Putting Wall St on screen a goal of DiCaprio's
At the London premiere, Leonardo DiCaprio says The Wolf of Wall Street was one of two projects he's really pushed for in his career.PT1M51S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-30n28 620 349 January 11, 2014
In less than a year, Leonardo DiCaprio turns 40. Cue gasps of shock. Not, perhaps, because the baby-faced star of Romeo+Juliet and Titanic is all grown up. In that sense, DiCaprio has almost grown into himself, maturing like a fine wine.
More jarring are the boyish memories of him as Romeo, Jack Dawson and even delightful, confounding Arnie Grape from What's Eating Gilbert Grape, which seem to reach forward through time and gently remind us of the ticking clock.
The truth is, greed is inherent in all life. It's a fundamental characteristic for survival.
And yet on the subject of turning 40, DiCaprio is spectacularly at ease. Turning 40 isn't a big thing? ''Only when people bring it up all the time,'' he warns gently, laughing, easing into a chair at LA's chic Four Seasons Hotel.
From the ground up: Martin Scorsese directs Margot Robbie and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street.
But it does make him reflect on his life, surely. ''I think about having been in this industry, and my life, and all that stuff,'' he says. ''You think about all those things. But I guess I am more of a person who doesn't plan things out too much. I like to see where life takes you.
''And age, to me, it's a stupid cliche, but it is nothing but a number. It's about your attitude to it. At the same time, I don't have some stupid Peter Pan syndrome. I am saying that when things are going right in my life, I will go in certain directions.''
In 2013, that direction was straight out of Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's magnum opus The Great Gatsby and into the heightened world of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street. Both are stories of men who sought to escape their impoverished upbringings and carve for themselves a place in the upper echelons of New York society. Unsurprisingly, it doesn't end well for either of them.
The dark side: Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street.
And yet, at first glance, The Wolf of Wall Street, in which DiCaprio breathes almost overpowering life into Wall Street stockbroker and fraudster Jordan Belfort, doesn't seem much like a cautionary tale. Belfort's lifestyle and all its high-flying excesses — private jets, luxury yachts, prostitutes, drug use and stock manipulation - is regurgitated lovingly onto the screen in what seems, at times, like a pornographic mosaic.
It has been noted that the film sets a record for its use of the word ''f---'' in a non-documentary film with 506 utterances in 180 minutes — more than Summer of Sam (435) and even the Scorsese films Casino (422) and Goodfellas (300).
DiCaprio is at pains to give assurances that the film does, ultimately, judge Belfort and his ilk. Everything, he says, comes with a price. ''I learnt that very young,'' he says. ''I grew up in a neighbourhood where there were tons of people doing tons of illegal activity all around me and I saw the price people paid for that at a very young age. It almost prepared me for Hollywood in a fantastic way. If I hadn't grown up in that neighbourhood, in a way I would be seeing this'' — he gestures towards the city — ''and saying sure, I'll try that, I'll do this, I'll do whatever.''
Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy in Trading Places, (1983).
The high price of fame seems an unexpectedly profound place to arrive only minutes after our meeting. But DiCaprio is nothing if not candid.
''We've lost a lot of people in the arts community, not necessarily because of that lifestyle, but because of the torment a lot of them feel when they're in the public eye, and the scrutiny, and the need to escape,'' he says. ''It's like being put up on a pedestal and being torn down, keeping up that white heat of success while people surround you that aren't really your friends. Having grown up in Hollywood, I have seen a lot of my heroes disappear.''
Perhaps that explains why, despite the appearance of ''having it all'', DiCaprio still seems like a man on a mission. Success is important, though he seems very uneasy with its ever-present companion, fame.
Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis in Bonfire of the Vanities, (1990).
Privacy, perhaps, means more than anything. He is guarded in conversation, though not excessively so. He has an uneasy relationship with the media. In this environment, however, talking about his work, he is calm and direct. But, he points out, he doesn't always like everything he reads. Like what? ''I could go on for a long time,'' he says, laughing.
A more comfortable topic is his environmental activism. ''We are,'' he says, ''much like this movie, propelled by greed. Granted, for us to completely change the system we've made for ourselves — a system based on the burning of oil and the use of fossil fuels — is going to be incredibly difficult. I feel disappointed with the entire world as far as the environment is concerned. Very few countries — you could count them on one hand — have had a very great environmental agenda.''
Unlike many actors who have pursued public causes, DiCaprio puts his money where his mouth is. He has personally funded causes including relief efforts in Haiti, wildlife conservation, gay rights and even the local library in the Los Angeles suburb of Los Feliz, where he grew up.
''Human beings are incredibly important,'' he says. ''We need to do everything we can to make sure everyone has the basic necessities of life.''
There, perhaps, we scratch deepest into DiCaprio: a kid raised by parents who worked hard to give their son a start, on a mission to make sure everyone else gets an even break.
DiCaprio was born in Los Angeles, and named after Leonardo da Vinci because, reportedly, his mother was looking at a da Vinci painting when the then-unborn DiCaprio first kicked. As a toddler he was reportedly booted off the set of Romper Room for misbehaving.
