Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Vera Farmiga & William Monahan – Meeting w
Director MARTIN SCORSESE discusses a scene with actors LEONARDO DiCAPRIO and MATT DAMON on the Boston location set of Warner Bros. Pictures crime drama The Departed.
MARTIN SCORSESE, LEONARDO DiCAPRIO, MATT DAMON, VERA FARMIGA AND WILLIAM MONAHAN
MEETING WITH MARTIN AND THE DEPARTED
BY BRAD BALFOUR
The following documents two 40-minute press conference sessions merged together that tell the tale about Martin Scorsese’s latest elaborate feature, The Departed, one that finally has garnered him the top Oscar awards – Best Director and Best Picture. Based on a Chinese crime trilogy, Infernal Affairs 1-3, the original served to inspire a film that has all of Scorsese’s brilliant directorial stylizations but it also plays on his own riffs as well.
Normally, press conferences are a mad dash of clever quips and sly but superficial responses. But when one includes such an auspicious crew as Scorsese as well as actors Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Vera Farmiga, writer William Monahan and producer Graham King, it makes for a more interesting event – and when there are two press conferences to draw on then it’s even more interesting.
Martin, doing cops seem new for you. What are the similarities between gangsters and cops?
Martin Scorsese: I think no doubt there are similarities – the old cliché of catch a thief, set a thief. To catch someone in the underworld, to play against it, to try to get them, and make apprehensions – I think Bill’s depiction of that world made me try again to work within a genre that dealt with Bill’s depiction of gangsters. I felt comfortable certainly with the guys in the street, guys in bars and that sort of thing, and even more comfortable with the doctor scenes.
But with the police scenes, I did feel a little uncomfortable. I did sometimes get a little nervous. It had a feel that I was guilty for something and I was worried that there were cops all around me and they were gonna take me in. So I was nervous a couple of times, but they made me feel comfortable. Duffy was great to hang around.
What’s up with violence in your films?
Martin Scorsese: I really don’t know what to say. I’ve said many times I can’t defend it. I don’t know if I approach it differently. I approach it the way I thought I experienced, anyway – what I know, what I saw. Some people are more impressionable than others. I was very affected by it. I can tell you more than the physical violence; I was affected by the emotional violence around me. It’s part of who and what I am and somehow it channels itself into the films, but I don’t see it. I see it almost as absurd. In this film, the violence is almost absurdity. There seems to be a lot of violence in films that are like video games. If you want to experience violence, you should experience violence powerfully and real.
Director MARTIN SCORSESE gives direction to LEONARDO DiCAPRIO during the filming of Warner Bros. Pictures crime drama The Departed.
Why have your films become more Irish in recent years? Will you return to Italian-centric cinema?
Martin Scorsese: It’s an interesting question. I’ve always felt a close affinity with the Irish, particularly coming out of the same area of New York City – although by the time the Italians moved in, by the 1920’s, 1930’s, most of the Irish had moved out of that neighborhood. It goes back to Gangs of New York, stories about the way Irish helped create New York, the city itself, and America. Irish literature is very important to me and the poetry of the Irish is extraordinary.
Yes, there were some differences when they first moved into the same neighborhood. The Irish sense of Catholicism is a very interesting contrast to the Italian sense of Catholicism. Don’t forget I do have a very strong love for Hollywood cinema, and some of the greatest filmmakers to come out of Hollywood, were Irishmen: John Ford, Raoul Walsh and others. How Green Was My Valley was about Welsh miners, but it was directed by an Irishman. It had that warmth, the family structure, and felt very close to the culture of the Irish – and the Italians felt that. Besides, the script is written by William Monahan.
[Someone] talks about crime as being a left-handed form of human endeavor. When you start to go that way in your mind and you live by that in the street, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Boston, Chicago, New York, or anywhere – it filters down to survival of the streets. In the film you’re talking about a society within a society within a society. There’s a war in the streets, and these guys know what’s going on from the beginning and if they make one mistake, they get killed, they’re dead. There’s no place to run or hide. None. So you take that as a philosophy of the situation and then your philosophy becomes survival. I think as a human being, the differences between different ethnic groups as quote gangsters, that’s purely technical.
Why film Boston in Brooklyn?
