Politics, Palin, and Pain with 'Lies' Star Leonardo DiCaprio

by Jordan Riefe



When opportunity knocks in life, sometimes it's so good that you'd be crazy to pass it up. That's exactly what happened to Leonardo DiCaprio when the opportunity presented itself to work with fellow actor Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott on the covert operative action-drama Body of Lies. Even if you're an A-list actor with a hectic schedule, those types of opportunities might only come around once or twice in a lifetime. In Body of Lies DiCaprio steps into the shoes of CIA operative Roger Ferris who uncovers a link to a major terrorist leader who's thought to be working out of the Middle East.

At the recent Body of Lies junket in L.A., DiCaprio sat down with journalists for a candidly real chat about working on the film, how it changed his view of the Iraq War, how Body of Lies might have an impact on voters during the U.S. Election, his thoughts on Sarah Palin's decision to remove polar bears from the endangered species list, and how he prepared for the film's realistic and intense torture sequence.


How were those brown contact lenses?

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: You get used to them. It was very important, physically, that the character looked like he could walk down the street in the Middle East and not get targeted or pin-pointed as an outsider and, as you know, hints of my character having Arabic and Arab blood and all of this. So I wanted to have a physical transformation in the sense that I looked entirely different. So, yeah, I mean you do run into problems with action sequences and dust and stuff like that getting into your eyes with the contacts, but it's all part of what you're paid for.

It seems like you've been playing a foreigner a lot. Is this your intention?

DICAPRIO: I guess the only other one I can think of is Blood Diamond in that regard, but this film is definitely topical and political and it does talk about U.S. foreign relations, and it does talk about the war on terror, and it does deal with a lot of huge themes that are on the consciousness of the world and the American public as far as morality and what's right and wrong in the situation of war. But I don't think it takes any political side, which is what was really intriguing.

And I love that this movie just kind of gives an accurate depiction as best it can be because - and I've said this before - for the CIA to operate, we can't really know what they're doing. But as far as the collective stories that Ignatius got from the Middle East, and the relationships he developed, it's all based on the most up-to-date accounts of CIA operations in the Middle East. So it's just telling a story, and presents, in doing that, a lot of things for the audience to sit there and ponder over. And that's what's good about the movie. It doesn't tell you what to think or tell you how to feel. It's giving you just as real as what we can hope for account of what...

Do you hope that this movie effects how the American public votes in the upcoming elections?

DICAPRIO: I've no idea, and because it's what I've just said, it can give maybe a possible tone to a topic like this. But I don't think its going to change people's viewpoints. I don't know. You never know. I don't know what any movie really does at the end of the day. I mean, it can effect you emotionally, possibly, and it can give you a little more insight into how complicated a war like this is. It can give you a little insight into the fact that we've sort of bitten off more than we can chew, but will that make any tangible change? Who knows? I don't know.

You filmed this in Morocco. Did you have chance to visit Iraq or Jordan where these events take place?

DICAPRIO: Oh, I didn't have enough time. No way. [laughs] I mean, I literally went from [one] movie to the next. This is the first time I've ever gone from movie to movie to movie in my life. I usually try to take a few months off in between, but these scripts were just so ready and so good, and the people that I got the opportunity to work with were so good - going from Revolutionary Road with Kate Winslet, you know, I had a couple of weeks and boom, I was in Morocco. It was an intense and odd transition, but it was one of those situations in which I had to seize the opportunity to work with Ridley [Scott] and Russell [Crowe] on a film like this. It was just too good.

Are you kind of like your character, Ferris, who is affected by the morality of the situation as compared to Hoffman who has no morals because he's an outsider in the situation? How do you see that?

