Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have made five movies together – from the lawless 1800s streets in The Gangs of New York, to the Golden Age of Hollywood in The Aviator, to the bombastic, hedonistic 1980s in the The Wolf of Wall Street. If there’s one movie that you think might have scared DiCaprio, you’d have thought it would be Scorsese’s horror movie Shutter Island, but it was actually a scene in his Infernal Affairs remake The Departed.
Speaking to the DGA in 2007, Scorsese explains how he really intimidated DiCaprio in a scene with Jack Nicholson; “There’s an element of documentary in The Departed, even though it’s at times a very rigorously written script. There’s a scene I like a lot between Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio in which I really wanted there to be a kind of improvisation.”
“I wanted an element of documentary-like surprise in the relationship between Jack and Leo, so I had to allow them a certain freedom—within the framework of the written dialogue and the basic structure of the scene. Jack was in a perfect position to do it, because he’s playing a king, a man who’s got all the power.”
Scorsese continues; “So Leo’s character, who’s doomed from the beginning and who’s completely trapped in Jack’s world, sits down and Jack starts sniffing, saying, ‘I smell a rat.’ I can’t imagine what Leo must be feeling at this point as an actor, as the scene’s starting to go in this unexpected direction, not the way it was written. And the door to the room is locked.”
Scorsese says that Nicholson’s unpredictability made the scene; “If you look at the scene again, you see on Leo’s face that he wasn’t really aware of what was going to happen. His character is a subordinate, he can’t say anything, he can’t speak up. And Leo the actor is being kept off guard by Jack’s rearranging of dialogue in the scene, and then Jack pulls out a gun and he has no idea what’s going to happen and I don’t either—is Jack going to fire it next to his ear, shoot at the ceiling, what?”
Scorsese says that who Nicholson and DiCaprio really were at the time fed into the scene too; “So when you see Leo’s face in that scene, it’s very real. He doesn’t know what Jack’s going to do, he can’t leave the frame, he can’t run – he’s Leo DiCaprio (who was 32 at the time) and that’s Jack Nicholson and he’s got to sit there. [huge laugh]”
“So the scene is also about who Jack is in Hollywood, and what he represents in Hollywood history, and who Leo is, and you play with that: Let’s see if there’s a changing of the guard here; let’s see how Leo and Jack work it out together.”
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