Actors and helmers work well in comfort zone

Making the psychological horror-thriller “Shutter Island,” Martin Scorsese asked Leonardo DiCaprio to play his nerve-jangled U.S. Marshal three different ways, modulating the levels of intensity and insanity from take to take, scene to scene. The director and actor — collaborators on four films now — weren’t sure when they wanted to reveal the character’s true mental disposition, so they left themselves plenty of options for the editing room.

“So much of the film relied on the ending,” DiCaprio says. “To give away too much too early would have ruined the experience. It was up to Marty and (longtime editor) Thelma (Schoonmaker) to sit in the editing room. That’s half the brilliance of his work, that work with Thelma.”

Earning that level of trust — and DiCaprio effusively praises Scorsese for letting the “actors’ work ultimately dictate the narrative of the movie” — is one of many reasons filmmakers return again and again to actors with whom they’ve developed a shorthand working relationship over the years.

“You start from a different place of trust,” says “King’s Speech” director Tom Hooper, who favors using a revolving ensemble of actors. “You’re picking up a dialogue where you left off. When I’m going forward and casting a new project, I always think of past relationships first.”

Many of the directors in this year’s Oscar race continually return to actors whom they know can deliver. David O. Russell and Mark Wahlberg teamed for a third time in the gritty boxing drama “The Fighter.” The Coens reunited with Jeff Bridges (aka “The Dude”) for “True Grit.” Hooper cast Timothy Spall from “The Damned United” as Winston Churchill in “The King’s Speech” and Eve Best, an actress he knew from his days at Oxford, as Wallis Simpson.

And, of course, Mike Leigh, who famously creates his films with his trusted ensemble of actors, returned to his group of favorites for the highly praised drama, “Another Year.”

“It’s always a stimulating, fascinating way to work,” says seven-time Leigh collaborator Jim Broadbent of the lengthy process in which the director crafts the screenplay with his actors. “It’s fairly demanding, which is why, I think he returns to the same group. It’s long weeks where you’re focusing at the expense of everything else.”

Adds Lesley Manville, who has also worked with Leigh on seven movies, including her much-touted perf in “Another Year”: “The great thing about Mike is that I know he’s going to take me someplace different. The creative process is the same, but I’ve never remotely repeated a character. And none of them have been anything like me, thank God.”

Sometimes, it’s the actor who reaches out to director. After Darren Aronofsky decided not to make “The Fighter,” Wahlberg turned to Russell, with whom he had made “Three Kings” and “I Heart Huckabees.” Russell, one of the first to utilize Wahlberg’s comic chops with “Huckabees,” quickly signed on for the reunion.

“When I first met Mark, he was a 26-year-old mumbling kid,” Russell says. “Now he’s someone who has worked with Scorsese and has done quite a bit of producing. He has grown both as an actor and as a collaborator.”

And that progress was needed, Russell says, for “The Fighter” to work.

“Mark’s playing the guy at the center of the storm, reacting to these crazy characters spinning around him,” Russell says. “It’s very much a performance from the Spencer Tracy school of acting. You know, ‘Don’t let them catch you do it.’ It’s not showy, but not many people can do it.”

The “Fighter” collaboration went so well that Wahlberg and Russell are developing several movies together, including an adaptation of the video game “Uncharted: Drake’s Revenge.”

“You find someone who you click with and somebody like Mark who can do a lot of different things, there’s no reason not to come back,” Russell says.

More from Eye on the Oscars: The Director
Directors return to reliable troupe
DIRECTORS
Darren Aronofsky | Danny Boyle | Lisa Cholodenko | David Fincher | Debra Granik | Tom Hooper | Christopher Nolan | David O. Russell | Martin Scorsese | Lee Unkrich
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