Martin Scorsese: We didn’t really shoot in Brooklyn. We shot in an armory in Brooklyn. That’s where there’s a space. I think it was an issue of very good shooting deal in New York as opposed to Boston. After looking at locations in Boston, we thought we could double for things in Boston, but it’s not easy. It’s difficult to rent, the bit players have to be from Boston, so we had to bring them back from Boston, it got a little complicated. But it turned out to be advantageous for us.
William Monahan: Yeah, the tax break we got from shooting really helped out the production. Also, when you’re shooting interiors and you’re building everything inside you had to be really aware that it kept everyone in the same place and it was convenient for everyone.
Billy Costigan (LEONARDO DiCAPRIO) is interrogated by the powerful leader of Bostons Irish mob, Frank Costello (JACK NICHOLSON), in Warner Bros. Pictures crime drama The Departed.
Marty, why did you do a remake?
Martin Scorsese: I’m aware of all the Hong Kong cinema. I felt it was okay because what they do I cannot do. I have to find my own way and I think Bill’s script was the way. I think the microcosm that he described – the people, the way he described them, the way they behaved, the language they used – that all added up. The story of trust and betrayal, only set in the context of the Irish Catholic world of Boston, the incestuous nature of the world that that depicts. Both Matt’s character and Leo’s character have relationships with Vera’s character, but they never know that. Then you add Jack’s character, and all these characters are connected in this incestuous way.
We were able to collaborate with Bill, Vera, Matt, Leo… and Jack bringing his own elements, it all pulled together. Mark Wahlberg’s attitude was very clear. Alec Baldwin picked up on it beautifully and counterbalanced, it was almost like an Abbott and Costello routine between Wahlberg and Baldwin. I didn’t have to say anything to them, they just did it. But this is really by Bill and from Matt’s placement.
Did Hong Kong translate into Irish Boston?
Martin Scorsese: I didn’t think of it as Hong Kong. Taking from the Hong Kong trilogy, Andrew Lau’s film, it’s the device, the concept of two informers. Whether I like it or not, I am drawn to stories that have to do with trust and betrayal. I just thought of how Bill Monahan put down a way of life, a way of thinking, an attitude, a cultural look at the world, really, a very, very enclosed society, and I liked the idea.
Once I saw John Woo’s The Killer. You can’t go near that. Another Hong Kong film I saw in the ’80s was King Hu’s The Touch of Zen. It’s a whole other thing going on there. We do what we do, and if we influence their culture at all, it has come out through John Woo, Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam. The Hong Kong cinema of Wong-Kar Wai and Stanley Kwan is something you have to appreciate as a filmmaker because we see new ways of making narrative film.
Even if I said to myself, gee, maybe I can make a film like John Woo, the minute I get to design the shot or I get behind the camera with the cinematographer – Michael Ballhaus in this case – well, many times I saw I’d done this shot five times already in two other movies. I admire and respect their work so much in Hong Kong. All of Chinese cinema really, Beijing and Taiwan. I hope my next film is another remake of an Asian film. I’m only making Asian remakes anymore.
LEONARDO DiCAPRIO stars as Billy Costigan, a state trooper who takes on a dangerous undercover assignment, in Warner Bros. Pictures crime drama The Departed.
Leo, what is it about Scorsese that attracts you to his films?
Leonardo DiCaprio: Well, I’m a fan of his work, number one. It all started with wanting to work with him doing This Boy’s Life with Robert DeNiro. So I became a fan of his work at a very early age. If you asked me [when I was] starting out in the business, who I wanted to work with, it would have been Marty.
I got fortunate enough to work with him on Gangs of New York in 2000. I think just from there, we have a good time working together and we have similar tastes [in] films. He certainly has broadened my spectrum as far as films that are out there, the history of cinema and the importance of cinema, and it really brought me to different levels as an actor. I look at him as a mentor.
Matt, how did you get into this project?
Matt Damon: Graham came to me because his company had access and I first heard about it through him. It’s like the dream of all dreams: Hey, did you hear that Martin Scorsese is directing a movie about Boston? Then I got a copy of the script and loved it and when I came back to New York, I met with Marty. But I think I had already agreed to do it. Most of these things are contingent on a meeting. I wasn’t even trying to be cool about it – I’m in, so if he needs to meet with me, I’ll go meet him wherever he wants. It was a really easy yes for me.
