Scorsese Initially Wasn’t Interested in ‘Wolf of Wall Street,’ Then He Found an Angle

Wolf of Wall Street DiCaprio Scorsese
Courtesy of Paramount

Martin Scorsese admits that initially he was reluctant to take on “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

“Terry (Winter, his longtime collaborator on “Boardwalk Empire”) was the big proponent of the project. But when he, Rick Yorn and Leo (DiCaprio) brought it to me, I wasn’t open to it right away,” he says. “I felt I had dealt with this territory, but not on this level.” Interviewed at the Bel-Air Hotel, Scorsese — whose mind and speech operate at warp speed — was eloquent and detailed when offering praise for his colleagues on “Wolf of Wall Street,” including editor Thelma Schoonmaker, scripter Terence Winter, d.p. Rodrigo Prieto and others, who he says helped bring together a movie he knew would require a different stylistic approach than films like “Goodfellas” and “Casino.”

“I wasn’t that interested in the mechanics of what he (Jordan Belfort) did, but I became interested in the hustler, the idea of a man who takes your trust and then betrays you. Who are they? Do they have any remorse? Do they have feelings? I’ve seen good men do bad things because they had no choice. And they numb it with drugs and sex and finally there’s no moral landscape. And I thought “OK, now there we can go.”

The director and Prieto wanted a softer, warmer feel for early scenes when Belfort is young and naive. Prieto used anamorphic lenses so there would be a slight curve to the walls of the rooms, with low ceilings. They worked with different lenses, shutter speeds, camera tracks and various lighting sources, even using Christmas lights for a disco scene. “It was all experimenting, really,” Scorsese says. “It looks simple but it wasn’t and (Prieto) was very specific about it.”

As for Schoonmaker, Scorsese says: “Her greatest strength comes in the mind, the philosophy that she has, about art, life, politics, history. Philosophically, we have to remain strong to the main themes and to the reason I made the movie. I worked out my own (editing) styles in my head, but she knows how to implement those styles. You always have to ask: What did I want to say here? She’s the only person I really trust that way. Loyalty and trust, that’s all there is.

“She doesn’t come to the set, which is a blessing, so she can be a clean slate, the objective voice. She also stays to the truth of the actors, which is priceless. And we like hanging out together! It’s tough in there (the editing room). We’ve gone through many lifetimes in those rooms.”