DICAPRIO: Quite possibly, yes. I mean that what people or the audience will identify with, or I identified with, in Ferris is that he's somebody that's trying to operate in a very treacherous, cutthroat world with a higher moral context. He's trying to be good on his word; he's trying to be an honorable representation of his country, and he's constantly put in scenarios in which he's having to break those promises and cut ties and make people mistrust him and therefore make people mistrust his country, and he doesn't want to be a representation of that. And that is the big moral dilemma for him throughout the whole movie. And I think something that the audience members will really attach themselves to, because I think they see themselves in someone like that if they were in that scenario.

He's a human being after all, and these are human beings that he is dealing with, so that was what was most compelling about Ferris as a character being pulled in both directions and, at the end of the day the great thing - not the great thing, but the interesting thing about somebody whose gone through that experience who is in the field who is making those harsh decisions, without giving away the end of the movie, kind of realizes, you know, 'I'm my own man. I'm not beholden to any specific country; any particular thought process or any moral high ground other than what I can do as an individual.' And that's the sort of epiphany that he comes to.

Can you understand and identify with your "boss" in this movie, Ed Hoffman, and the necessary evil that he's doing?

DICAPRIO: He's a sort of bull-headed CIA operative professional that is staying back home and trying to manipulate his men on the ground, and you can imagine that he has a dozen people like Ferris sort of obtaining information as best as he can, and is in charge of his specific sector in the CIA . So Ferris, like I said, is caught between these two men. So he feels as if he's making more progress for his country actually being in the Middle East and developing a relationship with someone else, and that is the Hani character, and wants to respect and value that relationship and the ties that he's made in the Middle East, and the friends that he's made in the Middle East. And I think, at the end of the day, he knows what he's doing more than his boss does but he has to be loyal to his country.

Do you identify with Ferris more than with Hoffman?

DICAPRIO: Oh, definitely more with Ferris. I do identify with Ferris a lot more. I don't agree with Hoffman's ethics.

Have your views of the CIA and the Iraq invasion changed since this movie?

DICAPRIO: Yes. This is a very highly-advanced movie, technologically speaking, as far as the way the CIA and I perform with drones in the sky. But when you start to really get down to the nuts and bolts of it, it's men on the ground trying to follow any possible rumor that they can, and develop relationships and getting people to sort of betray their country to give us information. And it's done from pieces of paper to pieces of paper and rumor to rumor; it's people grasping at straws trying to follow any lead that they possibly can because, in actuality, if we were as effective as we would hope we would be, this war would be maybe over now. You know, it's a very difficult job and it made me realize how we've bitten off so much more than we can chew in this war. That's what it made me realize; how difficult their task is; this job that they actually do.

Talk about working with Russell Crowe?

DICAPRIO: He's one of the great actors around, and I worked with him when I was very young. We did The Quick and the Dead together. I was 18 and I forget how old he was. He'd just come from Romper Stomper, and I'd just come from What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, and we were both just sort of looking around saying, "How do we conduct ourselves on a big movie set like this?" And now it's been a dozen films later for both of us, and it's good to see that he's the same guy; he's kind of unchanged. He has a great sense of humor and he's cool to be around. He's a pro and he takes his job really seriously, and there's nothing else you could ask for as far as working relationships are concerned.

Do you see an end to the war in Iraq?

DICAPRIO: I have no idea.

Even now with this climate... It's a very important time?

DICAPRIO: I don't know. I really don't know. Hopefully people will embrace government again because there's been a lot of... Obviously, if you look at the polls right now, the situation isn't very popular even amongst American citizens. And this administration is at an all-time low as far as popularity is concerned, so hopefully, whoever is next, will make people want to believe in government a little more and believe that whoever is in office is a true representation of what we want our country to be, not only internally but throughout the rest of the world. And that's going to be a huge pivotal changing moment. And that's what were all sort of looking towards; what's gonna happen. What choice are American citizens going to really make next term?

How was it working with Ridley Scott?

DICAPRIO: He is one of the most compelling directors to work with because it's amazing the way his brain operates. Even on set - he's a human editing machine. He's able to concentrate on seven different angles at the same time; twenty different departments; organize things in a way that I've never seen anyone be able to do. It's almost like a computer operating on such a high level that it's hard to keep up with. And he relies so much on...

