When you make a film about the debaucherous activities of Wall Street traders, you’re guaranteed to have some entertaining stories on how it got made––which is exactly what we heard this past weekend when the cast and crew of “The Wolf of Wall Street” spoke about the movie at a press conference in New York City.
The film, based on the book by Jordan Belfort, is about a Wall Street stockbroker (with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role) who lives a lavish lifestyle by duping investors out of millions of dollars. Ahead of the film’s Christmas release date, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio––joined on stage by co-stars Rob Reiner and Kyle Chandler, screenwriter Terence Winter, and producers John MacFarland, Riza Aziz, and Emma Tillinger Koskoff––spoke about their fear of making something this risky, the difficulty of getting the movie financed, and some of the film’s most memorable sequences.
Here are a few things we learned while we were there.
1. DiCaprio was obsessed with playing Jordan Belfort
Since getting a hold of the book back in 2007, DiCaprio has been focused on turning the depraved tale of Jordan Belfort into a film. However, “The Great Gatsby” actor wasn’t just interested in this story’s connection to the most recent collapse on Wall Street, he was also attracted to Belfort’s honest and uncompromising portrayal of what he actually experienced.
“I felt like it was a reflection of everything that is wrong in today’s society––this hedonistic lifestyle, this time period in Wall Street’s history where Jordan basically gave into every carnal indulgence possible and was obsessed with greed and obsessed with himself,” DiCaprio said. “He was so unflinching in his account of this time period and so honest, so unapologetic in his biography, that I was compelled to play this character for a really long time.”
Screenwriter Terence Winter echoed DiCaprio’s thoughts. “I couldn’t believe that what I was reading was actually a true story about a person who was actually still alive at the end of it. It was just hilarious.”
2. It was hard to convince both Scorsese and major studios to make this movie
DiCaprio always had Scorsese in mind to direct the film. But despite their history––the two had previously worked together on four movies––it took a bit of persuading for him to sign on. “Many times for me, and often when something comes to me from other people, I often don’t respond to it right away,” Scorsese said. “ ‘King of Comedy‘ took 10 years before I came to it. ‘Raging Bull‘ took seven years. I had to find my own way with it.”
One of the major issues Scorsese had with directing the film was the reality that he would likely have to fight tooth and nail with the studios to get it made. To them, a movie about a drug-abusing sexhound who works on Wall Street isn’t the easiest sell. “We tried to get the financing on ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ and we found a lot of resistance from the studios,” he said. “I wondered, having gone through ‘The Departed,’ having gone through some tougher films, the issue was Is it worth fighting that process? Because it is all about fighting them.”
Luckily in the end, it was the risk factor that helped get everyone on board. This was going to be a balls-to-wall, no-holds-barred look at a criminal’s life.
“Eventually our friends at Red Granite [who helped finance the movie] said, ‘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,’ ” DiCaprio recalled. “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 don’t usually come out of the studio system.’ And he agreed to do the film and here we are.”
3. Surprisingly, the MPAA’s review went rather smoothly
The MPAA is no stranger to throwing down the hammer on films that go “above and beyond” what they think certain audiences can stomach. Considering the amount of sex and drug use that takes place in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ you would have expected Scorsese and his team to be put through the gauntlet when it came time for the film to get its rating. Turns out, the opposite happened.
“As for the MPAA, it went rather smoothly,” Scorsese said. “As you know, I have been dealing with that system since 1973. With ‘Mean Streets‘ I had to cut a few lines of dialogue that are now used on regular newscasts. That was 40 years ago. So we just worked with them. It got a little difficult because of the timing in it––I had to decide which scenes to use… But we finally worked it out.”
4. The film’s infamous candle sex scene actually happened
Earlier reports on the film talked about a rather risqué sex sequence involving DiCaprio, a candle, and a dominatrix (that’s a line that’s as ridiculous to write as it is to read). Scorsese said he included in the movie due to its sheer absurdity and because that scenario actually happened to the real Jordan Belfort.
“In terms of the candle thing, the idea is his wife is really mad at him, she’s very angry, and he’s denying even knowing where he was, what he was doing, so then we show you what he was doing,” Scorsese said. “And then he says ‘Oh yes! I remember now’ [laughs]. It’s rather extreme. But that means he was really, really out of it. It’s part of the humor, in a way.”
Plus, DiCaprio added, they did not want to sugarcoat anything that Belfort experienced in real life. This portrayal was going to be raw, real, and unfiltered.
