Leonardo DiCaprio at the Variety Screening
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

Leonardo DiCaprio said it took him six years as an actor and producer to get “The Wolf of Wall Street” to the big screen. He spoke to a packed house of Academy voters on Tuesday night at a Variety screening series in New York’s Chelsea Bow Tie Cinemas.

“At the end of the day, this was a reaction to what we see in our culture,” DiCaprio said of the adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s memoirs about his years as a corrupt stockbroker. “It’s a timeless thing, the lust for wealth and money and power, but it’s done on such a massive scale nowadays, certainly after 2008.”

DiCaprio said that director Martin Scorsese was “constantly laughing” on set.

“The comedy came from the absurdity of it,” DiCaprio explained. “Some people have had a reaction to the humor in the film, because they think we’re glorifying the world. [Scorsese] said quite recently, ‘Why should I be polite in my filmmaking when these people were so impolite?’ We didn’t intend for this to be comedic. It came from the sheer audacity and absurdity of their life.”

He also addressed some of the criticisms that the film celebrates Belfort’s corrupt lifestyle that eventually led a 22-month-prison term for swindling $200 million from investors.

“There have been some reaction to why we don’t cut away to the victims and show the ramifications of their actions,” DiCaprio added. “And [Scorsese] said, ‘Look, I’m not here to make a didactic movie. I want to make a film that is reflective of who these people are.’ He has his own moral compass and feeling about who these people are, he doesn’t agree with the activity obviously, and it’s a cautionary tale.”

DiCaprio said that he worked closely with Belfort, who was released from federal prison in 2006, when preparing the role. “My relationship with Jordan from an actor’s perspective was great, because there’s nothing he wouldn’t tell me,” DiCaprio said. After Belfort saw the film in November, he told DiCaprio, “I’m ashamed to admit my favorite movie of all time happens to be about me.”

And DiCaprio said he’d also heard from one of his “Django Unchained” co-stars about his performance — specifically, his dance scenes.

“I ran into Jamie Foxx, who is a friend, he watched it with some female friends of his, and one of them turned to him and said, ‘Is Leo really doing that, or is that CGI?’” DiCaprio quipped.

DiCaprio, who has worked with Scorsese five times, said he grew up admiring the director. One of his early goals as an actor was to be in a Scorsese movie.

“As soon as I had the opportunity to really finance a movie based on my name, which was essentially after ‘Titanic,’ I pursued him,” DiCaprio said of 2002′s “Gangs of New York,” their first outing together. “I know the trust level has built over the years. [Scorsese] has taught me not only about being a better actor, but the history of cinema and the importance of cinema as an art form.”

“The Wolf of Wall Street” has so far grossed $227 million worldwide.

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