The trio gathered in New York this past week to talk about the film and working together. Read the entire transcript from the press conference below.
BK: Ben Kingsley.
MS: Martin Scorsese.
LD: Leonardo DiCaprio.
Q: My question is for all of you, it’s about the process of going into this film. I’ll direct it first at Mr. Scorsese. Uh, going into this film, what was your process as far as what you had envisioned, and how you were going to go about shooting the scenes, and bringing out the best of the characters uh, in the actors by your side. Same question for each actor going into this what was your process like?
BK: The easy questions first.
MS: Yeah, that was-that’s like making the entire-that’s like how did you make the entire movie. I-in my mind I still haven’t quite finished it so uh, uh, no, well that’s-basically it was from reading uh, Laeta Kalogridis’s script base on Lehane’s novel, and uh, from the reaction that I had from reading that script as to uh, the world that I imagined as I was reading it, and how it really turned out to be, how it was revealed to be uh, many different-many different realities, and without giving away too much certainly the levels of the characters-the doctor appears one way, uh, scene four it’s another way, scene ten it’s something else, and it’s something that uh, uh, that intrigued me a great deal. So uh, primarily uh, the saga that Teddy goes through, Leo’s character, and uh, the conflict, the conflict that’s inherent. In any event, uh, I think I just tried to approach it from my own reaction to reading the material. I like to say that I didn’t quite know-I sort of gave myself to the material along with the actors, I didn’t quite know where we would be at any given time, and I think, I think we discovered this as we went along, at least for myself I know-in other words it was a process of discovery throughout, and that includes the editing of the picture. That doesn’t mean I knew it was going to be a process of discovery. (chuckles) I, I had, I had an intimation of that. I didn’t know how much it would be, and it turned out to be a great deal.
LD: Same way-there’s-I was very intrigued by this screenplay, you know, it was very much a throwback to great detective genres of the past, whether it be “Vertigo,” or “Out of the Past,” “Laura,” which were films that he, he screened for us. So, you know, at first glance it was very much a thriller genre piece with twists and turns that worked on lots of different layers. But you know, like he was just saying, there was this discovery for us while making the movie, and this process, this-once we started to unravel who this man was, and his past, and what he had been through, and the nature of what was going on on Shutter Island, I think it took us to places that uh, uh… there’s no way we could have foreseen. It got darker and darker, and, and uh… more emotionally intense than I think we ever expected. And that was the real surprise I think for both of us making this movie. At first glance you read something on the page and it can seem-it can seem one way, and you can have the dec… your decisions uh, before you wind up on set about what that set is supposed to mean, but until you’re actually there doing them, there’s uh, really no way to understand it. So in that nature it’s, it was uh, it was the best type of movie to do. I think we were all surprised at the end of the day. We felt, we felt surprised at the depth of the material because you know, a lot of this film is very much being publicized, and is you know, a thriller in a lot of ways with, you know, with uh, a surprise ending, or with, you know, terrifying elements to it, and very much a genre piece, but at the end of the day it is what Martin Scorsese does best, and that is portraying something about humanity, and human nature, and who we are as people. And that’s what, that’s what makes it stand out, and makes it different than just being a normal genre piece, to me anyway. And that’s what I discovered while making the movie.
BK: I think stemming from, from Marty, there, there is-there was-Leo and I discovered, and hopefully-well I know it’s on the screen-another ingred… vital ingredient to this character-driven piece because the miracle of filmmaking is that actually you make something out of nothing. There’s nothing there at all. And then our collective imaginations create something that fill cinemas which is I think extraordinary. Uh, it is in, in a sense a love story, uh, uh, Marty directs like a lover. Everything is held together by affection, affection for his craft, affection for his actors, affection for his crew, affection for the material, and affection for the great journey of cinema in our lives. And what you perhaps don’t see on the page, and even when we were reading it together in the hotel room, Leo and I and Mark, what did emerge was an extraordinary level of tenderness between the characters that actually even though it’s-as Leo pointed out-it looks, if you see the trailer, like a thriller-the glue that holds it together is varying levels of tenderness, uh, for your wife, for your child, for your patient, for your friend. Uh, and that is an ingredient that you can’t rehearse, you can’t anticipate, is always surprising, and can only be brought to film by the director. So our great journey was making something out of nothing, and on the way discovering uh, tenderness.
