Link: www.bbc.co.uk - January 28, 2009

 

 

Revolutionary Road: Leonardo DiCaprio interview

by Stella Papamichael

 

BBC Film Network spoke to the film's lead actor and all-round Hollywood star, Leonardo DiCaprio about the much-acclaimed film and his rewarding experience of working with co-star Kate Winslet and Brit Director, Sam Mendes.

 

American novelist Richard Yates made his debut in 1961 with Revolutionary Road, the story of a young suburban couple struggling to find their place in the world. Although the book was received with much acclaim at the time, it has taken almost fifty years to arrive on our cinema screens. Revolutionary Road - the film, was eventually developed in the UK, championed by Kate Winslet who took the script to husband Sam Mendes, the Oscar-winning director of American Beauty (1999). Thankfully he shared her enthusiasm and after so many false starts, their involvement was enough to convince BBC Films to help bankroll the project. For Winslet, it's been great news on many levels. She stars in award-winning form opposite her old cohort Leonardo DiCaprio, more than a decade after they sailed to box office wonderland in Titanic (1997). Here, DiCaprio takes time out to reflect on the bumpy journey to Revolutionary Road and why working with the Brits was such a rewarding experience.

It's taken almost fifty years for Richard Yates' book to be adapted to film despite numerous attempts. Did that surprise you?

It's tough material to translate into a film format so it didn't surprise me that it hadn't been made already. I'd heard of the book, my father knew of it, but I'd never read the novel. As soon as I did read it I understood why so many people had attached themselves to the book through the years; because it really lends itself to actors and the film format because of what Yates was able to capture- that voice of doubt that we all have as we are projecting an air of confidence... It was a very post-modern novel, way ahead of its time. And it really captured, certainly, Post-Industrial Revolution America where a lot of the American value systems were being formed; that iconic imagery of a man's role in a household and a woman's role in the household. Here are two people trying desperately to break free of that and hold on to some individualism in that very contained world.

You've played a lot of dreamers in your career and it almost always ends badly for them. That seems very 'un-American' for an actor of your status - not to win in the end...

That is what was great about Yates' novel - there is no clear-cut hero in this film. If there is a heroic character, then it's Kate's character because she is the one who is willing to risk everything to lead the life that she wants to live. My character is entirely un-heroic. He's unable to break free of his environment. What was compelling about doing this movie is that these are very real, everyday problems and if a studio were to make this film nowadays and start the project from scratch, this couple would have to win the lottery or there'd have to be dead bodies in the basement. There couldn't be just this...there's rarely a movie these days that's just about people and their normal struggles to find happiness in their lives.

Is that why you think it took British money to get this film off the ground in the end?

Possibly. Possibly so! I very much doubt that it-- certainly, like I said, if this had been thought up for a modern environment then it would be different. There are very few films with this simple subject matter; well, it's not simple, it's very complex subject matter but there are no sort of catastrophic events that occur in the film.

You have your own production company as well, so you must know the struggles of trying to get these sorts of character-driven projects off the ground?

That's the biggest struggle. And when you are given choice it's about finding good material; it's really difficult. It's really difficult! I wouldn't say it's gotten worse, or maybe it's gotten slightly worse. Maybe, you know, projects like this or specific types of films are few and far between. Maybe studios are working more nowadays, more than they were a few years ago, to churn out successful 'patterns' and formulas that they know will succeed at the box office. But you know having a production company and being a part of the development process on a lot of movies and adaptations; it is so hard to come up with an end product that is worth shooting. It really is so difficult to come up with a good script.

Did working with an experienced theatre director mean that you had more time to explore these characters and rehearse?

Yeah, absolutely. And that's a testament to Sam Mendes and Sam's great theatre background and his ability to work on an amazing level with actors. He really knows how to ask fundamental, very penetrating questions about you and your character. And what we were able to do on this film was shoot it in sequential order, which rarely happens in a movie, and that was really because Sam insisted on doing that. So much of making movies, about you as an actor, is the understanding of the specificity of your character's intent. When you're able to spend weeks before production and iron out all the insecurities you may have, or questions you may have about who your character is and discuss it or argue it at great length, that's really beneficial. Then, on top of that, to live out a microcosm of that character's life for four months, starting at the beginning and ending at the end; I wish every movie could be done that way.

How did you find the experience of being caught between the director and his wife, Kate Winslet, who was of course playing your wife?

You know, to tell you the truth Sam was really on the backburner while making this movie-- I don't mean in that respect. I mean as far as the dynamic between the three of us went, he really let us have our own relationship on set. He realised that we needed to be Frank and April Wheeler when we were on set at the Wheeler's house and his wife was his wife when she went home. He kept separate from us and did that very purposefully and that really helped us. Oftentimes it would just be Kate and I talking about our roles inbetween takes and what we should do and then Sam would be there only when he needed to be there. He was very conscious of that. People always want to create this idea, maybe that there must've been some sort of weirdness in that dynamic, but to me - although there were weird moments of course - it was beyond comfortable. There was a family atmosphere, it was like a little theatre group of people. It was like I was at their little bed-and-breakfast making a movie.

It's been over ten years since you and Kate worked together on Titanic, a much bigger movie in many ways. Was there a different dynamic that you noticed this time around?

I should speak for Kate-- I'll speak about her is what I'm saying. Kate has always had an intense work ethic and a real intense desire, ever since I first met her when we were in our late-teens, early twenties, she just wanted to do great work. And that's been a part of her DNA ever since she got into this industry. She was extremely professional, even back then... What's changed about her, on a professional level now, I guess by having done so many movies, is that she no longer looks up to producers or directors as parental figures, or sources of guidance. She now walks on the set and feels an equal with everybody else. That's as opposed to when we were that age, we really looked up to everyone else to sort of steer us in the right direction. Now we both realise that we have to bring something; we are legitimately adults working in this industry... We've been very close for a number of years and we'd been actively looking for something to do together and thank God this came along.

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