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Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2002

They call me Mr. Scorsese


There's not much in the film world that can rival the combo of Cruise and Spielberg, but Martin Scorsese plus Leonardo DiCaprio comes pretty close. Their press conference at Tokyo's Park Hyatt hotel was packed beyond capacity, as America's most respected director hadn't been in Japan for 13 years. (Though if his plan to film Shusaku Endo's "Silence" ever gets greenlighted, we'll be seeing more of him.) Leo, for his part, seems still to be riding the "Titanic" wave of idol adoration, though it's possible his new hardcore image in "Gangs of New York" may dampen some of that.

News photo
Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese in Tokyo promoting "Gangs of New York"

At first glance, the two seem a bit of an odd couple; Leo is infinitely laid-back and lackadaisical, while Scorsese, even at age 60, still seems bursting with manic energy. But both seemed happy with the fruits of their collaboration and, as indicated below, eager to work together again.

On the "stormy" love scenes with Cameron Diaz:

Leonardo DiCaprio: In true Scorsese fashion, some of the love scenes weren't as gentle as the ones I had been used to. And Cameron and I, our relationship in the movie is very passionate and also filled with a lot of rage as well. We had one particular scene where she was supposed to slap me in the face, and -- I have to be honest -- it was my first time really getting slapped, really hard. And we did it over and over and over again, but it turned out to be great. Like Michael Caton-Jones -- the first director I made a film with, "This Boy's Life" -- said, "Pain is temporary, film is forever."

On the genesis of the project:

Martin Scorsese: I had started wanting to make a film of this nature back in 1971. So, over the years, it's been transformed many times into different scenarios. By the time we got to actually shoot the film, we were realizing that it had more resonance than we had thought, about the world as it is now, how the world has become so small, and about individual freedom and human rights. About acceptance of the differences between people, of different races and religions. And when Sept. 11 occurred, ultimately what Harvey Weinstein [one of "Gangs" producers and Miramax Films honcho] and myself decided was to take a hiatus in the editing of the film.

We spent maybe two to three months thinking, and working with the film in a less frantic way, because we realized we wouldn't make the release date of 2001. But mainly, due to the nature of the film, we wanted to take our time and see if the film could be presented the way we wanted it to be. And ultimately, it never affected the picture. What you see today is the film which, if I had finished it then, would have been the same.

On preparing for the role:

LDC: I worked out for six months, and we got postponed, so I had to continue working out for a year, which wasn't my favorite thing to do in the world, but nonetheless it's what the character demanded.

What was most interesting about the creation of this character was the fact that [my role of] Amsterdam was a composite character, he wasn't based on anyone specifically in American history. He was the result of figuring out what it would be like for a young, orphaned son of an Irish immigrant, a thief, somebody trying to make a way for themselves in this new experimental world, this pluralistic society where different races and religions were trying to live together.

On the stress of a nine-month shoot:

LDC: When you really love what you do, and you're in an environment like that [on the set of the fabulously re-created New York], you're not desperately wanting to go home.

I remember talking with Mr. Scorsese, we were about seven months into shooting, and he basically said to me, "I'm sorry we're going so long," and I turned to him and said, "Look, I'd be here for another eight months! This is a dream come true for me." I really honestly did enjoy every moment of working on that movie.

On costar Daniel-Day Lewis:

LDC: People always ask me, "Why doesn't Daniel work more, why doesn't he do more movies, what's going on?" And after working with him, I can see why he'd want to take long breaks. He gives so much everyday to what he does, and has such a high intensity, constantly, that it must be extremely difficult to keep that focus for long periods of time, it must be physically exhausting.

On why he keeps making movies about New York City:

MS: Well, it's a very selfish attachment. It's where I grew up, where I was raised, and it's the experience that I had of life. It was all filtered through experiencing life in the Lower East Side of New York. So much so that in making films [in NYC], I find myself more comfortable with the writing, with the editing, but not the actual photography, because I never really saw much light where I grew up. It was like, this is light [points to ceiling], electric light, you turn it on. I never saw the sun, it was very much an urban experience.

But ultimately it's a city I love because it's where I come from, and it's filled with energy, but most of all, I grew up knowing that the world wasn't just populated by one group of people. We had so many cultures, so many religions, so many languages, and it keeps shifting, turning. My neighborhood originally was Irish, then it became Italian, now it's very chic, apparently, and mainly Asian.

In the 19th century, as a historian told me, if democracy was going to work at all in America, it had to work first in New York. And so, in a funny way, it's like New York has become that symbol, of a world where everyone is trying to live together.

On their future plans:

MS: Future plans? Leo DiCaprio has sent me a script which I like very much called "The Aviator." It's a story that Leo's been working on for awhile, right?

LDC: It's the story of the young Howard Hughes in Hollywood, and it was a book that I read eight years ago and developed, and we finally came up with a great script, and it looks like we're gonna be shooting it in March of next year.

MS: I also do documentaries, and the other thing we're working on is a series of seven films on the American blues, the history of the blues. Each film has a different director, none of the films are chronologically in order, it's just feelings. One of the directors is Charles Burnett, another is Wim Wenders and another is Clint Eastwood, on piano blues. We hope to finish by early next year.



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