Q: What I love the most about this film was uh, how it fused many different genres, especially “B” horror, art house, detective novels. And I was wondering how you approached that, specifically with regarding to editing and score. The editing I noticed was-drew a lot of attention to itself. There were a lot of like jump cuts, there were a lot of like jarring montages, and I was wondering if you filmed with that in mind or if it was more of a post-production decision.
MS: No, I think, I think the trappings of the story-I mean the nature of uh, the situation uh, uh, doctor, the uh, doctor and his hospital, the patients, the island, a storm, two detectives, and escaped, escaped patient automatically brings to mind a certain, a certain uh, genres in my mind, certain images that go back uh, several hundred years. And so I had all this to draw upon. The issue was ultimately to uh, uh, have them work for our story and our characters, and at the same time refer to other material, other films, other types of films, other, as you may way, genres, uh, in the past. In other words I think the more you see, especially being young, the more you see the more you-the more you see the past, the more you can draw upon that and the more you can make the present and the future. It’s how you, how you uh… how you process the past and uh, at often times in the picture there are references to certain imagery from certain pictures, and certain novels. But is that literal? In other words uh, on the one hand it’s a reference to that type of storm, shot of a mansion at night in a storm creates certain reactions because we’ve seen-that’s part of our DNA to a certain extent in, in uh, in film. But what does it mean to our story, and how is it to be-what’s the angle to use, what’s the camera angle, what’s the uh, use of music there that relates to our story that doesn’t-doesn’t at all-that doesn’t at all refer to uh, uh, the cliché of a genre let’s way. And so what makes a cliché true? And this is part of the elements of the visuals. The whole ultimate-ultimately the use of wide screen too, two, three, five aspect ratio-if the characters are in a labyrinth or a trap, it’s interesting to fill the frame more with that uh, those elements of a trap. We, we had room in the frame to play with that along with the close-ups, and the way they are in frame together, or literally the uh, the iron walkways or any of this. And yet at the same time you’re on an island, you’re on an island where it’s open sky and open ocean. So where is, where is the claustrophobia, you see. So all these-it draws, it draws a lot on a kind of uh, very, very long memory of films that I’ve seen, and uh, books that I’ve read, and music that I’ve listened to over the years. The music is something else entirely and that was uh, created by uh, combining sections of different modern classical music whether it was John Adams, or Penderecki, and Ligetti, and Ingram Marshall, and Robbie Robertson was the one who, who would send me this music, and I would listen to it, and start synching it up to the picture in different places, and then overlapping, and combining, and creating a tone, and a mood and atmosphere that uh, uh… that I thought would be interesting.
Q: Two-part question for Mr. DiCaprio and Mr. Scorsese. First for Mr. DiCaprio. This was a very emotionally complex character. I’m very curious in finding out where you found the clarity to play this role, and do you think this is your best acting performance ever. And for Mr. Scorsese, how were you able to extract that performance from Mr. DiCaprio?
LD: The clarity and, and thank you if you thought it was a good performance-the clarity comes from research-I’ll say in reference to shooting in a mental ward on an island, obviously mental illness was thematic in this movie. We were surrounded by it everyday. I mean we were around, you know, dilapidated walls of an old mental institution. We actually had somebody who was uh, uh, there sort of guiding us through the history of mental illness, the past ways of treating it, the different uh, forms of treatment. So in doing that there was a tremendous amount of research done on the entrapments of mental illness, and the suffering that has-that people need to go through, and so it lead me to watch a lot of different documentaries, a lot of research on mental illness. Uh, and as far as the emotional depths of the character, like we both keep saying it, and not to repeat, but it was, it was like a giant jigsaw puzzle, and the more we started to unearth, and peel back the onion of who this guy was, and what has hap.. what happened to him in the past, and trying to truly understand the reason why he would be so obsessed with this specific case, and, and once we start to uncover these things about him we realize to explain one set of circumstances, we needed to go even further with another set of circumstances. And for one thing to be believable, we needed to push another story line even further. And it really wasn’t until we were on set that we discovered that. There was a few weeks there that were, you know, I have to say, some of the, you know, most hardcore filming experiences I’ve ever had, and you know, I think he will say the same. It was uh, you know, like reliving trauma in a way. It was pretty intense. And I don’t say that stuff very often because it you know, it’s… it always seems superficial when you’re talking about it in reference to you know, movie making ’cause it is an art form. But it really got-it really went to places that uh, an unearthing who this man was that I didn’t think it would get to.
