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Leonardo DiCaprio Interview

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio catapulted to fame with his role in the huge box office success, Titanic, and since then has starred in Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator, Blood Diamond and Revolutionary Road. He and his Shutter Island co-star, Ben Kingsley, were recently in London with director Martin Scorsese to talk about their film. Here he talks about playing intense characters, switching off and having Martin Scorsese as his mentor.

You took yourself to some very dark places in this film, what’s the compulsion to do that?
Leonardo DiCaprio (LD): Self-imposed suffering. No, it was the nature of the material. At first glance, when I first read the book and the screenplay, it was obviously a complex jigsaw puzzle and the line in which reality stops and dreams begin for Teddy’s past is very blurred, but throughout the entire course of the movie, you’re starting to learn about different facets of Teddy Daniels’ mind.

He’s learned the truth. It’s a truth about Teddy’s past and a traumatic truth. And in order to tell this story, which was a very complex character study, ultimately we had to keep pushing these story lines further and further. In order to have one set of circumstances seem believable, we had to push the emotional extremes of another set of circumstances. Both of us found that we kept pushing Teddy to darker and darker places.

This was a demanding role both physically and mentally. How do you cope with those aspects and how do you manage to switch off?
LD: Well, by sheer necessity, in order to survive the filmmaking process, I do switch off when I go home, because if I don’t… look, ultimately, I’m challenged by these types of characters. This is maybe the most challenging one to date for me, physically yes, but emotionally more so. But it gives me great excitement. This character is a difficult one to talk about because we want the audience to have that virgin experience. Also, we were very conscious that we were doing a film that would have a different interpretation upon a second viewing; it could take on different meanings.

There’s a certain level of ambiguity in the ending of this film and throughout the movie that could lead the audience to have a different experience of it on further viewings. So that also challenged me as an actor to portray Teddy, often times pushing him to different extremes, and it was then in the hands of Scorsese and [editor] Thelma Schoonmaker to gauge where to go to in different circumstances. It was one of the most challenging, but at the same time, I relish those experiences.

You play driven, intense characters. Is that likely to continue with your next project with Christopher Nolan [Inception] and are we ever likely to see you lighten up with a comedy or a romance?
LD: Lighten up in general? Look, I don’t know really. I just respond to what I read and what I’ve read in these roles are characters that have moved me emotionally in some respect. And it just goes back to what moved me in cinemas at a very early age. These were the types of characters that I felt emotionally connected to. It’s inexplicable, but I think you never feel as if you’ve arrived there or done that role that satisfies that. So I’m driven to be able in my mind to emulate or get close to the great masterworks of great performers I’ve seen in cinema from years past. I don’t know if that thirst will ever be quenched. But I would love to try other genres and I look forward to doing them. It just depends on what moves me emotionally, I guess.

How surprising or daunting is it to work with Max von Sydow?
LD: It was incredible working with Max. The sequence that I have where I interrogate him or he interrogates me (depending on which way you look at it), was only the back of his head and his voice and you just felt a chill down your spine. He has such a comfort level in the way he performs and that can only come from years of incredible work. Such a belief in the power of what he does. It was chilling to work with him. He’s part of cinema history, he should be revered as that.

Does your own personality change when your making a film like this in a way that those closest to you might notice – or does it give you nightmares?
LD: If I’m going to answer that quite honestly I don’t remember my dreams and I didn’t have any nightmares during the course of the film. For one reason or another yes, on this film, there was a sombre mood going home every day. There were quite a lot of emotional extremes – he was going through extreme emotional trauma and it’s hard for those types of things not to rub off on you. For the most part though I do like to isolate myself away from most people when I'm filming for months at a time. So I wouldn't necessarily get much of a reaction from any one else because I was mostly alone.

There were a few weeks there towards the end of filming where there was almost a lapse in the understanding of where I was because we kept pushing this guy further and further and it was day after day of re-enacting a traumatic event that was either a dream or reality for this guy. I remember saying to Marty, I have no idea where I am or what I’m doing with this guy and he said don’t worry, just do the scene again and keep pushing him. It’s great to have a guide or a mentor, somebody that you do trust in a situation like that. Because you are making yourself vulnerable and you need to have someone who will drive you as an actor and also take care in the editing room not to push your character in directions where these extremes may be sentimentalised or too schmaltzy. Anyway, through the relationship and the years that we’ve worked together, that trust level was there and I’m glad I got to do this movie with Marty as the filmmaker.

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Content updated: 10/12/2018 12:01

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