It’s that time of year — when awards-season schadenfreude begins to swirl, and rivals begin whispering in our ears about the flaws in everybody else’s offerings. Against that backdrop, a video for a lecture bureau by Leonardo DiCaprio posted last summer has conveniently begun re-circulating on the web just days after the Oscar polls opened (watch it below). It’s a short testimonial extolling the motivational speaking skills of The Wolf Of Wall Street subject Jordan Belfort, whom DiCaprio plays in the movie in all the unapologetic decadence that caused his downfall. DiCaprio qualifies his praise for his screen alter ego by mentioning Belfort’s lawbreaking past, but backing even a reformed bad guy could be a slippery slope during Oscar season; there has been heavy scrutiny over whether Belfort has profited from his book and movie (he claims the money has gone to repay victims), and just days ago the daughter of one of Belfort’s stock-hawking cronies spoke out about the lasting damage created by their collective misdeeds. Critics and audiences already are debating whether Martin Scorsese‘s Oscar contender makes Belfort’s reckless behavior seem too seductive.
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When I emerged from watching The Wolf Of Wall Street, I came away thinking the movie had done for stock brokers what Marathon Man did for dentists. The Martin Scorsese-directed film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as hedonistic drug-addicted stockbroker conman Jordan Belfort, who with dimwitted cohorts plunders his way to such decadence and immorality it’s a wonder he survived long enough to be arrested and sent to prison. The three hours of darkly comic debauchery has in some quarters been met with a “how dare you” reaction, a polarizing response that could be an issue during awards season for the $100 million film financed by indie Red Granite and released domestically by Paramount Pictures. The 71-year old Scorsese has provoked that kind of reaction several times in his career with films ranging from The Last Temptation Of Christ to Goodfellas and Casino, the latter two of which, like Wolf, left behind bitter victims of the mayhem perpetrated by the film’s main characters. The shrapnel is new to DiCaprio, who both starred in and produced the film through his increasingly prolific Appian Way shingle. Here, DiCaprio discusses that fallout and the challenge of trying to uncompromisingly depict bad guys without judging them.
DEADLINE: Appian Way was just building steam when you got involved in producing Jordan Belfort’s memoir Wolf Of Wall Street. Why did Belfort’s story fit into the profile of movies you wanted to make as producer, while sparking you as an actor as well?
DICAPRIO: Coming into it as an actor, I set my entire production company up in order to find material that not only was interesting and out of the box from an actor’s perspective, but that could be developed that way from the original source material. A lot of times, I’d gone through the process of getting a great book or finding a great story, and then too many people get their hands on it and it turns into something entirely different. It is very difficult to reverse that process. When I first picked this up, I found it a cautionary tale written by Jordan. His life is much different now, but he’s looking back and reflecting on a very hedonistic time period where he gave into every possible temptation. Greed was the main motivating factor, and he was unapologetic. He realized he’d completely lost his way, but there was an honesty to it that you rarely find. You rarely find someone willing to vilify themselves so completely and not trying to create false enemies to blame so they don’t have to look inward. Everything Jordan wrote in this book was so raw. The crash of 2008 was a huge motivator for me as well to want to really see what’s going on in our culture that creates people like this. Greed is a timeless virtue. I’ve been talking about greed a lot in interviews, and you can’t pinpoint it to any specific time period, or any civilization or even just human beings. It’s a fundamental characteristic of survival. As we are progressing into the future, things are moving faster and we are way more destructive than we’ve ever been. We have not evolved at all.
The last shoe to drop in the 2013 awards race hit Saturday as Martin Scorsese‘s much-awaited The Wolf Of Wall Street was unveiled to SAG voters at a couple of screenings at the WGA theatre in Beverly Hills. I caught the film earlier at a small 10 AM screening for some of the cast members on the Paramount lot and then moderated the Q&A following the 6:30 PM screening of the 3 hour film. To say it was rapturously received would be an understatement. Leonardo DiCaprio received a standing ovation when I introduced him, and co-star Jonah Hill also won huge applause from the packed-to-the-rafters house who also enthusiastically cheered co-stars Rob Reiner (who plays DiCaprio’s dad and stole the show at the Q&A), Jon Favreau, P.J. Byrne, Ken Choi and Cristin Milioti. I heard the film also received the same kind of enthusiastic response at the earlier screening too. Paramount also threw a party to kick things off in style. Celebration was in order since Paramount at one time wasn’t even sure the film would be ready as Scorsese has been editing to make a 2013 date. Originally it was scheduled for a November 15 release but moved to Christmas bumping Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit into January to make room for Wolf‘s wide release awards run.
Formal reviews are embargoed but as an initial observation I would label the movie ”Scorsese’s Satyricon,” a wild ride full of contemporary debauchery to say the least (DiCaprio compared some of it to Caligula), with a fine ensemble and a frenetic pace that belies its three hour running time. Even at that length it never lags. It is the perfect companion piece to Goodfellas and puts Scorsese right back in the thick of the Oscar race, if Academy members, particularly older ones, can deal with the almost non-stop parade of sex, drugs, nudity and rock and roll. Violence, a Scorsese staple in this type of film, is missing but there are a number of remarkable set pieces including a storm-driven yacht voyage that has to be seen to be believed (Rob Legato supervised the special effects team). An NC-17 was avoided by some reported judicious cutting but it’s hard to imagine the stuff that didn’t make it in considering the edgy material that did.
EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures has set Scott Rudin to produce Sinatra, the film Martin Scorsese will direct about the life of singer-actor Frank Sinatra. Rudin joins Mandalay’s Peter Guber and Cathy Schulman, who brought in the project to the studio almost two years ago after they secured life and music rights from Frank Sinatra Enterprises, which is a joint venture of the estate of Ol’ Blue Eyes and the Warner Music Group. Phil Alden Robinson had been the original writer, but I’m told they are looking for another scribe. Scorsese’s Sikelia is also producing as is Tina Sinatra.
Rudin, nominated twice in the Best Picture Oscar race this year for producing The Social Network and True Grit, produced the 1999 Scorsese-directed Bringing Out the Dead. Rudin’s currently producing the David Fincher-directed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which Steve Zaillian adapted from the Stieg Larsson novel, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the Stephen Daldry-directed adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel that stars Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. He is prepping at Paramount the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy The Dictator, and at Universal he’s got the Paul Greengrass-directed Martin Luther King Jr. assassination drama Memphis.
EXCLUSIVE: The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort’s memoir of 1990′s stockbroker decadence, is back on the prowl. I’m hearing that the film is being put back together, with Ridley Scott in early discussions to direct Leonardo DiCaprio, who once expected …