MS: Uh, same question? On different level? Again, I think the first, I think really (clears throat) we had read the script, and worked in rehearsal uh, in the hotel and the office, but I think it all started-it hit me, and I know (unintelligible) Ben I think it was, the first day of rehearsal in the office when we all arrived in the office and there were the two detectives, the marshals that came to speak to you, and suddenly it all changed (laughs). I’m not quite sure why and how, but normally that does anyway, I mean you have your, your characters, your actors are all ready, and you’re in the set, and you’re in the actual place in the set-the combination location and set-but there was something about the behavior, all about the behavior, and it started to-I, I remember I shot that scene uh, quite a long time-two or three days, I forget, uh, and there’s certain levels we wanted to reach certain, certain uh, uh… light touches in a way, or references with a glance, or the use of the pipe in a certain way, the amount, the amount of smoke coming out of the pipe, you know, I don’t know-whether he moved around, whether Ben moved around the desk, as he said a certain line or not, their behavior. That’s why I screen “Laura” for everyone uh, just to get a reference to the nature of the detective, the detective’s body language let’s say in “Laura,” uh, 1944 I think it was, as Dana Andrews’s character, and uh, he’s world-weary having gone through the war, he looks-when he goes and he asks uh, people are talking to him, and the characters are talking to him he doesn’t look at anybody. And so that was an element for Leo and Mark. But for Ben it was something else entirely. Looking at the pictures on the wall, uh, the way the but… the head-their, their faces are in the frame together with Leo’s hat, and Ben’s, Ben’s profile. This was something discovered on the set. And as we start to get through that scene and also the set dress up, but suddenly when they started dressing the set it was something else entirely here. And uh, I began to realize we’re getting in deeper. I was excited about getting deeper with the story uh, but at the same time a slight-although it really happened I’d say once the weather stated to treat us badly-but a slight panic as to uh, would we hit all the levels, would we have the time to do it. And for the first six, seven weeks it was pretty good. We were indoors and we were able to explore these different things. By the time we got outdoor, by the time we got outdoors, add to the emotional levels that they had to get to, that Leo had to get to, you add to that-well this happens in film-but when you see rain and wind hitting the actors, and uh, to the level it’s almost impossible for them to move in the frame, and this was brutalizing experience for them, for everybody. But this is, you know, the way films are made.
Q: Mr. Scorsese, could you speak of how you were inspired by Val Lewson and (unintelligible) work on this film. Could you give an example or two? And also can you say if you were-if you drew inspiration from the work of Mario Bava, particularly in your use of color?
MS: Well there’s always, always that uh, Mario Bava uh, uh, the, the uh, sort of singularity, that use of very powerful colors. I mean he was a wonderful cinematographer, and I always loved the uh (clears throat), excuse me, the uh, thriller horror films that he made in the late 50′s, early 60′s, and keep referring to them uh, “Black Sunday,” the trilogy “Black Sabbath,” they call it, some remarkable stuff, and there’s no doubt about that. Bava’s use of (clears throat) of less being more, the use of a little bit of mist in a way, a twisted branch, that sort of thing, was something I used for, for uh, inspiration in a way. But the Lewton films are really the key films. There’s no way-I don’t know-this doesn’t-this is not on that level, it’s a different kind of picture, but there’s no doubt, particularly in certain scenes in the mansion uh, Val Lewton’s films that had terrible titles, we all know, “The Cat People,” and “I Walked With A Zombie,” those two being directed by Jacques Tourneur, are beautiful works of poetry. And I always talk about these films-they never-”Out of the Past” is another one. It’s not a Val Lewton film but it’s directed by Tourneur, and that I showed you, “Out of the Past” with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer, that-all three films to me uh, they’re very modest but they have to do with memory, and time, and I don’t know. When I looked at those films, I looked at them repeatedly, and I don’t know what’s the beginning, middle, or the end. I can’t tell you what scene it is. I, I kind of-it’s like a piece of music, I keep, I keep listening to it or looking at it, and it’s new-it’s kind of new every time, and so this has a lot to do with-the pictorial, certainly the pictorialism or Tourneur, and uh, the one-I mean “I Walked With A Zombie” is really “Jane Eyre” in the Indies, we all know, was a terrible title. “Cat People” is a beautiful film. You can take it on a supernatural level or you can take it on the level of suggestion. It’s all about suggestion you see. And of course “Out of the Past” is the web, it’s the net that’s cast for this poor guy who, you know, does say at one point, you know, built my gallows high, baby. You know, he knows he’s doomed from the beginning, and you watch Mitchum go through it, you know, and I never know, is it Douglas, is it Kirk Douglas’s character, is it really Jane Greer who’s doing all this? I never quite know. He seems to be doing it to himself in a way. But it’s about memory, and so is this to a certain extent, the memory, and uh, these were inspirations, you know. Can’t reach that level of Tourneur, he’s remarkable.