Leonardo DiCaprio: I never had an initial conversation with Graham. I had received the script and Bill Monahan’s work is this tightly-woven, highly complex ensemble piece, this gangster thriller. It’s very, very rare in this business where a script lands on your lap ready to go. This was one of those rare occurrences. There was a certain amount of work; character development, taking things out, changing dialogue, but to have the construct of the story and really complex, duplicitous characters, information, disinformation, plot twists, all leading to a satisfying ending, is something you hardly ever get to in this business. So I know I got the script when Marty got it and it was one of those things that we really didn’t need to discuss. He really wanted to do it. I really wanted to do it.
MATT DAMON and LEONARDO DiCAPRIO star in THE DEPARTED.
So Matt and Leo, can each of you talk about why you picked your characters?
Matt Damon: Leo and I both thought they were these incredible roles. I think we would have been happy to play either one. We’re happy [with] the way it turned out because I can’t imagine playing the other one. It’s really rare in a film of this budget to have characters this interesting. Generally the bigger the budget, the less interesting the characters become. All of us had great things to play, so that’s a real credit to Bill Monahan and his script. To be able to have that much to do when you go to work every day was really great. And then we also heard the director had done a good movie here or there, so…
Leonardo DiCaprio: I agree with Matt 100%. These characters are two sides of the same coin in a lot of ways. They come from different backgrounds but they each could have easily made choices the other character made, depending on the circumstances. It just happened that way.
Your characters don’t share screen time but they have to be very similar. So how did you make it work?
Matt Damon: The script makes it work, it is really well written. A lot of this was already on the page, and as long as Leo and I both did our work and got prepared and just played the scene without even thinking about that, and just letting Marty sort it out, it was bound to work well. There are similarities in the characters, they’re the same guys, they’re the same age, from the same neighborhood, they’re both pretending to be people they’re not, there’s bound to be comparisons.
Leonardo DiCaprio: Certainly, they’re two sides of the same coin. They’re products of their environment. They make certain choices early on in their own lives that affect everything that goes on in the film. I think the working experience was interesting because it was almost like we were shooting two entirely different films. Of course they intersected at moments, but they were completely different experiences. But the moments that I did have with Matt, I enjoyed them. He’s an unbelievable actor, he really is.
I think there are a lot of really, really interesting characters in this film. That’s what I love about Mr. Scorsese’s work. He not only gives the same appreciation to the entire film and the construct of the film, but he really lets the audience engage with every character. No matter how small they are, each character is fulfilling.
Martin, how did the script develop on the shoot?
Martin Scorsese: It evolved over a very long process. Ever since I’ve been making films, I’ve loved talking about the processes between the writers, myself, and the actors. But I’ve found over the years that it gets misunderstood. You really have to be there. It’s a collaborative process, there’s no doubt. But the basis is what Bill did, and he continued to do when it was called upon. When he was called upon to evolve a character, it was usually with the actors and myself. The editing also contributes greatly to what the film needed here or there.
Mark Wahlberg’s attitude was very clear, Alec Baldwin picked up on it beautifully and counterbalanced, it was almost like an Abbott and Costello routine between Wahlberg and Baldwin. I didn’t have to say anything to them, they just did it. But this is really by Bill and from Matt’s placement.
MARTIN SCORSESE and the cast and crew of THE DEPARTED.
Did you have a lot of changes for Jack’s character?
Martin Scorsese: Nicholson worked in a different way, but that again is a private process. We developed [Costello] a little different from what Bill had put in. Basically we decided the date, the age, and the power of this man and the appearance of his total coming apart with so much power, and yet he’s falling apart. This is the way I work, this is my process. The other actors can talk, but we all worked together.
Was there anything else to Nicholson’s sex scene that was left out of the final cut?
Martin Scorsese: It’s got a lot of graphic sex and nudity and profanity in it, there’s no doubt. Since my early films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Mean Streets or whatever, the subject naturally for discussion has been what you can do, how far you can go in a film and how far you can’t.
