Leonardo DiCaprio: ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Is a Punk Rock Film About The Darker Nature of Humans

The Wolf of Wall Street

Oscar-nominated actor defends Scorsese's new drama in Q&A with Variety

Leonardo DiCaprio, star and a producer of “Wolf of Wall Street” talked with Variety‘s Tim Gray about audience reaction, why he’s proud of the film and what he learned from Martin Scorsese.

What drew me to the project:

The severe honesty in which Jordan Belfort portrayed a hedonistic time in his life on Wall Street. It’s rare when someone is unafraid to divulge how dark they went. With all these people on Wall Street who’ve screwed over so many people since 2008, I became obsessed with playing a character who made me understand the mentality and nature of the seduction of Wall Street and greed. I appreciated his honesty.

The audience reaction:

This film may be misunderstood by some; I hope people understand we’re not condoning this behavior, that we’re indicting it. The book was a cautionary tale and if you sit through the end of the film, you’ll realize what we’re saying about these people and this world, because it’s an intoxicating one. I think it’s amazing somebody like Martin Scorsese is still making films that are vital and talked about, and have an element of controversy about them and are appealing to people of my generation. We grew up watching his films and he’s still making stuff that’s punk rock. It’s an amazing achievement.

The thing I learned about Wall Street:

It’s a world that still puzzles me. I’m fascinated and repulsed by it. (Jordan Belfort) wasn’t responsible for bankrupting our country, but he represented something in our culture and represented the attitude of these guys. When you’re put into that world, your main motivation is answering to your boss about what you’ve earned. That mentality is very destructive. With Jordan in this film, he created a feeding frenzy for people like that and he became a cult leader. Everybody on Wall Street is not like this. While doing research I learned there are plenty of people on Wall Street who are very responsible and trying to give back.

The day I laughed the hardest:

When we were doing Quaalude sequence, Marty, Jonah and I kept upping the ante to (make it) the most insane existential section of the film (laughs). We were laughing hysterically because we couldn’t believe we were doing a sequence like this in a major motion picture. Jonah said “Can you believe we’re doing what we’re doing?” Margot Robbie said something similar to me. It was painful on a physical level, but it was hilarious.

The hardest scene to film:

There were these two profound speeches at the heart of the film, the second of which gets you to understand how intoxicated Jordan was by the power of what he was doing. By the time I got up there, I understood what Jordan must have felt like, this cult-like messiah who was giving a twisted version of the truth but that became the “truth.” He must have felt like a rock star. (The speeches) are a twisted version of “Braveheart” war cries for freedom. But in this case it was to manipulate and screw over as many people as they could.

During filming, how I kept up energy:

It was the fever and excitement of doing a movie that got to break rules. Marty wanted the characterization of these people to become the plot. That infused the actors with an energy that anything was possible, that we could take a scene anywhere. It becomes closer to life. We got to improvise for a day, and Marty and Thelma (Schoonmaker, the film’s editor) would take that and sometimes and polish it to one line. That takes a director who understands that a movie is a discovery process. It’s what the actors give to you, and giving the actors the opportunity to create this. Marty filled us all with an excitement to be there. It was such a frenetic film endeavor. It was a giant adrenaline dump when I finished with it. It’s been almost a year and I am just trying to get myself back in the saddle again.

The thing I’m proudest of:

That we got to make the film we wanted to make. Throughout the process, we reminded each other why we were doing this movie and to not take a traditional approach to our characterization of Jordan. We consciously didn’t want to show the wake of their destruction. Didn’t want to see the people affected by that. The best movies are the ones where you’re a voyeur and you’re able to submerge yourself into the mentality of the characters. In order to do that, we wanted this to be a drug-infused, hypnotic quest for greed and indulgence so we could better understand the nature of who these people are.

