“We got hipsters in the house!” This phrase makes even less sense now than when I heard Leonardo DiCaprio say it last night at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City, where hundreds braved the horrendous weather to hear him talk about his decade-long partnership with director Martin Scorsese. The panel, which included longtime Scorsese editor Thelma Schoonmaker along with screenwriter Terence Winter, was part of a two-day series highlighting all five films Scorsese and DiCaprio have collaborated on. As for the hipster comment, Leo had just asked those in the audience whether they had already seen “The Wolf of Wall Street,” one of the most divisive films of 2013. When more than half the crowd raised their hands, he seemed genuinely happy, like the work he had put in over the last several years paid off. Thus, his decision to call those with their hands up “hipsters.” Nevertheless, DiCaprio’s definition of the word shouldn’t matter as much as the sentiment behind it—a feeling of excitement and satisfaction.
The overall response ‘Wolf’ has gotten since it hit theaters last December has been, to say the least, complicated. Some love it for its brutal and honest portrayal of a greedy Wall Street broker who stole millions of dollars from innocent people. Others think it’s a disgusting and blasphemous film that’s unwilling and uninterested in punishing its immoral lead character. The hostility from the latter camp has sent the usually private DiCaprio on a months-long press tour to support the movie and Scorsese’s vision (not to mention an Oscar campaign, with the film receiving five nominations).
“I have been doing a lot of press for the film and speaking openly about it because I want more films like this to be able to get made,” DiCaprio said. “You may misinterpret it. But this is what we wanted to put up on the screen, and that’s not something you’re going to see very often nowadays, which is what I am absolutely most proud of of making this movie.”
In fact, DiCaprio has a lot to be proud of—and not just for the acclaim his latest work has already received. “The Wolf of Wall Street” marks the fifth collaboration between him and Scorsese, a partnership that began in 2002 on the period piece “Gangs of New York.” Since then, it has blossomed into one of Hollywood’s greatest actor-director relationships. Most surprising is DiCaprio’s reaction to it all: he can’t quite believe he’s gotten to work as much as he has with one of his cinematic heroes.
“It’s interesting, because I have been doing this since I was 13,” said DiCaprio, about his acting career. “I am almost about to turn 40, and I am looking back at some of the stuff I’ve gotten to do, and at the center of it is this amazing accidental collaboration that I’ve gotten to have with Marty.”
This self-described accidental collaboration has produced five distinct films so far, each with its own singular lead performance from DiCaprio: In “Gangs of New York,” he played an immigrant in a city on the cusp of self-destruction; in “The Aviator,” he was the influential and inimitable Howard Hughes; in “Shutter Island,” he was a detective looking to solve a mysterious disappearance at a psychiatric facility; in “The Departed,” he portrayed an undercover cop attempting to take down an infamous mob boss; and now, in “Wolf of Wall Street,” he plays a scumbag trying to scam money off of unsuspecting civilians. This is an impressive body of work. The fact that it was done with Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, makes it that much more remarkable.
“It’s hard for me to quite articulate or put into words everything that I’ve learned from him,” said DiCaprio. “These key moments, they’re hard to even reflect on because you sort of have to take a breather and look back and realize how much you’ve actually learned. I’ve grown tremendously as an actor just to be in those moments with him, where he’s giving me the right guidance.”
DiCaprio believes that that guidance has culminated in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a film that needed a high level of trust between its director and actors in order to achieve what it was going for. (For anyone unfamiliar with the film’s contents, it features the type of sex and drug use usually relegated to soft-core pornos.) Without it, the film would have crumbled. Instead, Scorsese created something cohesive––which is one of the reasons DiCaprio, along with countless other actors, love working with him. He creates a singular, overarching vision, one that may have reached its apex on ‘Wolf.’
“I have never seen a group of actors work together so beautifully,” Schoonmaker said. “They all loved doing their parts, and they all worked together as a unit, and they were all willing to take on these slightly dubious roles and make the most of them.”
For DiCaprio, being able to contribute to Scorsese’s vision for the last 12 years has been a dream come true for him, particularly since he grew up with a generation of actors who worshipped films like “Taxi Driver” and “Mean Streets.” While the two aren’t currently scheduled to make a new film, just give it time: one will likely come along sooner or later. After all, DiCaprio is still 39 years old. He has a long career ahead of him, particularly if he continues to treat it like he’s just arrived.
“I always feel like a kid in this industry,” DiCaprio said. “I always feel like, OK I got my foot in the door, now I am going to run with this opportunity and do everything I possibly can to make as many movies that I feel like aren’t getting made or try to develop roles that are a little outside the studio system.”