Q: I wanted to know about what were the challenges and how you overcame them of presenting these characters uh, who, who forced the audience to fluctuate their perceptions of them tremendously while at the same time relatively speaking having consistent behavior throughout the film.
MS: I guess-I think one of the key elements here is that if you care about the person, and I think what Sir Ben said is really right in the sense that one of the things that I was so surprised about to discover ultimately-I knew it but I couldn’t, I couldn’t, I couldn’t verbalize it-is the love or the caring, the tenderness that he has for the patients. And they all do. And the relationship between the patient and the doctor. And at times stern, at times you don’t know what he’s thinking, where he’s going-why he’s saying certain things, why he’s behaving a certain way. Is he really telling the truth or not. You don’t know. But ultimately underlying all of this is this very strong relationship of believing in this therapy, believing in it, and we all know from James Gilliam, the doctor, that uh, he does believe in, for example, talk therapy, and he talked-he’s a doctor who’s been working this way for the past forty years or so, maybe forty five years, he was our technical advisor, he talked of one, one person, convicted killer who was insane, who behaved like an animal ultimately, and yet one day he saw something, and he said when you can talk to them it was very interesting-and it took twenty-five years, it took twenty-five years, but the person’s not out of jail of cause, but there’s humanity there, he said there’s still a human being there, there’s a heart there somewhere. And these were other people saying drug him, do this, give him lobotomies. He just kept working on it. That’s one. Not all are that successful, there’s no doubt, you know. And so this was very interesting to me. He could be going through anything he wants, but here’s the person-here’s the one who cares about it, who guides it. And if you look at the film, if you look at it a few times you’ll see there’s certain elements when, when uh, Chuck and Teddy are out in the woods and on the cliff, well you know, what, what are the doctors doing in terms of the story. Uh, why is Chuck-why does Chuck leave? All of these elements come together in terms of everyone caring for him, and trying to pull him through. And even understanding his decisions at the end, even understanding it sadly.
LD: Very simply put it was a very difficult character to take on in that respect, you know. Obviously this uh, film depends on you not knowing where you’re at in any given situation. And so with that in mind, everyday on set you know, it was a challenge for me really, and how I interacted with specific, specific characters-how much I let on as far as what Teddy was really going through, and-but a lot of this came from-a lot of it started to become a lot more natural, you know, when I got to work over a long, a long period of time with the other actors, and in that I discovered, you know, I dis… it became its own truth in a lot of ways, you know. It-as much as I invested in going into this process with a predetermined thought of exactly how this guy would be, and exactly how he would react to the people around him, once these scenarios started to take place, and once I got to be in a room with these other characters there was a certain realism, and a certain understanding that we all had about one another that I didn’t-I couldn’t-I could never have foreseen.
BK: I think it’s life and art. When you have a great working environment provided by Marty, one of the blessings of working under his love and guidance is that whatever you offer the camera, he will see every single scrap that you offer. He doesn’t miss anything. The slightest movement of your eyebrow, and elbow, and inflection of a certain word, everything is noticed, everything is gathered. And a great deal of what you’re striving to do will be in the picture, if not indeed all of it. Because that environment is so trusting, because therefore you’re released, nothing needs to be demonstrated, nothing needs to be-are you watching-are you watching-none of that needs to be stated, it therefore forces an accuracy and an economy. You don’t sentimentalize your performance, you don’t embellish your performance, the environment forces you to be utterly dependent between “action” and “cut” because the environment is perfect, on your fellow actor. So as an acting exercise it’s absolutely thrilling that the focus that we had to bring to each other echoed in life, echoed in art. And when you get that parallel it’s really thrilling and it’s full of surprises but it all has a logic.