Passion projects:

There are two films I’ve been passionate about making, this and “The Aviator.” To get to work with Marty at this point in his career and to make a movie that takes a lot of chances. People, no matter what their attitude is after seeing the film, should understand this is a film that’s outside the box and is very difficult to get done in this day and age; it almost never happens. That in its own right is commendable. I’m proud that films like this can still be somehow made; that’s in huge part due to our financiers who said, “Look, we understand that studios are doing a certain type of film but we believe there is an audience for films that don’t fit the criteria for a blockbuster but deserve to get made.” Thank God there are people who have taste for experimental filmmaking at this level and who really want to endorse this type of film. Because if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t see any types of film like this.

The best piece of direction Martin Scorsese gave me:

We were concerned whether people would go along on the journey of someone this hedonistic, self-consumed and debaucherous. He said “I’ve done many films like this and it’s important as a filmmaker to not pass judgment on who these people are. They represent something about the darker nature of human beings. You have to be authentic about the portrayal of who these people are. Don’t give them a false sense of empathy because you feel you have to. Portray them for who they are and audiences will go along with you.” That became my new mantra for filmmaking.

PHOTOS: Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese at ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ Premiere and Party

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  1. that’s up to me and no one else. the receptionist looks up and says in a surly voice: ‘Do you have a reservation? I read it with utter disbelief. helped by the fact that she rarely wears make-up. fiercely intelligent and hugely talented.But his condition deteriorated and in January last year he was admitted to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle,Scroll down for videoHowever, Finding the strain that works best for your specific needs is a pretty challenging task.

  2. There’s an awesome review of it : http://thereeljunkie.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/film-review-the-wolf-of-wall-street-2013/

    …..for anyone who loved or hated it!!!!

    Am I the only person who thinks Margot Robbie is totally underrated in her role?? Outshined, maybe.

  3. Maggie says:

    I fully enjoyed the movie. I went with a friend and really didn’t know what is was about. The film is not for everyone. It is about excess. Some describe the movie as filthy and it is, which is what I liked about it. I cannot speak from experience but I have met and have heard stories about such escapades from the 80s…where drugs flowed freely at many a party. I fully enjoyed the movie and will be waiting to purchase it on video.

  4. Boule says:

    At least this movie doesn’t lie to you. That’s the way it went for Jordan and that’s where it lead him.The way that it is made is attractive and the performances are believable, that’s why it’s very impressive to watch. But the reality of it, that lifestyle, these characters are sad and destructive. I think people have to make the difference as viewers between beautiful images and what they are telling us about the story. People are mistaking because I saw this movie and the message was really clear: the character tells you upfront that what he is doing is illegal and shows it to you. it can’t be more honest. I don’t understand what the fuss is about. Maybe people are shaken by it and it’s starting to make people look at films differently. Voilà!

  5. I like & respect DiCaprio, but the “outside the box” and experimental characteristics of this movie don’t take it off the hook for it’s content. He & Scorsese may not be condoning excess, but they are certainly promoting it. If I were in his shoes I’d likely also put working with a legend like Scorsese (who, yes, gets kudos for still being able to stir the pot at his age), but it doesn’t change the fact that “Wolf of Wall St.” – like many of Scorsese’s more recent films, shocks merely for the sake of shocking.

  6. Susan says:

    I found that the constant over- use of obscenities in practically every sentence of the film, from beginning to end, was unnecessary and detracted from the acting..

  7. JAY says:

    The point of going to the movies is to be entertained. I worked for Belfort at Stratton Oakmont, and witnessed this True story unfold, this movie is SPOT-ON !
    While working there as a junior broker i would always say to my friends and family “they should make a movie about this place… you have to see it to believe it”. DiCaprio’s performance was masterful, he played Belfort to a tee. Hill and the supporting cast are excellent. People must remember this is a cautionary tale, from an American Entrepreneur, with many messages: How Wall St. greed and abundance changes lives. How drugs and partying can ruin a promising career. How to succeed through hard work and persistance. In the end, you WILL be entertained.

