DiCaprio and Scorsese, Together Again

Leonardo DiCaprio Through the YearsParamount Pictures
Mark Ruffalo, left, and Leonardo DiCaprio are shown in the new film "Shutter Island," directed by Martin Scorsese. This is the fourth Scorsese film DiCaprio has starred in.

One of them got famous making a little movie about a sinking ship.

The other one got famous making a little movie about a taxi driver.

Now, years later, Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese, actor and director, have formed an unofficial partnership. Perched at the top of the Hollywood heap, the two have already made three notable films together: "Gangs of New York," "The Aviator" and "The Departed," which won an Oscar.

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And now the duo are exploring a whole new area of the psyche: fear. In Scorsese's new film, "Shutter Island," DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a federal marshal who goes to a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a woman who murdered her children.

The plot is full of twists, turns, and the unexpected: Who's good? Who's bad? Who knows? "Shutter Island" is more a psychological thriller than a horror movie.

"Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden sat down with DiCaprio and Scorsese to talk about the film.

VIDEO: DiCaprio and Scorsese on Shutter IslandPlay

McFadden: So it's a lot more fun to make the movies than to talk about the movies, I suspect, yes?

Scorsese: Sometimes.

DiCaprio: Sometimes, yeah. And fun is not always the operative word when making a movie. In this case, I don't know, would you describe this one as fun? I wouldn't describe it as fun -- it was hard work, very rewarding and, you know, for me anyway, it uncovered a lot about the character that wasn't necessarily on the page on first glance. ... I never expected the experience to be, what it was, I really didn't.

McFadden: How was it different from what you expected?

DiCaprio: I didn't think we needed to go to the places that we went to. And it was, like I keep saying this; it was an emotional jigsaw puzzle that we needed to put all these pieces together. ... It's imperative that you are on this character's journey; it's imperative that you have a trust in him. And if that didn't fundamentally work, if you didn't believe it, then the movie would unravel.

The movie does not. DiCaprio 's character, we learn, has complex reasons for coming to Shutter Island. More than once, the character blows up -- scenes that weren't particularly difficult to act, DiCaprio said.

"Rage, no it's not hard," the actor said. "I don't think so. I like that, that kind of stuff. It's a release, because it allows me to do things that I would absolutely never normally be able to do in real life or wouldn't allow myself to do. It allows you to go to places that you, that I, for whatever decisions I've made in my life, won't allow myself to go. So it is like embodying somebody else for a period of time, and then you get to walk away from it. And then it becomes burned into celluloid and it's something that you can look at, like a book on your shelf."

'He's Maturing'

DiCaprio conceded, however, that acting does exact a certain personal price.

"Every time I play one of these roles, the loss of control that you have, it's suffocating, in a way, and it's something that -- it's so dark -- it's something that you don't like to dwell on too much. So for me, you know, playing these roles, as much as you don't want to let any of that stuff penetrate your real life, there was a mood that I had throughout this entire film that was very somber, there was a very somber feeling on set, especially shooting in an abandoned mental ward as well. Literally, you could feel the stories around you."

This is not Scorsese's first close collaboration with an actor. Early on, he formed a bond with Robert DeNiro. And it is DeNiro whom Scorsese credits for bringing the young DiCaprio to his attention.

Scorsese: He introduced me to him. And he told me when he did "This Boy's Life," he says, "There's this young kid you have to work with sometime, he's very good, doing this film now, "This Boy's Life." I say, "What's his name?" He told me, so I watched that and I watched "Gilbert Grape," and I say he's good, he's interesting -- and you were very young at that the time, what was it?

McFadden: 19?

DiCaprio: I was 16.

Scorsese: 16!

McFadden: So if you can do it at 16, what does that tell you? Katherine Hepburn used to say, "If Freddy Bartholomew can do it at 5, it's not a profession" [laughter].

Scorsese: Well, what is "It"?

Whatever "it" is, Leonardo DiCaprio certainly has it.

McFadden: I'm fascinated that people call Leo now your muse. Is that an appropriate term?

Scorsese: Yeah, I think to a certain extent. Yeah, because you know. It's not -- when you decide to make a picture ... there's a factor that has to inspire you, and the actor is key.

McFadden: What inspires you about him?

Scorsese: Well, you know, we're certainly a different generation, but the tastes are very similar.

McFadden: But I'm interested -- it's so hard to put into words these kinds of things. ... What is it between the two of you?

Scorsese: Part of it is having gone through the experience of "Gangs of New York," and then it was sort of galvanized by "Aviator" I think, because it was such a complex character that were trying to play with there. But then "Departed" was another one. That really touched upon areas and levels that I hadn't expected, which was good, which meant he's maturing. ... And so for me, not only does it happen on set in the rushes, but you see the real key is in the editing room with my editor, Thelma. She very often, with myself sitting there, we know the footage and we see the changes.

