was so unflinching in his account of this time period and so honest and so unapologetic in this biography, I was compelled to play this character for a long period of time. We almost got the financing during Shutter Island and then film fell apart, but I was obsessed with having Marty direct this film. Terry Winter wrote an incredible screenplay that I think was really catered to Marty’s strengths and his style, and so it was a long waiting period to get this film financed and finally our friends here at Red Granite said, ‘Look, we want to take a chance on this film. We want it to be a grand American epic of greed and pull no punches, push the envelope, and go the distance with it.’ So I re-approached it and brought it back to Marty and said, “Look, we really don’t get opportunities like this very often. These things really don’t come out of the studio system.” And thankfully he agreed to do the film again and here we are.
Martin Scorsese: Yes, I came into it, I think when Leonardo gave me the script and then I met Terry and the meeting was about coming up with a television series, which became Boardwalk Empire. But in any event, I read the script and as in many, many times for me, when something is given to me by other people, I don’t necessarily respond to it right away. Like Kings of Comedy was 10 years before I was able to come around to it. Raging Bull took six years or seven. I have to find my own way with it, I think. I had in mind to do another film, but we had just finished Departed and that’s when we tried to get the financing of The Wolf of Wall Street and we found a lot of resistance from the studios for that. And I wonder having gone through Departed and having gone through some tougher films, the issue is it worth fighting that process because it’s all about fighting that, unfortunately. It isn’t about good people, bad people. It’s about what they need, what we want to do, what we could deliver for the marketplace that still we feel is strong with the kind of work we do and could we go through it again? It may not be worth it. It just isn’t at a certain time in your life. And so, at the same time, the market came apart, September 2008 and we decided to do Shutter Island. And after that, came back again, came back again, but I owed Hugo. I wanted to do Hugo. The reasons why I wanted to do Hugo are personal. And after Hugo is when we finally pulled it all together. As I said, the opportunity was back and I thought I found a way that I could approach the material in a different perspective from my other films.
Q: Terry do you want to talk about the writing of the script?
Terence Winter: Sure, I read the book in galley form somewhere in 2007. Read it in one sitting. I just could not put it down. I couldn’t believe that what I was reading was actually a true story about a person who actually was still alive at the end of it. Just hilarious. Leo came on board. I had the luxury of being able to then proceed to write the script with Leo’s voice in my head, knowing that, god willing; Marty would also be directing it. I set about the research process. I met with Jordan several times – lunches, dinners, had dinner with his parents who are absolutely lovely, his ex-wife, spoke to the FBI agent who arrested him who assured me that every single thing in that book was true, which was even more incredible to me. I went out to Stratton Oakmont, his house, I actually had Jordan come in to CAA and give one of those incredible speeches to a room full of assistants to see him actually do it, which was pretty incredible. And I think the early conversations about the writing were that I really wanted to preserve Jordan’s voice. The whole idea of his observations about things and the various stages of being high, that sort of thing, is it didn’t necessarily lend itself to dialogue, but were really incredible and fascinating and compelling, and we had had some conversations about maybe approaching the script in that style where you’d actually hear Jordan’s observations and once I had the license to go do that, I wrote the script and Marty and Leo took it from there.
Q: So, Let’s talk to the producers about putting together the financing, getting this movie going and the process of shooting and everything else.