  8. Slick Rick says:

    Those blame the way things are (or are perceived to be) on wall street or greed or the 1% are in denial. The media likes to victimize the person who’s house gets foreclosed, – even though they are the ones who took out the mortgage they new deep down inside (they were in denial) would not de sustainably affordable for the long haul – and now they blame this movie because it glorifies greed. Greed is why people buy homes they cannot afford, idolizing the Jonses……the greed of the 99%. No one forces anybody to be greedy and/or idolize money, they chose to do it themselves because they were never taught better. If you are worried about the effect a movie will have on your children it is probably because you are really afraid of what they are not getting from Mommy and Daddy at home but you are in denial and placing blame elsewhere. Open up your eyes, the problem is not coming from that square piece of glass in your living room or hand, its coming from the one hanging above your bathroom sink.

  9. becca helen says:

    REALITY CAN SUCK SOMETIMES. This is how the 1%, the so called Masters of the Universe, roll. Ya got a problem with that, take it up with Jordan Belfort. It’s not like the incredible Mr. Scorsese made this stuff up.

    • JJ Minehane says:

      These aren’t the 1%
      These are boiler room lowlifes , being glorified for Hollywood’s money machine

      • becca helen says:

        I beg to differ. Jordan Balfort, though born in the Bronx to an upper middle class family, was the final owner of a massive yacht formerly owned by COCO CHANNEL. That qualifies him as one of the freakin’ 1 %. He, and his ilk, are parasites too good for the lower intestines of Satan, like most 1 percneters, however. As for “Hollywood’s money machine,” you either contributed by buying a ticket, or are you commenting w/o seeing the movie?

  10. is there a real difference between west coast hunger for money and wallstreets? Seems similiar. Only difference is one side pretends to care

  11. Marie Milas says:

    I hate gratuitous displays of sex but this was in context. Incredible movie! The American public needs to know what hedonism looks like. The child was made realistic by her insignificance.

  12. Mike Janz says:

    I don’t understand what the big deal is, are they trying to tell us that people don’t act like that?
    If you don’t like the theme of the movie, don’t go see it!

  13. AnthonyL. says:

    I think it’s hilarious that these guys think Hollywood and the films they makes aren’t the same as what happens on Wall Street. They are part of corporate America—the celebrity of Hollywood is as guilty as he stockbroker of Wall Street when engaging in excess. The only reason Marty and Leo went so far in the depravity is that they themselves are engaged in depravity—they needed to be able to say, “We might be sick, but not THAT sick.” These people truly are fools.

  14. Katie10 says:

    This film is not even R which it was rated. It is X and totally pornographic without merit at all.The audience was stunned into silence at the assault on their senses. Shame on the the people who made this disgusting film.

    • becca helen says:

      It’s obvious you don’t have any of the back story on this film. You imply that you saw it, so one must assume you wandered in off the streets. This kind of stuff happens every day among the 1% WORLDWIDE. I have the utmost respect for Scorsese, and DiCaprio, for exposing the scum of the universe. Would be a pity if the actual scum who exist in this evil vacuum had a little INSTANT KARMA come down upon their heads…….like Maxwell Silver Hammer, only lethal.

  15. Crap is crap no matter how hard you try to rationalize it.

  16. How can he defend the indefensible?

  17. Just in case he sees this, you actually do condone whatever happens in a movie your star in. Actions, not words. Ever hear of it. Leo?

  18. BarbaraS says:

    What a crock! Will not be seeing that movie.

  19. Sick of Hollywood says:

    I usually like movies starring Matt Damon, but thi one was definitely the exception. The movie was too long for starters–over 3 hours of pure debauchery. I was already aware of the excesses of Wall Street, and the saddest part was that that the guy only got 3 years after ruining people’s lives. It was also the closest thing I have seen to pornography mascerading as a mainstream movie. No wonder people are avoiding the movies these days. Trash, pure trash.

