There must be an uncanny feeling when you work with an actor a lot like Martin Scorsese has with Leonardo DiCaprio (and Robert De Niro, for that matter). You see them in roles, but do you really see what they can do anymore, or are you just putting them in roles they can crush but maybe not challenging them as much?
For what it's worth, I find that Scorsese has spent the 2000s really pushing DiCaprio into places that both access who he is as a star and while pushing himself creatively.
But Scorsese has never asked him to subvert his stardom, until now.
In Killers of the Flower Moon, DiCaprio plays a dolt. He's an impressionable lunkhead who has no backbone. This is unlike anything Scorsese has worked with DiCaprio on in the past.
When the script was originally handed in, DiCaprio was supposed to play the clean-cut FBI agent, Tom White (played by Jesse Plemons). But the more the two of them looked at the project, the more they felt that was a dated point of view.
Martin Scorsese sat down with IndieWire to talk about the film. When asked about this shift in the point of view of the story, he elaborated on these changes, which were made with writer Eric Roth and DiCaprio.
'Killers of the Flower Moon' Credit: Apple Original Pictures
"We realized that was really the heart of the film," DiCaprio said. "And having met with the Osage so many times and heard from Margie Burkhart, who was the great-great-granddaughter of Ernest, she knew them. She kept saying, 'Don’t forget it isn’t as simple as villains and victims. You have to remember Mollie and Ernest were in love.' And that always stayed with me when we were still working on the other version of the script. I said, 'Well, if they’re in love, we got to show that too.' And then that became difficult in terms of showing all the machinations of the Bureau investigation. Plus, this love story, it was getting unwieldy. And then finally Leo said, 'If I play Ernest, we could turn it upside down and go in from the ground level.' And I said, “Absolutely.'"
Of course, this change in the point of view also came with a change of who DiCaprio would play. But DiCaprio is a handsome man who we are used to seeing as a good guy, or in a charming way.
So, how did Scorsese subvert these audience expectations?
Scrosese said, "Are you talking about a movie star or an actor movie star? People say, 'Oh you know, Cary Grant, he was a great movie star.' He’s a great actor, but he never got an Oscar. Here, you have the elements that Leo DiCaprio brings with him from all the other pictures, in terms of the allure of the movie star, right? But, he is a great actor, so he wasn’t afraid to move ahead that way. Sometimes I have to say, 'Hey, that’s too much' with this or that. But we narrowed it down. I had people around saying, 'It’s a little too obvious and trying for something to break the image,' but he looks pretty good for the character. And also his charm still comes through. And we stopped it there and even Bob played around a little bit too, with some facial things that we did. You know, it’s a matter of how much Marlon Brando put cotton in his mouth."
This switch not only allowed DiCaprio to explore a different aspect of himself but it surprised the audience by seeing a side of him we never have before. This allowed the beats of the story to surprise us, as DiCaprio did things we never expected his character to do.
How did this work for you? Let me know in the comments.
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