“It’s funny but it’s not funny!” laughs director Martin Scorsese, trying to explain the dark humour of his latest film, the Oscar nominated The Wolf Of Wall Street.
“It’s funny within the context. It’s not pleasant, but it is funny. That craziness, the arrogance of youth. But then as we know, many older, revered figures behaved in a similar way in finance.”
Scorsese’s 23rd feature film, like many of his others, takes a look at an underworld filled with unlikeable characters doing despicable things. But this isn’t the mob; it’s a peek inside the hedonistic world of a group of Wall Street stockbrokers who stole from the rice and gave to themselves. Based on the best-selling biography of the same name, The Wolf Of Wall Street stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort; a young stockbroker who saw a loophole in the financial system and figured out he could make millions from it. With his partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and a group of shady characters, Belfort set up a successful company and ran riot with drugs, sex, and endless amounts of money, until eventually the FBI caught up with him.
It was DiCaprio who first came across the project six years ago, and convinced Scorsese to come on board as its director. The film went through many financial troubles of its own, including surviving the 2008 Wall Street crisis, before finding funding with a group of independent backers. Once filming finally commenced, the producers were adamant that if they were going to make a film about this excessive culture, they wanted Martin and Leo to really go for it. “We definitely pushed them,” says producer Joey McFarland. “Granted, we didn’t think they would go that far! But we definitely encouraged these guys to have fun and do something special.”
Screenwriter Terrence Winter describes The Wolf Of Wall Street as a “tsunami of craziness” with the preposterous activities the stockbrokers get up to. But, Leo says, the impact of the story would not have been the same if it were censored. “It is important not to sanitize,” he explains. “This is a dark comedy, but what we’re talking about is a very serious subject and it’s something that’s in our very culture. You look at youth today, and you look at what the American dream is. This idea of accumulating more seems to be rampant.”
Jonah Hill just scored his second Oscar nomination for his role in the movie, but admits he didn’t like his character at all. “These people were actually doing these things. So you have to treat it really honestly, even though you’re playing someone really messed up and bizarre. I did not like Donnie, I just didn’t. And that was the most challenging part of doing this! Every character I’ve played before, they’ve had flaws, but they had a good heart. Donnie is not a good person. He’s a bad guy, a bad human being. I would go home and feel guilty about what I had done that day! But I would do anything for Martin Scorsese. Simple as that. I did stuff that I don’t think any other director could get me to do.”
To prepare for his role, DiCaprio spent time with the real Jordan Belfort, who, after serving time for fraud, wrote two memoirs and now travels the world as a motivational speaker. Although DiCaprio doesn’t approve of his past actions, he says it was very useful to be able to call him up and ask questions. “I do admire his honesty. And from an actor’s perspective he was very beneficial. I think what he was doing was deplorable, and he’ll tell you the same thing; he’ll tell you he looks at that period of his life as a time for learning. He’s now going out doing seminars, like Tony Robbins style seminars, and talking about his past, the mistakes that he’s made, the dark path that he went down and how to have integrity in the world of finance. But for me, as an actor, the fact that he would divulge all this stuff was incredible. I got to call him, sometimes in between scenes, and ask him what the environment was like, what he was thinking, and he was so candid with me, it was hugely beneficial as an actor.”
The Wolf Of Wall Street also marks the fifth collaboration between DiCaprio and Scorsese, and both have been nominated for Oscars, in the Best Actor and Best Director categories. Over the years these two have formed a great working relationship. “I don’t know if I would describe it as father and son, sometimes he’s the father!” says Scorsese, laughing. “He’s the one that says, ‘sit down, take it easy buddy!’ We talk a lot, and we like working together. We’re friends.”
“Any actor would want to work with Martin Scorsese, I got very lucky,” says DiCaprio, “I got lucky because I hunted down one project and said, I know you’ve always wanted to do Gangs Of New York, and we ended up doing that. And then the trust builds up, and over time it just becomes like we automatically know what we’re trying to do. And what’s amazing about him is his thirst for making great movies is still as powerful as it was when he was first starting out. He’s such an admirer of film as an art form that I think he has so many gods of cinema swirling around his head that he has to answer to. He feels like they’re looking down on him so he’s motivated to keep making great movies.”
The Wolf Of Wall Street is out now in cinemas nationwide.