  20. K.williamson says:

    The group I was with walked out of this film …….Wish I had never wasted my $ on it

  21. Tharpie says:

    DiCaprio doesnt have to look far. I literally cannot think of a more hedonistic and greedy culture than Hollywood. Im sure DiCaprio excludes his own vast fortunes when he judged the greed of others. Give me a break.

  22. Sherry Gee says:

    I just went and saw The Wolf of Wall Street tonight and it was FANTASTIC! The entire time I was in the theater watching it I was in contact with reality and knew that it was a movie.

  23. Peter Cottontail says:

    ” GAWD …I don’t condone it …I just want the money..you think I’m just a *****??? ”

    That s an angry quote from Leon ….
    You do realize a gun was put to his head to the part in the movie ..right ?

  24. ernaldo says:

    I would probably be best Leo, if you just kept your stupid mouth shut. Nobody’s expecting intelligent thought from an actor, try not to disappoint….

  25. Aidil says:

    hhmmmmm.. boring

  26. Sud1 says:

    “we’re not condoning this behavior, … we’re indicting it”

    and ultimately, like Belfort, trying to make a buck off it.

  27. Jack says:

    Pretentious interview.

  28. Bill says:

    As some have said, this movie endorses the Wall Street lifestyle shown the same way Casino and Goodfellas endorse life in the mob.

    There are appealing elements but also grave consequences, a scenario Scorsese excels at presenting.

  29. rugolin says:

    The book by Belfort is more of a boast than a confession and the movie appears to be the same to few people who told me Belfort is my hero. Now you see Belfort is welching on his restitution deal despite movie,book and speaking deals which he says ended with his probation. He is living in a mansion while some of his victims struggle with poverty. His new friend Leo DiCaprio has even given him a verbal endorsement on his web site for his motivational speaking business.He is quote as saying:

    “What separates Jordan’s story from others like it is the brutal honesty in which he talks about the mistakes that he’s made in his life … Jordan stands as a shining example of the transformative qualities of ambition and hard work, and in that regard he a true motivator.”

    That doesn’t sound like much of an indictment of the man or his actions which continue to victimize the people he stole from.

  30. becca helen says:

    Geez, anyone with an ounce of critical thinking skills gets it. Those who missed the boat do so because they live in a box. Thanks, Leo and “Marty,” for telling it like it is. Now, if you could lock these SOB’s up for life, uh, that would simply be wild.

  31. jabon says:

    PS: Leo and Marty can join Beyonce who took the Challenger tragedy and stuck it into a pop song to make a buck (as if she needed it). Decency is not something you can buy…

  32. jabon says:

    “We’re not condoning this behavior”…

    No, just getting filthy rich by exploiting it. What’s the difference? Martin and Leo are both such hypocrites…

  33. Dirk says:

    How is this subject matter at all “outside the box.?” The theme of the pursuit of easy money and decadence is a stock theme, done all the time.

    • BarbaraS says:

      You don’t often see that theme used when representing those 1 percenters in the permanent political class, now do you?

  34. Actors and Junk Journalists actually think that a private sector millionaire is greedy but when he goes to work for the government he leaves that greed behind and only does good. Greed is more dangerous when it is within government as it does today.

  35. OB says:

    Ugh. Reading the comments here is so depressing… To quote some lyrics: “Religious nuts, political fanatics in a stew.”

    If you haven’t seen the film, don’t comment. You lack credibility and your “opinion,” in this case, is worthless.

    And to those so eager to comment on DiCaprio: How about I comment on your lives – without knowing you personally or having ever seen you in your daily existence. How does that sound? Stupid, right? Because it is. If I don’t know you as a person, I can’t really talk about you personally, right? I mean, that would be idiotic! I can’t make comments about your skill or personality or finances. I may WANT TO… I may want to talk about what a moron you truly are (in fairness, and as an admission, I probably have when passing you on the 405), but that’s fleeting and backed up by nothing more than what I DO KNOW of you (in this instance, that you’re a bad driver).