As far as working with him as an actor performance-wise, is concerned, he relies so much on his instincts. And he's constantly checking his guts, saying, "Do I believe this or do I not believe it?" I guess it's a mantra that he just says to himself constantly, because if he doesn't believe it, everything changes immediately, you know? And everyone around you needs to be prepared, at any given time, to do whatever direction we're supposed to go in. He could just move the entire set down the block; put a helicopter up; shoot the top of your head. You know, who knows? You never know. But he's able to focus and he's sort of on the forefront of technology. And in all these regards, he's just able to do these things that I haven't seen many directors able to do, concentration-wise.

Ridley Scott said he was tough on you.

DICAPRIO: He did? I don't think he was tough on me, no. I didn't feel he was tough on me, no. I think the pace of the movie was tough; the pace that he starts out with. I mean, I haven't been on a film where you're doing such monumental scenes, or such monumental sequences, in such a short period of time. That was like, 'Well, okay, I have to adjust to how fast you're moving here,' because I usually want to slow things down and talk about everything for a long time. And he's like, 'No! Shoot it - you'll love it when you see it! If you don't like it, we'll do it over again!' That kind of thing.

As an outspoken conservationist, what do you think of John McCain's running mate Sarah Palin, who wants to take polar bears off the endangered species list?

DICAPRIO: Umm, yeah [growls] Without getting too much into one political agenda or the other, I just hope that whoever is our president really makes the United States at the forefront of the environmental revolution that's going on. Brazil has moved towards alternative fuels. I think we really need to be the ones to really set an example for the rest of the world. We are the ones that should be at the height of technology, and these last eight years we've failed miserably. We're the biggest polluters; the biggest contributors to waste, and it's time we do that. It's time we start changing things around and looking for cleaner, more renewable technologies that are out there and available, and make that the forefront of how we power our country.

How is Shutter Island going?

DICAPRIO: I don't know. When Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker get into an editing room, they lock the doors and they just go to work for a year, you know? They're old school in the way that they edit movies. I mean, I do my impersonation all the time in the editing room. They're old cinemaophiles in that regard, so we'll see.

How is Revolutionary Road with Kate Winslet?

DICAPRIO: Great. I mean, she brought the script to me. She had this novel; she loved this novel [Richard Yates] for a long period of time and finally felt the script was at the place where it needed to be. And her husband [Sam Mendes] decided to direct, and it's kind of a cultish book that got turned into this movie which is very much about the 1950s and the moral dilemmas that the United States was faced with during that time, contained into one family, the American ideals of home living or whether to try to break out and do something different with your life.

And as much as the story has kind of lasted for so many years and become cultish even today because it's so relevant to what we still hold on to morally in the United States - like that was the transition infancy of where we are today in this country and what we believe in as far of ideals of America. But it's still a very foreign time. It was also one of the best portrayals of the disintegration of a relationship I've ever read. And I knew that Kate and I could push each other's buttons and push each other to get good stuff out of each other. She's remained a close, close friend of mine for years and she's the best actress of her generation.

How do you view yourself today as you approach 34?

DICAPRIO: I'm very happy doing what I'm doing, I've gotta say. I love to keep busy. I get really bored if I don't - if I'm not involved with something that I care about, be it whether that be personal stuff or whether it be films or environmental issues that I've taken on. And I hope to continue both of those things. Really, it excites me and it makes me jump out of bed in the morning to be able to do this stuff.

How was your torture scene in this movie?

DICAPRIO: That was one of the hardest sequences to do in the movie because we'd put so much thought and so much research into it and we knew if that scene didn't work, then the whole movie wouldn't work. So it's really a hardcore, intense scene to watch because we really got as many experts as we possibly could to really chime in on the realism of it. It was so stressful that I kind of became sick for three days afterwards. Because there was months of thought and energy put into that one scene.