"Thelma" is Thelma Schoonmarker, who has edited Scorsese movies starting with "Raging Bull" in 1980 and won three Academy Awards along the way. Nobody gets into the edit room with Schoonmarker, we're told ... but "Nightline" managed to score a visit.

McFadden: [To Schoonmarker] So you know how he thinks?

Schoonmarker: He taught me everything I know, so... [laughter]

Scorsese: I don't think so. ...

McFadden: [To DiCaprio] And you never ... Do you ever come in this room?

DiCaprio: Well, like they say in MTV's "Cribs," this is where the magic happens.

Scorsese: Oh, yeah right.

DiCaprio: Between these two. But, no it's, it's true, I've gotten a glimpse of it, but this relationship is something that, is, ah, you know a testament to his filmmaking. Behind every great man is a great woman.

Schoonmarker: It's not true.

DiCaprio: No, it is true. It's the relationship. They sit here day after day and they go through -- they don't do it, you know, they don't take the new editing technologies and put them in here -- they go through frame-by-frame. ... And this is where they take each frame of celluloid by hand.

McFadden: Is it true?

DiCaprio: Like tailors, like suit tailors from Italy, like shoemakers. ... By the way, in the editing process, it is about a particular motion, a particular way an actor moves their hand or their face or their gesture and that's what they picked -- pick up on, it's like forensic work here. They're like detectives looking through the film.

Scorsese: Yeah, it's tricky because, you know it's hard, it's one room and sometimes you start to fade away and come back together somehow and look at it again, you know, um, but it's you know, this is the playroom.

So we return to Scorsese's screening room for more talk about "Shutter Island."

McFadden: This is a very wet movie.

Scorsese: A lot of rain.

McFadden: There's a lot of rain, lot of storm, a lot of lake, lot of...

Scorsese: I tried my best not to get wet. ... Of course! [laughing] I'm a New Yorker!

The movie's hurricane was created with 40,000-gallon truckloads of water and fans that could generate 80 mph winds.

DiCaprio: The hurricane was nuts; I mean we had to do two pages of dialogue over giant wind machines and rain on us. It made us more, I guess it made Mark Ruffle and I more determined to be on the case, because we had to shout through the rain.

McFadden: When was the last time you had a fight? Have you?

DiCaprio: We don't really have fights.

Scorsese: No.

DiCaprio: That sounds really like an old, married couple in therapy.

'A New Lease on Creative Life'

Maybe... or else like two friends dedicated to the same goal.

McFadden: Liking each other must make it better?

DiCaprio: It does, yeah, absolutely. Look, for me it's very simple, I'm getting to work with a master filmmaker and I am inspired by working with him. And more so than all that, he kind of has this infectious appreciation for cinema as an art form ... and when you're around someone that loves movies that much and has such a commitment to making good movies, you get on that rollercoaster too, and everyone enjoys that process -- it's infectious.

McFadden: What do you think you give him?

DiCaprio: I think you'd have to ask him that -- I'd never be so presumptuous as to sit here and say...

McFadden: So I'll ask you that.

DiCaprio: Well, watching his developing as an actor, his growth, for me was sort of a new lease on creative life, in a way, to be able to -- it's more than an instrument, because the actor in the frame really is everything. ... So to be excited again by a person who is younger than me, who is developing, working and constantly -- this is something that very rarely happens, I think.

There have been rumors about a new project, a biopic of Frank Sinatra. But there also have been suggestions that the Sinatra family and the movie studio have other actors in mind; George Clooney and Sean Penn have been mentioned.

So we ask: Will there be a Sinatra film?

Scorsese: We're trying, we're trying. There's a couple...

McFadden: What do you think?

DiCaprio: I don't know, I have no answers for that, I don't know. He's working on it.

McFadden: Would you like to do it if it's offered?

DiCaprio: If he calls me up for something, it's hard to say no, it's hard to say no, but we'll see.

McFadden: As a betting man, do you think you'll be making that picture?

Scorsese: It could be, it very well could be. We just had some meetings on it in Los Angeles and we're going to the nest step and see what we can do, you know. It's a matter of timing too.

DiCaprio: Timing, money.

McFadden: But is Leo who you'd like to see play the character?

Scorsese: I think so, yeah. I feel that. It's a matter of how do you approach that character? Where do you start, where do you end? It's a big job.

It's a job both men seem eager to take on. But first, there is "Shutter Island" to launch.

McFadden: Does it matter whether people like it or not?

Scorsese: Of course, you want an audience to, I'd like people to like my work, that's nice -- or responding to it. Respond, right? I mean it'd be nice if they do, touch certain chords in the audience, that sort of thing.

DiCaprio: The only one thing I've learned in my career ... the only thing you know is that you have no control of what people think, you only can go in there with the best intentions, give everything you possibly can, try your best to make the best possible movie you can. Then it's kind of like giving birth, you give it out to the world and it will either become a juvenile delinquent or the next president of the United States.