    I worked with Leonardo about ten years ago. He was an excellent guy. Generous and kind (not to me, per se, I had little to do with him), but I saw things first hand that I deemed to be unusual in the film business. So maybe, I don’t know… leave out the personal attacks? I’m sure he’s sorry you and I are not wealthy. Or entirely successful. But he is and that is that. Get over it.

    The other thing that’s sad? People who, apparently, never paid attention in English class. Wow. Basic grammar, people! Learn the basics. Then proofread before you hit “Post Comment.” I stop reading when I hit the first spelling error.

    Move on with your lives. “It’s just a movie.”

  36. Catherine says:

    Leo, Marty, Now would be a Great time to contact me. “Mr. Umnutfrankenstein” takes place in the late 1800″s in Salem Massachusetts. Great Entertainment the family can enjoy. All kinds of characters waiting to come to life. Call me Happy New Year!

  37. Marty S. says:

    Looks like a lot of people got a grassy knoll for Christmas.

  38. shaun obanion says:

    Wow. People really need to relax. It’s a MOVIE, not an education. The film, in fact, spends the majority of its runtime showing the descent of these characters and their comeuppance – though some get off relatively easy as compared to their crimes.

    The film is a cautionary tale and depicts the transition of a wet behind the ears kid into some sort of modern day (1980’s) King who throws it all away due to (extremely) bad decisions and drugs.

    It’s Greek tragedy. It’s CALIGULA. It certainly didn’t make me want to live that life. Did you all go this crazy over GOODFELLAS? Do you think that film endorsed the mafia lifestyle? Please! Everyone in that film ended up dead (murdered or OD’d), or in prison or murdered in prison. Not a ringing endorsement for the lifestyle.

    To the people getting all religious about it? Sorry, but you’re out of line – and anyone who condemns a film without having seen it? You lack common sense and have no ability to contribute to the conversation. Once you’ve seen it, you’re free to submit an opinion, but not without having watched it. Failing that, you’re the same kind of people who endorse banning (or burning) books and other works of art.

    WOLF OF WALL STREET is a good film. Far from perfect, but a good film. It’s a fascinating look into the life of a man who got sucked in by temptation, corruption and greed. He’s a despicable person from about 15 minutes in, led to the dark side… and it was incredibly interesting to see it happen.

  39. LWJR says:

    The guy is a loser….actor with no brain

  40. Jere Joiner says:

    I won’t waste my time watching this debauchery. Hollywood may not think there is sin in the world, but I do. Others may watch it but I will not see one red cent of my money go into the filmmaker’s pocket.

    • If you watched the film, you’d realize that it actually illustrates “sin” and immorality. It shows precisely the consequences of living such a life. I remember watching these types of films as a kid – they actually helped me to see what people can go through when they lose their sense of self or their own moral compass. Some people need to get a greater sense of reality so they can then understand true morality. Not some illogical and inconsistent version which is approved by religion and state.

  41. I enjoyed this movie very much. It’s a very rare look, in our very politically correct society, at the depths people CAN go to when they become rich. But Dicaprio and Jonah Hill do a remarkable job in this. It’s just a stunning story and told very well. It has a little bit of Good Fellas and Boogey Nights in it, which is why some people today will hate it. While watching it I kind of realized just how long it’d been since I’d seen such a “grown up” movie.

    Hollywood, and our society in general, has really sissified the movies quite a bit. I like real, deep and dark stories sometimes. And this is what Jordan Belfort claims to have went through. It’s a really good movie, just don’t watch it with young kids. Although in all honesty, it won’t harm a young kid. It will motivate them in some ways to do what they want in their lives and screw all the politically correct monsters of control out there. There are consequences to virtually everything.

    • I’m sure it is a morality tale, and probably a good one (Scorcese knows his stuff), It’s DiCaprio that is saying that it’s an attack on Wall Street. Perhaps, he meant criminals on Wall Street. The vast majority of investors, managers, etc. are decent, hardworking people.