It's not a bad launchpad for an actor who would later skid, briefly, through the world of the television sitcom Growing Pains to land in Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom's 1993 film What's Eating Gilbert Grape, playing Arnie, the mentally handicapped younger brother of the film's lead character Gilbert, played by Johnny Depp.
It was a dazzling performance, and one that still holds its own against a list of almost 30 films with his name attached: Romeo+Juliet, Titanic, Catch Me If You Can, Gangs of New York, Inception and The Great Gatsby are a handful which stand out immediately.
Hollywood, DiCaprio concedes, like Wall Street, is all about decadence. ''I think you can find it anywhere,'' he says. ''Certainly when people are detached from reality and from the world around them, they're gonna feed the beast of enjoyment and that's as absolutely inherent in Hollywood as it is in the world of finance.
''These guys,'' he adds, referring to Belfort and his ilk, ''were outsiders. They saw [the 1987 Oliver Stone film] Wall Street, they wanted to live in those worlds, they wanted to be big-time players.''
The problem, he says, isn't the capitalist society into which these men were born, nor even the excessive decades in which they flourished, but rather a fundamental flaw in humanity itself.
''Greed is something that is almost an instinct,'' he says. ''I have been thinking a lot about this: what is greed? Why are these people compelled to have an almost complete disregard for everyone around them?
''The truth is, greed is inherent in all life. It's a fundamental characteristic for survival. And you can relate it not just to money, but to almost everything about us as a species. To me, this is a very small story within a larger tale, about somebody who was given the opportunity to take advantage of others and became consumed with making money. If you don't have consequences to those actions, and if people don't really feel like there is a price to pay, and if you're in a society where CEOs are given bonuses after they've bankrupted an entire economic system, then you're going to find more of them.''
The real Jordan Belfort was nothing short of a Wall Street cliche: wild parties, celebrity friends and fraud on a scale that stunned even the other wolves of Wall Street. More recently Belfort has become a motivational speaker and author, a peddler of a sort of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-did cautionary tale. It is a lucrative line in a world hungry for quick fixes and self-help, and consequently there is still some debate over his failure to pay the total restitution mandated by his convictions.
What is most risky about The Wolf of Wall Street is the manner in which it plays Belfort as a hero. That's clearly on the minds of both Paramount, which produced the film, and DiCaprio, whose name is at the top of the poster.
Early screenings to media were confined to about 20 minutes of largely comical scenes, in what appeared to be an exercise in emphasising satire over excess. After the film's release in the US, DiCaprio was at pains to remind people that ''we're not condoning this behaviour … we're indicting it''.
And yet to some, Belfort is a hero, of a sort - even if DiCaprio isn't so sure. ''I definitely don't see him as an American hero,'' he says. ''[But] many people I spoke to on Wall Street saw Wall Street the movie and wanted to be like Gordon Gekko. You can't ever control that.
''But these are the most fascinating characters to portray because they show the darker side of who we are.''
As a director, Scorsese has a tendency to immerse his audience in the most toxic aspects of our society, and rarely feels the need to justify them.
''Marty has put up a lot of deplorable figures on screen, and you gravitate towards these characters,'' DiCaprio says. ''These are people who have an insatiable selfishness. It's fascinating to watch those dark sides of human nature and ultimately we learn something about ourselves, depending on what kind of person you are.''
Excluding the ramifications of their actions from The Wolf of Wall Street, DiCaprio explains, was about wanting to ''envelop people in the world of debauchery and excess and indulgence, and show it as a drug. And show how these people dealt like there were no consequences, how they could so easily get so wrapped up in the power and lust of obtaining more and more.
''That was a very conscious choice because otherwise you can't really understand their mindset. And how Jordan, at that time, was infused by the power of thousands of people cheering him on like Bono to go out here and screw people over, and obtain money, because money meant everything.''
The Wolf of Wall Street opens on January 23.
Hollywood's romance with Wall Street
Trading Places (1983)
This was a modern knock-off of The Prince and the Pauper, directed by John Landis, and starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy (right). A commodities broker and a homeless guy end up trading places.
Wall Street (1987)
Perhaps the most iconic of them all, Oliver Stone's magnum opus about greed, was produced and set in the decade that defined modern excess. Wall Street turned Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko (centre) into a posterboy for avarice.
Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
A star-studded big-screen soap - the cast included Tom Hanks, Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis (bottom right) - based on the Tom Wolfe novel of the same name. It did for Wall Street what Dallas did for the oil business.
Rogue Trader (1999)
Ewan McGregor played investment broker Nick Leeson in a film about the real-life events that could have been an early warning for the GFC: the collapse of one of the oldest banks in Britain.
American Psycho (2000)
Based on Bret Easton Ellis's novel of the same name, American Psycho starred Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, a man who proved what we all suspected anyway: most wealthy investment bankers moonlight as serial killers.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
The sequel to Wall Street was a pale reheat of the original, and picked up Gordon Gekko's story after his release from jail and his plan to rebuild his financial empire.