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"I want to be a part of pieces of art"

We sat down with Leonardo DiCaprio to discuss his new movie, Body of Lies. It's directed by Ridley Scott, co-stars Russel Crowe and is released on November 21.

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It’s 15 years since you last worked with Russell Crowe. He says you haven’t changed but he thought that you assumed he would have…

Oh, he was saying that about me? He was pointing out that you might have read a lot of stuff about him and thought that he had changed… Oh, that this guy must be a jerk?

Yeah, did you?

I probably thought about that. But you have these perceptions about people and then you spend time with them, get to know them as human beings and you’re like, “Wow, they’re really well rounded, smart, professional people…”

When you get down to brass tacks, if people are doing their job as well as Russell is, you have to have the right head on your shoulders.

How was it working with Ridley Scott?

It’s amazing the way his brain operates on set – he’s a human editing machine. He’s able to concentrate on seven different angles at the same time; 20 different departments; organise things in a way that I’ve never seen anyone do.

He relies so much on his instincts, and he’s constantly checking his guts, saying, “Do I believe this or do I not believe it?” And if he doesn’t believe it, everything changes immediately.

Russell has a very close working relationship with Ridley. Having watched them together did it remind you of your own relationship with Martin Scorsese?

Sure I see similarities. It’s just the nature of working, and being so comfortable with somebody, knowing what boundaries you can go to, as far as pushing each other’s buttons or how honest you can be. When you have a good relationship with someone, you don’t need to be as polite. [Laughs]

 

There’s a very graphic scene in Body Of Lies where your character, Ferris, is tortured. How did you handle it?

That was one of the hardest sequences in the movie because we’d put so much thought and so much research into it and we knew if that scene didn’t work then the whole movie wouldn’t work, so it’s really a hardcore, intense scene to watch.

We got as many experts as we possibly could to chime in on the realism of it. It was so stressful that I kind of became sick for three days afterwards.

Did you get to talk to any CIA people yourself?

I got to speak with the ex-head of the CIA and what I learned was how insanely complicated this war is and how the United States has bitten off more than it can chew in that regard.

Did it change your own views?

Well, I’m very anti-war, you know, that’s just my political stance: I don’t believe in it. I could talk until I’m blue in the face about what I believe but we’re talking here in the context of this film. It’s topical but it doesn’t have a political agenda, or a side, that it’s trying to relay to the audience.

 

Do you have a certain criteria when you choose a movie?

It’s always interesting. You know, when you look back in a certain period of time and say, “Wow, we did a movie about that subject matter while it was happening...”

It’s stimulating and it’s invigorating, and you kind of jump at those opportunities. But unless the script is good, unless it’s a compelling story, unless it’s a good movie - not necessarily a movie that will make tons of money - but unless it’s a good film, it’s a profound waste of time.

And there are a lot of movies out there that are topical, that are political, but the most fundamental thing is, for me anyway, “Is this going to be an entertaining, good movie?”

Is it fair to say that you’ve consciously tried to find more ‘serious’ or ‘grown-up’ roles?

I wasn’t personally going out seeking films with social or political messages to them. As far as growing up, what can I say? I never thought about that throughout the entire course of my career, about choosing a specific role because it would make me seem more ‘man-like’.

Even with roles like Catch Me If You Can, I was eight years or 10 years older than the character I portrayed. I think that these things are somewhat intangible, you can never really control them.

You’ve worked with your Titanic co-star Kate Winslet again in Revolutionary Road. What was that like?

She’s the same person that she was back then, she really is. She’s remained a close friend and when she brought this to me, I said, “Wow, OK, how interesting, a love story about two people disintegrating.”

And I also just knew that Kate and I could really get stuff out of each other, performance-wise, we could push each other’s buttons and go to extremes with each other. That was exciting. I pretty much immediately said yes because she’s just, you know, the best actress of her generation.

 

Of course, a lot of old-school actors, De Niro, Nicholson etc, have gone on the record, citing you as the best actor of your generation…

Show me these records! [Laughs] Have you got them?

How does it make you feel?

If they did say that, I’m honoured and humbled. I’ve heard some things here and there but these people inspired me. When I got the part in This Boy’s Life at 16, I watched every film that I possibly could from the 1970s and that generation are the heroes that I looked up to.

My main objective as an actor was to do a performance that good, or be in a movie that good.

How’s Shutter Island looking?

I don’t know! When Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker get into an editing room, they lock the doors and they just go to work for a year. They’re old cinéphiles in that regard, so we’ll see…

What is it about Scorsese that makes you keep working with him?

Well, I’m a fan of his work, number one. The truth is that I suppose it all started from me wanting to work with him. Doing This Boy’s Life with Robert De Niro I needed to get familiar with De Niro’s work, so that obviously meant Martin Scorsese’s work as well.

So I became a fan. At a very early age if you would’ve asked me who I wanted to work with, it would’ve been Marty. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity with Gangs Of New York and then I think from there we just have a good time working together. We have similar tastes.

He has certainly broadened my spectrum in terms of films that are out there and the history of cinema and the importance of cinema. I look at him as a mentor.

Do you ever get offered roles that are a bit leftfield?

Well, I absolutely do get offered the recycled action movie, or the recycled love story that we’ve seen a million times before. I never get offended, because I think that each director sees something unique in that piece of material that I definitely don’t see.

Are you still developing the Ian Fleming movie with your production company?

Yes, we are. I’m a Bond fan and it’s an interesting setup. I mean, you know, it’s shrouded in mystery as far as what his real activities were in pivotal points in history. At this point, it’s still in development so I couldn’t say definitively whether I’m doing something or not because the script isn’t there yet, but it certainly seems like a really compelling character to play if done right.

Do you have any desire to direct?

I’ve often thought about whether I want to be a director or not, but I think I have a lot more roles that I want to play, and I don’t know how I would be as a director. I think I might be a little too controlling!

You still appear to be very enamoured of the filmmaking process.

I look at film and cinema as legitimate an art form as sculpture or painting or anything else. It is a true art form and we’re in the beginning of it, we’re in the first hundred years or so of cinema. It’s still in its infancy.

I’m very curious to see what types of films last into the next 1,000 years, in the the same way as what paintings people still look at today. I want to be a part of pieces of art that people will want to see for generations to come. That’s my dream.

 

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