Martin Scorsese explores ‘insidious’ ideas in ‘Wolf of Wall Street’
By CINDY PEARLMAN For Sun-Times Media December 31, 2013 4:08PM
Director Martin Scorsese (right) discusses a scene with Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of “The Wolf of Wall Street.” | PARAMOUNT PICTURES PHOTO
Updated: February 4, 2014 6:09AM
NEW YORK — Martin Scorsese isn’t ready for the final cut.
Though he’s old enough to retire, the 71-year-old screen legend said there will be plenty of action in his future.
“Retire from making movies?” one of the greatest filmmakers of all time says with a laugh. “You’ll have to stop me yourself. You’ll have to tackle me to stop me.”
No one is likely to stop him anytime soon. He’s box-office gold again with the hit “The Wolf of Wall Street” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort, a corrupt stockbroker who fuels his life with corruption, sex and drugs.
In person, the man who helmed all the big-screen debauchery is an unassuming New Yorker just looking for a little heat on a cold winter’s day. Scorsese enters his suite with a quick, “How ya doing?” Then in his trademark staccato voice he says, “I’m freezing. I have this big coat and I’m not taking it off.”
Who tells Scorsese what to do? Not even the Hollywood suits. Yet, he still had a long road to bringing the “Wolf” to the big screen.
Scorsese got involved with “The Wolf of Wall Street” when DiCaprio, his frequent collaborator, handed him the script written by Terence Winter and based on Belfort’s book. “It was a fascinating read and I felt a reflection of everything that’s wrong in today’s society,” says DiCaprio.
Scorsese didn’t instantly sign on. “When something is given to me by other people, I don’t respond to it right away,” Scorsese admits. “Believe me when I tell you that it took me 10 years to respond to ‘King of Comedy.’ It was seven years with ‘Raging Bull.’ I have to find my own way with it.”
With “The Wolf of Wall Street,” he faced some obstacles. “I had just finished ‘Departed’ and we tried to get financing for ‘Wolf of Wall Street,’ but we found a lot of resistance from the studios.
“I wondered if it was worth fighting,” he admits. “These days, the film business is about what can you deliver to the marketplace. I wondered, ‘Can I still do the work I want to do on this and have these fights. Is it worth it?’ ”
Scorsese put “Wolf” away to shoot “Shutter Island.” But DiCaprio wouldn’t let go.
“I was obsessed with Marty doing this film,” the actor admits. “I wanted us to do a grand American epic of greed that pushed the envelope. I kept bringing this project back to Marty and saying, ‘Look, we don’t get an opportunity like this too often.’ ”
Eventually, Scorsese says, “I found a way I could approach the material from a different perspective.”
Despite some outlandish sex and drug scenes, he says he faced little pushback from the movie ratings board. “It went rather smoothly,” says Scorsese. “I’ve been dealing with the system since 1973 and ‘Mean Streets.’
“I had to cut a few lines of dialogue from that film that are now used on regular newscasts.”
He smiles and says that all that white powder going up Leo’s nose on screen “was just crushed vitamin D.” (“It burned my nose,” DiCaprio admits.)
Ask Scorsese what Jordan Belfort has in common with his other schemers like Henry Hill from “Goodfellas” and he laughs.
“Both are human beings,” he says. “Otherwise, they both fall into that category of what I’m interested in on screen, which is good people who basically do bad things.”
Why do audiences love the depraved characters the most?
“I think everyone likes to explore the darker side of human nature in a film because then you don’t have to live it in real life,” says Scorsese.
“There is also this idea of the honor amongst thieves,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes. “You have that in ‘Goodfellas.’ You have that in ‘Wolf.’ It’s so primal. Even with these criminals, you promise something to somebody and you have to face the music if you don’t deliver.
“The thing with these people in ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ is the bad stuff isn’t so obvious as what happens on the streets with knives and guns. It shows what you can do with a hand and the stroke of a pen. It’s more insidious.”
Scorsese says that the film business is as shadowy these days. “I really don’t know who is calling the shots anymore,” he says. “I just know the cinema we know and the cinema we took seriously has all changed now.
“ ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ was almost not made,” he says. “I wanted to make something that took a risk. Everything is about where the money is, and that’s not easy.”
Next for Scorsese: a Frank Sinatra biopic and a Bill Clinton documentary.
“There is still so much to do,” he says.
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