When you make a film about the debaucherous activities of Wall Street traders, you’re guaranteed to have some entertaining stories on how it got made––which is exactly what we heard this past weekend when the cast and crew of "The Wolf of Wall Street" spoke about the movie at a press conference in New York City.
The film, based on the book by Jordan Belfort, is about a Wall Street stockbroker (with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role) who lives a lavish lifestyle by duping investors out of millions of dollars. Ahead of the film’s Christmas release date, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio––joined on stage by co-stars Rob Reiner and Kyle Chandler, screenwriter Terence Winter, and producers John MacFarland, Riza Aziz, and Emma Tillinger Koskoff––spoke about their fear of making something this risky, the difficulty of getting the movie financed, and some of the film’s most memorable sequences.
Here are a few things we learned while we were there.
1. DiCaprio was obsessed with playing Jordan Belfort
Since getting a hold of the book back in 2007, DiCaprio has been focused on turning the depraved tale of Jordan Belfort into a film. However, "The Great Gatsby" actor wasn’t just interested in this story’s connection to the most recent collapse on Wall Street, he was also attracted to Belfort’s honest and uncompromising portrayal of what he actually experienced.
“I felt like it was a reflection of everything that is wrong in today’s society––this hedonistic lifestyle, this time period in Wall Street’s history where Jordan basically gave into every carnal indulgence possible and was obsessed with greed and obsessed with himself,” DiCaprio said. “He was so unflinching in his account of this time period and so honest, so unapologetic in his biography, that I was compelled to play this character for a really long time.”
Screenwriter Terence Winter echoed DiCaprio’s thoughts. “I couldn’t believe that what I was reading was actually a true story about a person who was actually still alive at the end of it. It was just hilarious.”
2. It was hard to convince both Scorsese and major studios to make this movie
DiCaprio always had Scorsese in mind to direct the film. But despite their history––the two had previously worked together on four movies––it took a bit of persuading for him to sign on. “Many times for me, and often when something comes to me from other people, I often don’t respond to it right away,” Scorsese said. “ 'King of Comedy' took 10 years before I came to it. 'Raging Bull' took seven years. I had to find my own way with it.”
One of the major issues Scorsese had with directing the film was the reality that he would likely have to fight tooth and nail with the studios to get it made. To them, a movie about a drug-abusing sexhound who works on Wall Street isn’t the easiest sell. “We tried to get the financing on 'The Wolf of Wall Street,' and we found a lot of resistance from the studios,” he said. “I wondered, having gone through 'The Departed,' having gone through some tougher films, the issue was Is it worth fighting that process? Because it is all about fighting them.”
Luckily in the end, it was the risk factor that helped get everyone on board. This was going to be a balls-to-wall, no-holds-barred look at a criminal’s life.
“Eventually our friends at Red Granite [who helped finance the movie] said, ‘We want to take a chance on this film. We want it to be a grand American epic of greed and pull no punches, push the envelope, and go the distance with it,’ " DiCaprio recalled. “So I re-approached it and brought it back to Marty and said, ‘Look, we really don’t get opportunities like this very often. These things don’t usually come out of the studio system.’ And he agreed to do the film and here we are.”
3. Surprisingly, the MPAA’s review went rather smoothly
The MPAA is no stranger to throwing down the hammer on films that go “above and beyond” what they think certain audiences can stomach. Considering the amount of sex and drug use that takes place in 'The Wolf of Wall Street,' you would have expected Scorsese and his team to be put through the gauntlet when it came time for the film to get its rating. Turns out, the opposite happened.
“As for the MPAA, it went rather smoothly,” Scorsese said. “As you know, I have been dealing with that system since 1973. With 'Mean Streets' I had to cut a few lines of dialogue that are now used on regular newscasts. That was 40 years ago. So we just worked with them. It got a little difficult because of the timing in it––I had to decide which scenes to use… But we finally worked it out.”
4. The film’s infamous candle sex scene actually happened
Earlier reports on the film talked about a rather risqué sex sequence involving DiCaprio, a candle, and a dominatrix (that’s a line that’s as ridiculous to write as it is to read). Scorsese said he included in the movie due to its sheer absurdity and because that scenario actually happened to the real Jordan Belfort.
“In terms of the candle thing, the idea is his wife is really mad at him, she’s very angry, and he’s denying even knowing where he was, what he was doing, so then we show you what he was doing,” Scorsese said. “And then he says ‘Oh yes! I remember now’ [laughs]. It’s rather extreme. But that means he was really, really out of it. It’s part of the humor, in a way.”
Plus, DiCaprio added, they did not want to sugarcoat anything that Belfort experienced in real life. This portrayal was going to be raw, real, and unfiltered.
“My attitude about doing this movie was trying to depict a modern-day Caligula, and all the debauchery that comes from it,” DiCaprio said. “So you detach yourself from your own individuality for an accurate portrayal of the character––so all the stuff that came with it. It was a fun process, because there were really no limits to what we could do, because Jordan’s biography depicted stuff that we couldn’t even imagine.”