Written by Dr. Garth Twa
Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ben Kingsley on the movies, on working together, on the movies, on Max Von Sydow, and on the movies.
âWhatâs up buddy?â Leonardo DiCaprio says as Martin Scorsese takes a seat next to him.Â Like two no-nonsense, affectionate old friends.
âWhatâs that?â Scorsese says, pointing at two bottles of water waiting on the table.
âMineral water?â DiCaprio offers.
âMmm.âÂ Scorsese looks mildly troubled.Â I wonder if DeNiro ever called Scorsese buddy. âThe sparkling gets to meâŚI used to like it, butâŚyou knowâŚâ
Scorsese and DiCaprio have just completed there fourth film together; a cascading psychological thriller called Shutter Island that is a throwback to the cascading psychological thrillers of the 1950s.Â DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels as a US Marshall sent to a gothic island prison for the criminally insane to solve the mystery of a patient who disappeared.Â Or so he thinks.Â The film also stars Mark Ruffalo as his partner, Chuck Aule, Max Von Sydow as the lurky ex-Nazi death camp doctor, Dr.Naehring, and Ben Kingsleyâwho is sitting on the other side of Scorseseâas the enigmatic head psychiatrist, Dr. Cawley.
Shutter Island was by all accounts an intense shoot.Â âSelf-imposed suffering,â DiCaprio darkly jokes.Â âIt was the nature of the material.Â When I first read the book and the screenplay it was obviously a complex jigsaw puzzle and the line in which reality starts and dreams begin for Teddyâs past is very blurred.Â Throughout the entire course of the movie you learn about different facets of Teddy Daniels mind on Shutter Island.Â Heâs learning the truth and itâs a truth about his past and itâs a traumatic truth. Ultimately we had to keep pushing these storylines further and further.Â In order to have one set of circumstances be believable we needed to push emotional extremes in another set of circumstances. So we found, I think, both of us found that we kept pushing Teddy to darker and darker places during the course of the film and it wasâŚI think it was surprising for both of us at times, because when you read a screenplay thereâs only so much you can delineate or extract from whatâs written on the page.Â When youâre actually there and having to do some of the sequences that are in this movie, it really shocked us, I think. In all sincerity it was a very demanding role.Â This is maybe the most challenging one to date for me. Physically, yes, but emotionally, more so.Â But it gives me great excitement as well.Â Weâre also very conscious, Sir Ben and myself and Marty, that we were doing a film that would have a different interpretation the second time around, that could take on different meanings and thereâs a certain level of ambiguity in the ending, and throughout the entire movie, that could lend an audience to have a different experience on further viewings. So that also challenged me as an actor in the way I portrayed Teddy because weâd be doingâŚhow do I say thisâŚpushing him to different extremes and it was then in the hands of Scorsese and Thelma [Schoonmaker, Scorseseâs long-time editor] to gauge what sort of extreme Teddy should go to and in which circumstance.â
âI was rather shaken by all the green trees.Â I always am; it gets me. Iâm allergic to.Â As a kid I used to love seeing westerns cause you could see the outdoors, but I had asthma, I couldnât go anywhere.Â So Iâd go to the movies.Â They were in Technicolor and youâd see the cowboys and youâd see landscape, Monument Valley, and then youâd see forests in the Anthony Mann films, and wow, itâs fantastic!Â But I can never go in there.Â Seriously. But we did it, we did it on this thing. Actually I was rock-climbing at one point, at seven in the morning, which was quite unique. But in any event the colour of the leaves disturbed me and so we had to work on that.Â On the other hand I didnât want to drench it on a kind of depressing tone.Â For me the key image is the boat coming through the fog at the beginning.Â Thatâs something I imagined and liked. I guess there are references in other films Iâve made in a similar type of image but I think itâs interesting.Â Itâs breaking through the mystery or maybe it stays in the fog, we donât really know.Â Where is he [Teddy Daniels] at the beginning of the film?Â Who is he?Â There are a lot of good questions there but I think Richardson [Bob, the cinematographer] really, really was remarkable and Dante [Ferretti, the production designer] worked very, very well with the existing place that we had, Medfield, which was an old hospital for the criminally insane that had been pretty much abandoned at this point.Â The creation of the island, or the impression of the island as the island changes in the mind of the character, also came into play in another very important collaborator, Bob Legato, on special visual effects.Â And then ultimately thereâs Thelma Schoonmaker who keeps me focused in the editing of the picture.Â Robbie Robertson was the other one that I called upon, for the music.Â As much as I admire film scores, and you know how much Iâve collected every film score, and Bernard Hermann I was lucky to work with, and extremely lucky to work with Elmer Bernstein, and Howard Shore over the years, but Iâve always imagined films with my own score.Â Because I donât come from that world, I donât come from that period of filmmaking, and so how could I make up my own score on a film like this where it isnât necessary made up of popular music from the period?Â We were discussing it and thought âWhat if we came up with our own score?âÂ Letâs at least try as an experiment. And so Robbie Robertson came up with this idea of modern symphonic music with me. He started sending me CDs of different pieces of music. I mentioned Venusburg music by Wagner, and Charles Ives of course. But they were still part of an older world.Â We went further with Ingram Marshall, John Adams, Morton Feldman, Penderecki, Legeti.Â We just went on and on like that but the second batch is when I started to fit it in and ultimately synch pieces of music to different pieces of action, then actually rework all the music and mix it all together in different ways to make a score. And that went on for eight months or so.â
I was amazed at how elegantly these men spoke in complete paragraphs.Â Ben Kingsley turns to Scorsese and prompted him.Â âWhat about the fog horn, in the fog?
