Leonardo DiCaprio has become Scorsese’s new Robert DeNiro. Shutter Island is their fourth film together, and it might be their Cape Fear. After doing a gang movie, a cop drama and a biography, they’re just doing a good old fashioned scary movie now. The duo gave a press conference to promote Shutter Island and here is DiCaprio’s portion.
Q: What attracts you to these characters who have issues? Have you ever yourself in your personal life lost it to the extent that you felt that maybe you need help?
Leonardo DiCaprio: Or that I needed to make an alternate reality for myself? Not necessarily. It’s never a conscious decision to gravitate towards those types of roles ever. You can’t help what you’re emotionally moved by and we read this screenplay and immediately this cathartic journey of this man trying to find out the truth of what goes on Shutter Island and thus finds out the truth about himself and his own trauma and his own past and the secrets about who he is moved me emotionally immediately. I have to say it wasn’t until we actually were on set together sort of playing some of these scenes out that I really understood the sort of depth of trauma, the depth of emotion and the places that we needed to go to with the character in order to make this story believable and make the film work. The story really kept pushing us to places that I don’t think we planned on. I mean, I would come to the set with specific intentions for a scene and then realize and say to Marty, “Wow, this is the most important scene in the movie, isn’t it?” And he said, “Yeah, yeah it is. if you don’t get this right, then this isn’t as realistic as possible, the audience doesn’t connect with this guy here, the whole story falls apart, doesn’t it?” And he said, “Yeah you’re absolutely right. Now get in there and do it.” It was a sequence of situations like that, that lead us to try to paint this portrait of this man that is this complex jigsaw puzzle. It’s like an emotional layer cake that just kept getting deeper and deeper and deeper and it really surprised me. It really did and it’s a testament to this screenplay and the original material too because there’s only so many layers to this project and there are so many layers to this character that until we were actually there doing it. We didn’t truly understand the depth to him, I don’t think. So we had to physically, arduously do some of these scenes and it surprised me, it really did.
Q: You’ve often quoted the line “Pain is temporary, film is forever.” Was this film in any way painful for you to do?
Leonardo DiCaprio: It was light and breezy. No, that quote actually was the first thing I was told. I did a film with Robert De Niro called This Boy’s Life directed by Michael Caton-Jones and that’s what he told me. I was just sort of a wild child that did not know how to conduct himself on a film set that didn’t obey really any rules and when it came down to really serious subject matter. He said to me, “Look, I know this may suck right now, you may not want to go there but pain is temporary, film is forever and whatever you do right now is burned into celluloid for all time and for thousands of years to come. So just have that pressure on you for the scene.” That mantra kind of stuck with me and the nature of whether this was a hard film to do, absolutely. It was hard but that’s simultaneously something that’s a lot of fun too. How do I describe it? This type of complexity in a character and in a storyline when you’re dealing with doing a scene that works on multiple layers simultaneously, it presents a challenge to you as an actor and it becomes an interesting, fascinating process. You learn a tremendous amount every single day that you’re there and that to me is a lot of fun. So it’s a different type of fun. It was one of the more challenging and difficult roles I’ve ever had to play, that’s for sure. We really needed to concentrate every day on how far to push this and ultimately it became the decision as to what degree we wanted to push all the different characters in what scene.
Q: Scorsese said he had nightmares shooting this movie. Did you?
Leonardo DiCaprio: It’s funny, I don’t really remember my dreams. I don’t. I don’t have a memory of them. I haven’t had them for years really. Only when I took a nicotine patch when I was trying to quit smoking did I have blood curdling nightmares of murder, mass murders and I woke up in the middle of the night and had to take them off. But, I don’t really remember my dreams that much. I don’t know what that means about me from a psychological point of view but that’s the truth.
Q: Was the nicotine patch your secret acting trick?
Leonardo DiCaprio: Yeah, right. I just slap that on during lunch.
Q: What makes your relationship with “Marty” work?
Leonardo DiCaprio: Well, you know, for me its very simple. He is Martin Scorsese and he is the consummate director of my time , I believe. That relationship was forged with another actor, in his work with De Niro and very early on in his career his work with Bob and that relationship that they have together not only made some of the most memorable, powerful films in cinema history but it forged something and I believe that the actor that he hires, whoever that might be, he gives full responsibility to them to create the character and through that performance and through what the actor’s trying to search for, he’s also simultaneously creating the narrative . He looks toward to actor that he works with to create the tone of the film that he’s making and that’s a partnership, you know what I mean? So in that dynamic, if there are differences, if there’s a difference of opinion, I’m allowed to, or any other actor’s allowed to play those things out and go through that cathartic experience. There’s no wrong choice to make. He’ll be there subtly steering the ship at the end of the day but he allows you to sit in your characters shoes and make those choices and that is empowering as an actor.”
Q: What about working with Max von Sydow?
Leonardo DiCaprio: You know, it was interesting, we did this scene with him and I, Marty focused at the back of his head in the arm chair and I remember being there on set that day and I felt this presence and this power from this man, even from the back of his head. And I knew I had to approach him and I had a confrontation with him in the scene and as soon as he turned his face there’s this stoic power that that man has when he says a line that’s just riveting and shakes you to your core. I knew about him very early on because he was my grandfathers favorite actor and we went to a film festival, I was 18 years old or 17 years old and my grandfather is German and so this was his icon. He always wanted to meet him and he got to meet him there and I actually have a photograph of me and my grandfather and Max when I was 18 and I showed it to Max and told him he was my grandfather’s favorite actor and so we immediately got along very well, needless to say. He was a lovely man and still a riveting actor, riveting.