What you see in the film is the result of a lot of work during filming and getting the process previewed. We previewed the film three times. Ultimately I decided what’s implicit is better than what’s explicit in the bedroom scene or wherever. Because we had been shooting around the cocaine, we came up with the device of painting the ceiling blue, with stars on it. It reminded me of the Pope’s ceiling in Avignon, during the period that the Pope had moved from the Vatican to Avignon. It was really interesting. You can’t see it in the film, but it’s there. The opera, the slow motion of Jack’s face, with the red shoes, all of these elements come together so ultimately the implied is better – the hallucinatory effect of the scene is what I wanted. When he says, you want some coke, there it is. I’m more interested in where it is. Then we decided in the porno theater, reality is better, so we did it more explicit. We used a phallus and Frank C. looks like he’s come from three or four days and nights of whatever he was doing and he’s out of his mind – and now he was going to go talk to Colin about business.
He’s creepy and Matt’s character’s whole life is dependent on him – so is Leo’s – and the man is losing his mind. He doesn’t care if he’s caught. He’s got all the drugs in the world. He’s got all the women in the world. He’s got all the money in the world. He doesn’t need it. He’s protected by the FBI. He doesn’t care. Jack and I were talking about it. He said, “I have it with me.” I said you want to take it with you and use it in the porno scene, it’s up to you. He said, “You want me to try to take it in the porno theatre.” I said all right; let me see what you wanna do with it in the porno theatre.
JACK NICHOLSON and MATT DAMON in THE DEPARTED.
Matt and Leo, please talk about working opposite Jack Nicholson in this film?
Matt Damon: We have a lot of Jack stories. The first day I worked with him, he had been working with Leo for about a week. It’s Sunday night, I’m looking over the script. We were shooting a scene in a movie theatre. I get a phone call. “Hi, Matt? Marty. The director.” I love that he always says Marty the Director. I said, yeah, I know who you are. He said, “Well, a funny thing has happened. Jack had some ideas for your scene tomorrow.” And he goes, “Okay, I’ll just get to it. Jack’s going to wear a dildo.” I thought, uh, ok, so I’ll see you at seven?
So we went in the next day and rehearsed it. Jack’s idea was, “Here’s the deal. I’m gonna come in. I’m gonna sit there, in the overcoat, and I’m gonna pull out the big dildo and we’re gonna laugh.” And I thought, ok, that’s a really good way to get into the scene. They have to meet there, and Jack really brought this incredible new element, this new layer to that character. Kind of obscene… but in a way that felt authentic. These guys really would sublimate sex into violence and violence into sex. I don’t know how much research he did or how much he just intuited or what his process was exactly. But I found him really committed to making the thing as believable and pushing the envelope as much as he could. I’m sure there’s a lot of stuff that didn’t make the final version.
Jack said, “I want to keep giving too much in all of these scenes and then let Marty figure out the level that’s right for his film.” That was really impressive just to see how much he was thinking about it, how much work he was putting it into it, and how obscene he was willing to be in order to be believable. I said, if he’s introducing this sexual element into this, then it’s fair game in the script and we have to reference it from Colin’s standpoint. So what would the effect be on Colin from this figure who’s loomed over his entire life, and who knows what’s happened between them.
We had a lot of conversations. Then we started rehearsing with Vera. Basically what we came down to was, okay, we’re in this macho world, and everyone’s beating each other up, everyone’s knocking each other over the head with glasses and pushing each other through walls. Jack’s this sexual dynamo. I want to lose every fight I’m in and I don’t want my dick to work. I want to take an aggressive run in the other direction. The film is going in all these new directions, so we felt like we caught a lucky break when Jack introduced this element because it really gave us a lot to play with, a lot to work on, and it was real.
JACK NICHOLSON stars as Frank Costello, a crime boss whose influence reaches far into the ranks of the Massachusetts State Police in Warner Bros. Pictures crime drama The Departed.
Martin Scorsese: Because you can see it in the final touches as Jack’s leaving the mark on Matt’s shoulder and on the expression in his face. He sort of recoils from us. That’s interesting, so we started following that up.
Matt Damon: Then that scene where we’re at the golf course, with Alec Baldwin where he says, “a woman sees a ring on a guy’s finger and she knows he’s got a certain amount of money and his cock works.” So we just thought the line, does my cock work? And he looks at me. I say, all the time. Then Alec goes, “That’s good.” It really did seem to thematically fit with what Jack was doing and it deepened the whole thing. Yeah, the obscene phone call, too. Bill always had him threatening me while she was watching me. But the language – Jack said, “Look if we’re gonna do this, let’s really do this.” The way he talks to me about her while she’s right there; it’s really obscene, and real.