âOh, the foghorns in the beginning of the film!â Scorsese becomes excited, âItâs Ingrid Marshall.Â Itâs really something called âFog Tropesâ.Â Thatâs all brass. Thatâs an actual piece of music. Itâs almost like a humpback whale in a way.Â But itâs all music. I mean then we use it again later, too.Â Fog Tropes.â
Being Scorsese, the preparatory work for the film was decidedly cineastic.Â âThe first film I showed Leo and Mark Ruffalo and Sir Ben was Laura, Otto Premingerâs film, in the sense of the war-torn, war-ravaged hero.Â World-weary, so to speak; the body language of Dana Andrews, a man who falls in love with a ghost. The way he moved through the frame, the shoulders were down, he never looked anybody in the eye. And that wonderful scene where he just takes over her apartment, loosens his tie, makes himself a drink, and looks at the portrait and the doorbell rings (laughs). Â Then I showed Out of the Past, Jacques Tourneur. The trap, the puzzle, the mystery, the beauty, the poetry of that film.Â And Tourneurâs work on Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie, too, but primarily Out of The Past and Laura, Let There Be Light, John Huston, Battle of San Pietro. The Steel Helmet we showed, the nature of the soldier. And many others, for points of reference.âÂ Like the work of Sam Fuller?Â âSam Fuller, Shock Corridor, can only be conjured as a mantra. Because Shock Corridor is a classic work of art. It comes from the unique experience of being Sam Fuller.Â Yes, thereâs always that element of Shock Corridor hovering around the picture but never explicitly. In fact we didnât even screen it.Â Because itâs in us. Itâs in me, anyway. It was a way of conjuring up support by just saying the name Shock Corridor as we were going in to shoot.Â Or Sam. Sam Fuller.â
Scorsese takes a breath. Or maybe I take a breath.Â What about Hitchcock?
âVertigo is probably my favourite Hitchcock film,â Scorsese says, renewed, âand one of my very favourite films of all time. Itâs a film that Iâm obsessed with.Â I saw it on itâs first release, projected in Vistavision, at the Capital Theatre in New York.Â That moment a nun comes up at the end?Â Itâs just an extraordinary shock.Â But the entire film, even though I didnât fully understand itâI was 15âat the time, but it was a film I kept revisiting.Â And it was of course taken out of distribution, shown only at LACMA in L.A. in the mid-70s. Everybody flocked to it.Â Brian DePalma, Spielberg, all of us went to see it.Â It was a Hitchcock retrospective and that was the only way you could see the picture.Â Except on TV, with commercials, and sequences cut out.Â But in any event it was a film that I âŚitâs one of those ones that I live with, and whenever itâs on Turner Classic Movies I watch it.Â I happen to have a beautiful Technicolor print of it. 35mm. Itâs just beginning to go vinegar but you can still screen it.Â So you can see the real colour.Â I kind of helped support the restoration of the picture, beautifully done by Bob Harris.Â And, so, itâs very important. The musical score if very important. Iâve done concerts with John Williams, concerts of Bernard Hermannâs music. I introduce each section on Psycho, or North By Northwest, or VertigoâŚto sit on the stage and be enveloped by the love theme from Vertigo is just an experience, to be enveloped by the instruments, to be taken into that vortex, and into the dream state of this obsession.Â That something that is the very basis of cinema. And life.Â Stewartâs performance in that film is an ultimate performance, particularly as he realizes in the last fifteen minutes of the picture whatâs going on, and that gesture of his when he loses her a second time. Itâs just an extraordinary thing.Â So I didnât have to see the film again.â He turns to DiCaprio.Â âDid I ask you to see it?â
âNo,â DiCaprio says, âI saw that one on my own.â
âIâve screened it for a number of people over the years, many times, and screened it recently.Â Like Out of the Past or I Walk With A Zombie, or Cat People, Vertigoâs another one where I know the ending, I know the beginning, kind of, but I donât really know where I am every time I see the picture. In other words I canât tell you, âthatâs directly the centre of the film.â I sort of let it take me every time. So if a film surprises you or a story or an atmosphere or an actor does somethingâŚyou constantly think itâs new.Â I guess itâs me, I donât know.Â I find it inseparable from what I do.â
With a film so highly steeped in historical cinematic knowledge, the weight working with Max Von Sydow was not lost on the actors. Â âIt was incredible working with Max,â DiCaprio says, âI mean, the sequence that I have where I sort of interrogate him or he interrogates meâdepends on which way you look at itâit was only the back of his head that you had to see and his voice bellowing through that armchair and you just felt a chill down your spine.Â He has such a comfort level in the way he performs and that can only come from years of unbelievable work and such a belief in the power of what he does. It was chilling to work with him.Â He is part of cinemaâs history and should be revered as that, and respected as that.Â He is a genius.â
