The Wallstreet Journal - [Link]
Feature - October 11, 2013


Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill
Discuss 'The Wolf of Wall Street'


POWER BROKERS | Director Scorsese with actors DiCaprio and Hill
in costume—including 1980s pinstripes and wide paisley ties—for 'The Wolf of Wall Street.'
Photography by Brigitte Lacombe

Five-time collaborators Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio
have teamed up with actor Jonah Hill
to film the most audacious movie about Wall Street ever made

by Logan Hill


THE FIRST COUPLE DAYS of rehearsal were extremely, extremely intimidating," says the actor Jonah Hill of working on set with director Martin Scorsese and costar Leonardo DiCaprio for The Wolf of Wall Street. "I definitely felt like I was invading somebody else's space. To watch a director and an actor have the connection that Marty and Leo have is unlike anything I've ever seen."

In theaters next month, the glitzy, audacious blockbuster is based on real-life rogue trader Jordan Belfort's memoir of his 1990s pump-and-dump flameout, during which he launched the infamous Stratton Oakmont "boiler room" brokerage, inflicted over $200 million of losses on investors and sunk a 167-foot yacht—all on his way to a federal indictment for securities fraud and money laundering and 22 months in prison. (Belfort is currently working toward building a career as a motivational speaker and paying $110 back to investors.) The film will be the fifth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio, following Gangs of New York, The Departed, The Aviator and Shutter Island. And by all accounts, filming it was an act of deep mutual trust: their most adult, debauched project to date. "[Our relationship has] evolved in the sense that with every new picture, we get to know each other a little better, trust each other a little more and go a little further," says Scorsese.

Watch the trailer for the Martin Scorsese film "The Wolf of Wall Street." Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), from his rise to wealthy stockbroker to his fall involving crime and corruption. (Photo/Video: Paramount)

"It's gotten better and better as the years have gone by," says DiCaprio, who notes that the film is their most improvisatory, "simply because the trust level's there."

Ben Younger's tightly focused 2000 drama Boiler Room covered a sliver of Belfort's story, but if that low-budget film was a penny stock, The Wolf of Wall Street is pure blue chip. To capture the criminal spectacle of the era, the duo aimed to make a film every bit as excessive as Belfort's ego. However, it takes money to make movies about money: vintage Lamborghinis, sprawling casts and Manhattan locations don't come cheap. "It was a very difficult movie to finance," says DiCaprio. "It's an R-rated film, and it needed to have a certain amount of scale and scope."

Arguably Hollywood's most bankable star, DiCaprio spent over five years developing the film—and, somewhat ironically, convincing Wall Street financiers to fund what he sees as a portrait of "the real epitome of American greed." The long development period may have actually improved the film, since it allowed DiCaprio to spend more time with Belfort, who was "incredibly open about his life, especially the most embarrassing parts," says DiCaprio. "I spent a long time with Jordan. I interviewed him incessantly and tried to pull out every detail I possibly could. We incorporated a lot of other stories that weren't even in the book into the movie."


“ I mean, being shot in slow motion doing cocaine
by Martin Scorseseis, like, maybe every actor's dream.
Nothing will compare to it. Except maybe having kids. ”

——Jonah Hill


DiCaprio says he tried to pick up the kinds of details that might slip off the printed page: "The attitude, the lingo, the type of music he listened to, the drugs he took, how he took those drugs, the effects that it had on his mind and his psyche." Asked for an example of this research, DiCaprio describes a large-scale scene, in which Belfort throws a wild party to celebrate his firm's success: "We reach our monthly quota, and I make it a big celebration," says DiCaprio. "A gigantic marching band and a bunch of naked strippers come into the salesroom." Production managers booked trained horses, hired scores of extras and midgets who would be dressed in Velcro suits and thrown at targets, per Belfort's memoir. Then, just days before the shoot, DiCaprio remembered something crucial from his conversations with Belfort and sought out Scorsese: "I said, 'Jordan also mentioned that he had a chimpanzee on roller skates in a diaper that was handing out tickets to all the stockbrokers.' And Marty's like, 'That's great, how do we get a chimpanzee?' And I said, 'I don't know.' And he's like, 'All right, somebody get on it.' "

Scorsese's longtime producer Emma Tillinger laughs. "The party scene was choreographed to the T," she says. "We'd auditioned marching bands, hired the animals, then Marty calls. I'm like, 'Well, there's a chimpanzee who can roller-skate, but it's in Florida.' "

"Next thing you know," DiCaprio continues, chuckling, "there's a chimpanzee, and I'm toting him around the salesroom."

Below, Scorsese, DiCaprio and Hill talk more about the monkey business of filming The Wolf of Wall Street, opening November 15.


MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE | DiCaprio, left, and Hill play business partners at a fictional brokerage firm.
Photography by Brigitte Lacombe


Martin Scorsese

"Gordon Gekko [in Oliver Stone's Wall Street] is a figurehead, an established figure, a representative businessman. The salesmen in [ David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross ] are guys at the bottom, trying anything to make their sales, earn their commissions and keep their heads above water. Mark Zuckerberg [in The Social Network] is a single-minded guy with a plan. Jordan is something else. He has no plan, other than making as much money as possible as quickly as possible. He enters this world, masters it brilliantly, has a great time and spins out of control. Jordan was a guy who got around every obstacle and every regulation and then, because of drugs and the sheer addiction to wealth and what it brings, couldn't bring himself to stop. Jordan risks a lot, but he does it because that's part of the enjoyment—he's so brilliant that he always tests the limits. 'I got away with this, so how about trying to get away with that?' And then he got caught.

"I was interested in the canvas itself—the sheer span of the action, the ground covered, the many different activities, the places and the interactions. And then, there's the side area, the no-man's land where you shift into genuinely criminal behavior that results in great harm to many, many other people, without necessarily realizing it. It's a rise-and-fall story. You see it in many novels and movies, particularly in gangster movies; the critic Robert Warshow wrote about it in his famous essay 'The Gangster as Tragic Hero.' Is it particular to this country? I'm not so sure. But it is a narrative that keeps playing out here, again and again and again.

"I would ask: Given the nature of free-market capitalism—where the rule is to rise to the top at all costs—is it possible to have a financial industry hero? And by the way, this is not a pop-culture trend we're talking about. There aren't many financial heroes in literature, theater or cinema."


Leonardo DiCaprio

"We did realize that there were films that had been done about this subject: Boiler Room, having to do with the brokerage in this film, and Wall Street. But we immediately knew that this was a much different animal. This movie epitomizes the corruption of the American dream, and it's done with a great sense of sadistic humor. For us, it was just so incredibly outrageous in a different way than anything we had ever read or seen that it became something fresh and exciting.

"There's an ease in working with somebody that you trust this implicitly, but I think it's gotten better and better as the years have gone by, simply because the trust level's there, especially on this film. There was more improvising than we'd ever done before. We had a lot more freedom, specifically because this is a generation I understand. I lived through it. I was in New York in the '90s, and I met people like this, and the music was of my generation. I had an ease for just diving into it and trying to document a certain time period that I very much understood. So if anyone came up with any insane suggestion, as long as it was in the context of that world, we just did it.

"Jonah Hill is probably one of the greatest improvisers I've ever worked with. He's completely fearless standing in front of a group of people, coming up with incredibly spontaneous, brilliant dialogue. There were multiple occasions when the scene became something absolutely different just because he would bring up some hilarious subject, and we would just riff on it until the film canister ran out, and Marty would let us do it all over again from a different angle, and we'd keep riffing. We didn't feel like we were taking on holy subject matter, you know, or that we'd be scrutinized by historians. We had this man [Belfort] at the center of it all who was completely open and willing to divulge every embarrassing aspect of his life saying, 'Please, just, you know, go for it.' So we did."


Jonah Hill

"I mean, being shot in slow motion doing cocaine by Martin Scorsese is, like, maybe every actor's dream. Nothing will ever compare to it, except for maybe having kids one day or something.

"Marty is my actual hero, so to get to work with him was six months of feeling like I'd won the lottery in life. Let alone to play this kind of insane character. [Hill plays a fictional character with some similarities to Belfort's business partner, Danny Porush, who chose not to collaborate on the film.] Martin told me that he thinks of Goodfellas as a comedy, and I think it's the funniest movie ever made. The humor is dark—and in this film, the humor comes from really awful places. I've done some pretty wild scenes. I'm not shy, but I would be shocked at what we were doing every day. I have big fake teeth, I'm wearing crazy '80s suits. We would be on a yacht filled with people, and the yacht would sink. I was driving a purple Bentley, and Leo was driving a Lamborghini. The whole movie is about decadence.

"I couldn't find anything I liked about my fictional character. He was coming from an animal's perspective: consume drugs, women, money. You watch Taxi Driver or Casino or The King of Comedy, and there are people doing some pretty awful things who you still love.

"Leo and I would joke around a lot. We'd be doing a scene that would involve a lot of despicable actions, and I remember us vividly talking about how if I was 14 and saw this movie, I would not see any of the bad stuff. I'd only see that this looks like the most exciting lifestyle on the planet. I grew up on hip-hop music, and I was totally one of those kids who was like, That's what I want. It's not what I've grown into, but I know when I was younger, if me and my friends went to go see this on a Friday night, which we would have, we would've walked out going, 'Ahh! Let's become stockbrokers!' "