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Spending Sunday at the ArcLight with Leo DiCaprio and 'The Wolf of Wall Street'

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Leonardo DiCaprio talked about 'The Wolf of Wall Street' in a q&a at the ArcLight Hollywood on Sunday. (Photo: Christine N. Ziemba)
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Love it or meh it (and our reviewer chose the latter), Martin Scorcese’s Christmas release The Wolf of Wall Street still sparks a lot of debate and conversation. Just this weekend at the Palm Springs Film Festival, co-star Jonah Hill defended the controversial film—but not the behavior of the Wall Street a-holes that run amok on screen for three hours.

The film’s star, Leonardo DiCaprio, also spent part of Sunday night discussing the film at the ArcLight Hollywood. In front of a packed Cinerama Dome audience, DiCaprio talked about the film, working with Martin Scorcese and Jordan Belfort, the disgraced stockbroker-turned-motivational speaker, who wrote the memoir on which the film was based.

Here’s what we heard and learned during the 30-minute Q&A session between the actor and Deadline’s Pete Hammond, as well as from a few questions from the audience. Note: Spoilers follow.

On what drew DiCaprio to The Wolf of Wall Street project in the first place:

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“When I got this novel written by Jordan, and he was so incredibly candid and honest about his hedonistic time on Wall Street. He wrote it really as a cautionary tale. He got way too wrapped up in that world...obsessed with women, wealth and drugs as you saw just up on screen.

“Marty’s [Scorcese] approach to this film was not to teach a lesson here; it was a reflection of Jordan’s life. Marty’s approach in doing Goodfellas or any of these portrayals is to portray them as honestly as he can...to be unapologetic about their actions, and then we can somehow, as an audience, insert ourselves into their mindset.”

On working with Belfort for his portrayal in the film:

“I spent many many months with him, and literally videotaped him while he was imitating what it was like to be on ‘ludes”...rolling around on the floor, slobbering.” DiCaprio said that he called Belfort sometimes between scenes asking for background (while Scorese preferred to remain “objective” and didn’t have contact with Balfort directly). “He was incredibly helpful for me as an actor.”

On creative liberties taken with Belfort’s book:

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“None of [what’s in the film] is made up. The only thing that’s slightly glorified is that conversation on the boat...even the plane crashing on the way to get him, his boat sinking... every single one of these things absolutely happened, and none of it is glorified whatsoever.”

On film's final shot, focusing on an enraptured audience listening to Belfort, the newly reborn motivational speaker:

“Marty wanted to have a mirrored image of the audience looking back onto itself...a reflection of America in a lot of ways.”

On strong opinions / reactions to the film:

“I think it’s pretty cool. Films like the original Scarface or even Al Pacino’s Scarface had to put a didactic beginning to explain to audiences that this is a cautionary tale. Marty was ferocious in saying, ‘Look, I’m going to be unapologetic about who these people are.’ If there’s a reaction, in a way, to me that means it’s somewhat groundbreaking. It shakes the foundation of society. I’m not saying this film is going to change the world, but it takes a lot of chances. There’s no films like this on the marketplace...this [type of film] doesn’t exist because it doesn’t get financed.”

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[DiCaprio said that it took six or seven years for the project to reach fruition because he and Scorcese were having trouble with getting financing. Seriously, if they have trouble...]

The Wolf of Wall Street is DiCaprio’s fifth film with Scorcese. On his relationship with the director:

“I grew up in LA, and most of my friends are actors and all we did was watch Scorcese and DeNiro movies. When I think of a Scorcese relationship, it’s those two.”

On Matthew McConaughey's short, but memorable role:

“He was like Dante bringing me into the Inferno...His mantra became a rap from the 80s; and when I was doing those speeches later on, I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to bring that mantra back? It’s like the Indian war cry of greed. Let’s get everybody to do it and have it be this insane Indian dance.”

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On working with Jonah Hill:

“His improvisation is amazing. I’ve never worked with a better improvisational actor than Jonah Hill.”

When an audience member asked whether he looked to Tony Robbins or other motivational speakers about his Wolf speeches:

“That’s exactly what Jordan Belfort wants to become...the Tony Robbins of the finance world.”

Another audience member asked DiCaprio about the existence of a 5-hour cut:

DiCaprio said maybe, but he only saw a 4.5-hour cut: “This is the director’s cut, and everything that Marty wanted in the film.”

Another audience question asked about DiCaprio flexing his comedy muscles in the film and whether he’d do more comedy in the future.

“I didn’t try to be funny...It became comedic because of the absurdity of these people's lives."

On the most challenging scene to do in the film:

In part of an infamous Quaaludes sequence in the film, DiCaprio talked about having a rig built around him to get the proper shot of his character performing CPR on Jonah Hill’s character, Donnie. In the scene, Donnie spits up ham that sticks to Jordan’s face. It took a mixture of ham, K-Y Jelly and a crew member flinging ham at DiCaprio using a borrowed catering utensil to make it work.

“It took about 70 times for that piece of goddamned ham to stick on my face.”