âHe has absolute authority on the set,â Kingsley adds, I hesitate to say authoritively, âand Iâve said this before and I know the chaps agree, that we can be chatting with Max on the set, engaged in wonderful conversation with him, and Mr. Scorsese will say action and you cannot see the difference between him being and him acting.Â Even inches from him.Â Itâs an extraordinary quality.Â From his Bergman years onwards, layer upon layer upon layer ofâŚperhaps not being added but being removed, peeled away from him so thereâs something essential about him. Elemental.Â Very inspiring to work with.â
Scorsese picks it up.Â âObviously we talk about cinema history, because he made cinema history, along with Bergman, of course, and the other filmmakers he worked with.Â But he is one of those figures in cinema history that sort of transcends the films that heâs in.Â He becomes in and of himself Max Von Sydow: itâs not just Max from the Seventh Seal or Max doing a small part in Wild Strawberries, or The Magician or The Face, or The Exorcist or any of the later filmsâeven Needful Things; he plays a wonderful character in Needful Things. Itâs simply this extraordinary presence. Itâs literally as Sir Ben says, something where you strip away, and you canât tell the difference with him.â
Was the film, a dark film, a dark experience?Â DiCaprio shifts.Â âFor one reason or another, yes, I have to say, particularly on this film, there was a sombre mood going home every day. There were quite emotional extremes, and you know, it is the nature of the character dealing with extreme emotional trauma, his history, and itâs hard for those types of things to not rub off on you. But for the most part I do like to isolate myself away from most people when Iâm filming for months at a time.Â So I wouldnât necessarily get much of a reaction from anyone else cause I was mostly alone.Â Certainly towards the end of filming or during some of the end sequences, you know, there was sort of a lapse of understanding where I was, because we kept pushing this guy further and further and it was day after day of re-enacting a traumatic event that was either a dream or that was either reality for this guy.Â I remember saying to Marty, âI have no idea where I am.Â What am I doing now? whatâs going on?âÂ Heâd say, âDonât worry. Just do the scene again, do the take again, take it one more time, and keep pushing it.âÂ And you know itâs great to have a guide or a mentor, somebody that you do trust in situations like that.Â Because you are making yourself vulnerable and you need to have somebody there that will ultimately guide you as an actor, and your character in the editing room.Â Through the relationship, through the years that weâve worked together, that trust level was there, and Iâm glad I got to do this character, and this film, very specifically with Marty as the filmmaker.â
Is Scorsese the greatest living director.Â Scorsese himself demures. âAll I can do is to try to do the best work I can.Â I need to work, I like to work.Â Although I complain about it, I do like it, and I just need to make the best film I can. I mean, it would be nice in a way if a film is recognized, but once youâre in the thick of battle, you just try to get through it and try to make something of it that you feel you can say, âyes, I directed that filmâ years from now, if Iâm around, and be happy with it. And so you try your best. Sometimes you go in with one thought in mind, and one desireâin the case of Aviator to make a Hollywood spectacleâbut quickly, like the second or third week of shooting, you want to survive it; you want to literally survive it. I also go through the editing process, too. And, of course, when the film is released we have to talk about it. So I take it very seriously.â
Kingsley leans forward, âCould I as an outsider make an observation about this wonderful relationship? Because as another member of the cast observing this great longevity of a working relationship, they never for a second excludedâŚevery debate on the set between Martin and Leonardo was shared.Â There is no shorthand, there is no whispering in corners, every single person on the set gets the benefit of this working relationship, so that it has, itâs continually refreshed.Â You donât feel that itâs a private language. Itâs the language of the film, and we were all part of that debate, which I think, given the history of the relationship is quite generous and remarkable.Â It really lifted the whole set, the way they were together on the set.â
Last edited: 27th March 2010
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