Joey Mcfarland: First and foremost, Riza and I read the book around the time that it first started with Leo and we watched it collapse and our relationship with Leo was pretty strong through our investors and different circles, and he had always said it was one of the most compelling characters he had ever read and it was at the top of his list of projects that he wanted to see get made. So we dove in. We went and met with Jordan who at the time had taken the rights back from Warner Brothers because they had reverted. He was very hesitant about giving them up because the movie had died and had been on the shelf for so long. He wanted to make sure that the next people who took it over were actually going to see it through. So it was a very, very tough decision for him and it took a significant amount of meetings and a lot of trust, and it wasn’t about the purchase, it wasn’t about the money; it was about getting the project made and we assured him that as a new company, that this was our springboard into what we saw our place in Hollywood. It was a movie that we feel didn’t belong in a studio because of the way we hoped Marty and Leo would push the envelope. Little did we know how far they would push it, but that’s a whole other story, but we love it. And so he took a chance on us, we took over the underlying rights and then circled back to Warner Brothers and got into the negotiations of the actual screenplay because it was living on the shelf in there and as everyone knows, it’s not easy to extract a script from a studio because I think the only thing worse than not making the film is watching someone else make a film and it go on to be extremely successful and they are the ones that let it go. But ultimately, they did not want to stand in the way of Leo and Marty, they valued their relationships and they blessed the project and we were off to the races. Leo finally was able to introduce Riza and I to Marty, actually at the premiere of Hugo I think was the first meeting. We met you, you had took the time to give us a chance and, financing aside, these guys believed in us as much as we believed in them. It was a huge opportunity and we couldn’t have been happier to have that opportunity. Riza and I, we’re successful in gaining the financing behind us, we have a team of investors overseas that value our taste in material and the belief in our ability to execute and really, we were off to the races. Once these guys said yes, it was one fast ride. They wasted no time, Leo was finishing Django at the time. I believe you came off three films, back to back to back, and this was a very, very challenging movie. I think we shot 87, 88 days and Leo probably shot 86 of them and of course Marty did as well. In New York, not easy. But luckily we had miss Emma here, who was there just greasing the wheels along the way and making sure it was a flawless, smooth production and getting these guys everything they needed.
Q: What are they actually using for the drug scenes?
Leonardo Dicaprio: Baby Vitamins.
Martin Scorsese: Yes, it helped them.
Leonardo Dicaprio: It certainly burned our nose.
Q: Did you have to do multiple takes though?
Leonardo Dicaprio: A lot of them, we did a lot of it.
Q: What is the common thread that you see in all the characters you portray?
Martin Scorsese: They’re human beings, and we are not all one thing. We’re capable of many different things under different circumstances…it’s hard for me to judge…And so I’m interested in some people who are basically good, do bad things.
Q: Can you speak about Jordan Belfort?
Leonardo DiCaprio: I’ve been having conversations with him off and on for years you have to understand, he looks at this as an isolated period in his life and he’s been paying the price ever since and he’s been doing everything he can to repay his debt to everybody that he ripped off and he’s since been trying to lead his life in a very respectable way. So as a resource for me, he was incredibly beneficial. He would divulge about the most embarrassing things about his life because he looked at it as a part of his past and even in times when we start to have conversations where he would veer off and say, “Well, maybe we should address it – you wrote this book. You wrote this book about a time period in your life and you did for a reason and you did it to talk about what happened behind the doors of Wall Street and the conversations that were going on and the unregulated marketplace. You’re making a statement here, so let’s tell the truth.” As soon as we had that conversation, he was like, “Alright, I’m an open book. Let me tell you about not only on what happened that day, but something that’s ten times worst. And I think a lot of times, from Marty’s perspective, he wanted to add some distance from him just to be able have a respective amount. And I was, in other words, the middle man that would bring in a lot of information from Jordan to Marty and sometimes it would result in, “Alright, can we get this set piece for tomorrow? Can we get an animal on set?” And Jordan said that this is happening and that our great team over here would provide that. But it was a very free formed endeavor in that regard.
Marin Scorsese: I did the same with Henry Hill. I never met him. I spoke to him one time and that was it. Because they’re very persuasive…and you just need to find your own way with him…you need to find your own way with it. And that’s what’s so fascinating about him, is being so persuasive.
Can you speak about the candle scene?
Leonardo DiCaprio: My attitude about doing this movie is that we’re trying to depict a modern day Caligula and all the debauchery that comes with it, so you detach yourself from your own individuality for the accurate portrayal of the character, and that’s what we do. So all the stuff that came with it, it was a fun process because there were really no limits to what we could do because Jordan’s biography depicted stuff that we could have never imagined and Terry Winter took it from the novel.
Martin Scorsese: I mean of course it isn’t how you want to film the candle scene, the idea is that his wife very mad, she’s very angry. And he’s denying even knowing where he was, what he was doing, and then we show you what he was doing and then he says, “Oh yes! I remember now. It’s rather extreme.” That means he was really really on with it in his own and this is the humor in one way, and it’s in the book. And as far as trends on the MPAA, it went rather smoothly, and as you know, I’ve been dealing with that system since 1973 – Mean Streets where I had to cut a few lines of dialogue that are now used on regular newscasts…But it was 40 years ago and so we just worked with them.