Leonardo DiCaprio: Well, as far as Jack was concerned, we expected the unexpected. We knew that having Jack Nicholson join up with Martin Scorsese and play a gangster is something I think a lot of movie fans have been waiting for. For me, there were a number of different scenes where I had no idea what was going to happen. One scene in particular. We did the scene one way, and I remember Jack [telling] Marty he didn’t feel that [Costello] was intimidating enough. It was one of the table scenes. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life as far as being an actor is concerned. I remember coming into the scene one way and then I came in the next day and the prop guy told me, be careful, he’s got a fire extinguisher, a gun, some matches and a bottle of whiskey. Some things are in the film that he did that day and some things aren’t.
For me, as an actor, playing this guy that has to relay to the audience this constant 24-hour panic attack that I’m going through for my life, surrounded by people that would literally blow my head off if I gave them any indication of who I was, coupled with the fact that I’m sitting across the table from a homicidal maniac who will maybe light me on fire. That gives your character a whole new dynamic. It completely altered and shifted the scene in a different direction. I think we all knew that if Jack came on board he would grab the reins with this character and let him be freeform. We all were completely ready for that every day that we walked on the set. He had a short run, he filmed his scenes and then he left. But those were some of the most intense moments of the film. For me, certainly, there were some memories that I will never forget.
LEONARDO DiCAPRIO and JACK NICHOLSON in The Departed.
Matt and Leo, can you talk about your experiences with violence?
Matt Damon: Growing up, I wasn’t someone who fought a lot or anything like that. I saw a lot of violent things happen, but probably not more than most kids growing up in the city. My mother was a professor of early childhood and she specializes in nonviolent conflict resolutions. I hear about portrayal of violence in cinema all the time, particularly gratuitous violence, so I’m careful not to do any of that. None of the violence in this film is gratuitous and the characters all pay a price for their violence. That’s a good message to send out to people – that there’s a price to pay.
Leonardo DiCaprio: By watching Martin Scorsese movies, right? That form of immediate violence really is not familiar to me, but that’s what you do as an actor. If you can’t draw upon anything in your real life, you go meet people who have done these things. Part of the process for me was going to Boston – I had never spent any time there. I learned about the Boston subculture, meeting some of the real people who were around during the late ’80s, the Whitey era. I really wanted to meet some guys from South Boston. I spent a lot of time with a guy I met in Los Angeles who told me a lot of stories about the streets. Boston’s a really interesting place because everyone knows each other’s business. It’s like a little microcosm there. Everyone waves to each other on the street and they all have overlapping stories.
It was very important to meet some of the real characters and get to know them and hear some stories. I read a few books, but to be able to penetrate some of these guys and really get deep into what they were thinking was important. We shot a lot of it in New York; we should have shot some of it in Boston. We had a great technical advisor named Tom Duffy, who knew the entire history of Boston and what the streets were like. He was there throughout the entire filmmaking process. And the police gave us unbelievable advice. Matt actually went on a raid at a crack house.
Matt, can you discuss going on a drug bust with police?
Matt Damon: Yeah, have you ever seen the movie The Hard Way with Michael J. Fox? That was me. Hey guys, do I get a gun? They’re like, “Absolutely not, shut up.” I love sitting next to Marty, who’ll reference 40 of the greatest films ever made, and I’ll say have any of you guys seen The Hard Way? As Leo said, Tom Duffy was a huge resource for us. Leo got connected to some people who were around Whitey Bulger. Duff was able to get me around the police, and it was really fascinating. I had a real advantage because I’m from Boston, so I didn’t have to learn an accent or anything like that.
What I knew of the state police was from the times that I got pulled over for speeding on the pike. So to get in there and really see what these guys do was great. The ride-along was a great experience. I was a lot closer to the action than I was comfortable with, I’ll tell you that. We did the whole deep breathing, the little huddle, before we went in. They gave me a bulletproof vest and put me at the end of the line of people who go crashing through the door. They showed this guy. They had pictures of him. He was wanted on gun charges, drug charges, and he was on trial once for murder but hadn’t been convicted – so it wasn’t a room I would have gone running into. They went in with twice as many people as they would normally go in with. This was in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the Chelsea PD and the