“My attitude about doing this movie was trying to depict a modern-day Caligula, and all the debauchery that comes from it,” DiCaprio said. “So you detach yourself from your own individuality for an accurate portrayal of the character––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 couldn’t even imagine.”
5. No, that’s not real cocaine they’re using
Though this film likely breaks the record for the amount of Quaaludes used on screen, it has its fair share of cocaine sequences too. However, the actors opted out of the method route for those moments. “It’s baby vitamins,” DiCaprio said about what they were actually snorting on screen––to which Scorsese added, “Yes, it helped them.”
“It certainly burned our nose,” the actor replied. “We did a lot of it.”
6. Rob Reiner decided to act in this movie, his first feature role in 10 years because… Scorsese
It’s been a decade since we saw Reiner on the big screen (his last live-action role was in “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star,” so consider this one several thousands steps up from that). In the film, Reiner plays Max Belfort, father to Jordan and the CFO of Stratton Oakmont. But the character didn’t really matter so much to Reiner as having the chance to work with Scorsese did.
“When Martin Scorsese calls to ask you to be in a movie, you just do it. You don’t ask questions, you just do it. He’s one of the greatest filmmakers of all time,” said Reiner, who was a bit unsure why he got the part to begin with. “First of all, I thought, Well he wants me to play Leonardo DiCaprio’s father. Maybe I am a lot more handsome than I think I am. I took it to mean that.”
No matter what Scorsese’s intentions were, Reiner was happy with the results. “I got to say the F-word in a Martin Scorsese film, and that’s always a good thing.”
7. Jordan Belfort was a major resource for DiCaprio
When you’re portraying a real person, it’s always best to go to the source. DiCaprio had been having conversations on and off with the real Belfort since he first read his book, which ultimately helped Leo depict him as accurately as possible.
“He was incredibly beneficial for me as an actor,” DiCaprio said. “He would divulge the most embarrassing things about his life because he looked at it as a part of his past. Even times where we would start to have conversations and he would start to veer off into Well, maybe we shouldn’t portray this. I was like ‘Look, you wrote this book about this time period in your life and you did it for a reason. You made a statement here, let’s tell the truth.’ As soon as we had that conversation, he was like Alright, I am going not only tell you what happened on that day, but I am going to tell you something that is 10 times worse.”
8. DiCaprio used a YouTube video as inspiration for his character’s Quaalude binges.
One of the funniest (and darkest) scenes in the film finds DiCaprio’s Belfort in a terrible predicament after overdosing on Quaaludes. He falls to the ground and, while drooling and incoherent, is forced to crawl back to his car. Like the rest of film’s more ridiculous encounters, what happened onscreen actually took place in real life. So to make sure it looked as real as possible, DiCaprio turned to two important sources: Belfort himself, and the internet.
“A lot of it came from me filming Jordan, talking to him about what quaaludes were like, and I had him rolling around on the floor for me,” DiCaprio said, regarding the overdosing scene. “But a lot of the research I did was really from watching this one video on loop called The Drunkest Man in the World, and it’s about a man trying to get a beer and he’s rolling around on the floor for hours. So he was inspiration for me.”
It’s worth noting, Reiner, who directed such comedy classics as This Is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride had very, very high marks for that entire sequence. “I put it up with the best comedy scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie in my life.”
9. The film is not a metaphor for the bankers who finance films in Hollywood
One journalist asked Scorsese if making this film was a reflection of the impact bankers have had on Hollywood––that they are the ones calling the shots now rather than studio executives.
“I don’t really know who’s calling the shots anymore. Seriously, I don’t know,” Scorsese said. “All I know is that the cinema we know of is the cinema we took seriously when I was growing up. It’s all changed now. It’s different, particularly with a marketplace like this. As Leo said, we had an opportunity to break granite, to make something that can take a risk in a sensible way. And so, it just appears to me––and I am 71 now ––being aware of America since the early 1950s, there is a change. Everything is about where the money is.”
10. Just in case you’re wondering, Martin Scorsese’ not retiring any time soon.
While at the Marrakech Film Festival recently, Scorsese was in a decidedly different and almost somber mood, reflecting on the difficulties of filmmaking and discussing how it was challening to hold on to one’s desire to continue making movies. Desire? Yes, I have the desire to make many films, but as of now I’m 71 and there’s only a couple more left if I get to make them.”
While it seemed that Scorsese was perhaps reflecting on just how much time he has left, some took that as the filmmaker suggesting he was going to retire soon. Yes? Hell, no. “You’ll have to stop me yourself. You’ll have to just tackle me to stop me,” he said adamantly in New York.
“The Wolf Of Wall Street” opens Christmas Day.