      And in this day an age, it is not a stretch to think then when an actor says “With all these people on Wall Street who’ve screwed over so many people since 2008, I became obsessed with playing a character who made me understand the mentality and nature of the seduction of Wall Street and greed.” that that is code for the free-market.

  42. kimdi01 says:

    The “Wolf of Wall Street” is being played, and produced, by a wolf of Hollywood expecting to make millions. What is really telling by his comments would be the phrase “if you sit through the end of the film” meaning some are leaving early when they find their admission fee was a waste of time and money. In other words, get out will the getting is good. Here is a person so enthralled with himself that he feels everybody should thing those that invest are parasites, well, every one but himself. Didn’t he “invest” in the film being that he is listed as a producer? Why would he feel every one else is bad while he should not be included in that segment of the population. A good idea would be to not go to his films any more and then he can see how the investing can eventually work out.

  43. mcg99 says:

    I’m sorry, doesn’t he make MILLLIONS of dollars – why do these actors always pretend that they’re nothing like the filthy rich – THEY ARE THE FILTHY RICH! HYOPOCRITES

  44. music91390 says:

    Here’s the good new on the Today Show web site……Joedan may be getting his own reality show… Maybe Leo can do promo spots for that too.
    “Grant tracked down Belfort, 
who, after serving 28 months for his crimes, now works as a successful motivational speaker based out
 of Manhattan Beach, Calif. The pair then worked together to devise a pitch tailored to Belfort’s “unique set of business skills.”

    The result is an uplifting show that sees Belfort, now 51, stepping in to help others who, like him, have hit rock bottom but still hold out some hope for redemption.

    Interest has been high for the project among those networks that already have met the author, says Grant, who describes the reaction of several execs to Belfort’s magnetic, made-for-reality personality: “He was described to 
us after leaving the room as ‘TV gold.’ ”

    Since its Christmas Day release, the Martin Scorsese-directed “Wolf of Wall Street” has grossed north of $30 million at the stateside box office. The R-rated film was widely praised by critics but has also seen some backlash over the portrayal of Belfort’s crimes. “

  45. Greg Marotta says:

    Very risky, indeed, to build a film around the portrayal of an outright scumbag. Even riskier to put actual scumbags in the movie portraying themselves (Dietl).

  46. Joe says:

    You might feel you are not glorifying Belfort’s behavior, but you are enriching him.

  47. Ted Trent says:

    I felt the film was powerful; however, I had several problems with it. I felt it was too long. It showed drugs and sex too much….WE GOT IT after about 40 minutes of the drugs and sex. I hungered for more storyline. I felt I was watching porn. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think porn is “wrong,” but I don’t feel it was needed as much as it was used to tell this story. It’s like CAKE WARS…how much icing needs to be placed on top of a cake? I just think about my nieces and nephews, they see moves like these and really think this is what is great if you can get away with it. I just don’t think we need to AWARD THAT! I think we can appreciate it and the box office and gross a lot of money, but I wouldn’t encourage it with awards (though Leonardo was amazing.

    • Nat Scientist says:

      ” just think about my nieces and nephews, they see moves like these and really think this is what is great if you can get away with it.”
      If in fact that’s the case, one wonders what values they have learned at home before they bought the movie ticket. Kill for peace or a piece was so Vietnam war, over it?

    • Fakowi Tribe says:

      Eather make a XXX film or a classic, you can’t make them together and entertain the movie masses

  48. Considerthis says:

    Hollywood treats the movie goer the same way Wall Street treats the investors. This is what I came with anyway. Same monster, different actors.

  49. Catherine says:

    Leo, and Marty, Happy New Year! Let’s Ring it in together.

  50. Catherine says:

    Leo, Marty, Mr.Umnutfrankenstein” Deserves a look. If you can do this why not try Umnut? Clean, Nice, Family Oriented. Entertaining, Romance Comedy. Plus more. Catherine says contact her A.S.A.P.

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