Lush Life of a Wall Street Outlaw

Updated 16 weeks ago Special to HuntingtonNews.Net

Left to right: Margot Robbie is Naomi Lapaglia and Leonardo DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, from Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures.
(c) 2013 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Left to right: Margot Robbie is Naomi Lapaglia and Leonardo DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, from Paramount Pictures and Red Granite Pictures. (c) 2013 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
“This story was like a modern-day Caligula to me,” says Leonardo DiCaprio, the film’s lead actor and a producer who fought for years to make “The Wolf of Wall Street.” DiCaprio can’t help but compare Jordan Belfort to history’s most debauched and insanely indulgent Roman Emperor – but he was awestruck to see Rome’s boundless lust for the illicit transferred to a New York brokerage full of salesmen from Queens.

It was the setting amidst New York financial outlaws out to have the time of their lives while blinding themselves to the consequences that drew him in. “In the late 80s and early 90s Wall Street was so incredibly unregulated, it was like the wild, wild West,” DiCaprio notes.  “And Jordan Belfort was one of those wolves who took advantage of the loopholes to make a gigantic fortune. To me, his story seemed to embody that specific time when our financial institutions went completely awry.”

DiCaprio was also drawn to Belfort’s unconstrained honesty about the heights of ecstasy he found within his grasp – money flowing so freely people were having carnal relations on stacks of it until the totally exorbitant became the ordinary.  “What was so fascinating was Jordan’s absolute candidness about his every crazy endeavor. He held nothing back.  He pulled no punches. He was unapologetic about his lust for wealth and his mad consumption – and I felt that was the basis for a fascinating character.  And the fact that he ultimately had to pay the price made for a great story.”

Before Belfort was charged with securities fraud and money laundering, he was leading his life at the most baroque, orgiastic levels anyone could imagine – flying own personal helicopter, driving 6 luxury cars, sailing a 167-foot yacht formerly owned by Coco Chanel, racking up $700,000 hotel and hooker bills and a feeding a 20-quaalude a day habit cut with cocaine and morphine.

Then, Belfort lost it all.  With plenty of time on his hands to reflect, he chronicled his journey in a tell-all book   -- revealing step by startling step how he started a penny-stock brokerage in a garage, developed it into the ultimate “pump and dump” shop (where fast-talking brokers pump up stocks to inflated prices, then dump the over-valued shares, bilking their investors), then drove his life into  the  ground  with  the  sheer  extent  of  his  appetites.   Written  with  an  irreverent  New  York sensibility, critics praised the book’s rocketing pace and comic touch, with some seeing it as the consummate tale of modern money madness gripping America.

Belfort may not have been in the mob per se, but many saw his story as that of a financial gangster. While his clients suffered disastrous losses, he and his friends made out like bandits – and they publically reveled in their loot, causing Forbes Magazine to call Belfort “a kind of Robin Hood who steals from the rich and gives to himself.”

“He’s a modern kind of gangster,” says Joey McFarland of Red Granite Pictures, who joined Scorsese, DiCaprio, Riza Aziz and Emma Kaskoff as the producing team.  “He’s not like the violent gangsters we know from other films but the kind of gangster who finds a way on Wall Street to manipulate the system, fuel his own greed and take advantage of people. In the same way that

‘Goodfellas’ was the story of a neighborhood gang, I think this is similar.   But this neighborhood happens to be that of Wall Street.  And the people these guys shake down aren’t local shopkeepers but millions of regular people in the privacy of their own homes.”

That, says McFarland, made Martin Scorsese, whose intense, bold films have been woven into the tapestry of film history, a peerless match with the material.  He was especially thrilled to watch the director take a gleefully no-limits approach that ratcheted up the story’s ink-black comedy.

“The way Marty made the film, it is so funny,” he says.  “You have the sex, the drugs and the money,  you  have  this  tumultuous  journey,  and  yet  there’s  constant  humor  mixed  with  many emotions. The style Marty brings to the movie makes it an event of epic proportions. Whenever you get Marty and Leo together it’s an event -- but with this edgy, racy material, it’s something special.”

Adds producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff, who is President of Production for Sikelia Productions, working alongside Scorsese on all aspects of his film and television projects:  'When Marty and I first read the script we knew instantly that we wanted to make this film.  In scope, this film is similar to CASINO -- the story is told in that classic Scorsese staccato pacing.  I knew Marty's fearless and uncompromising direction would make him ideal for this subject matter.'

DiCaprio had felt the same way. “From the start, I couldn’t stop thinking of Marty for this material,” he explains.  “He’s able to bring a reality, a life and a sense of comedy to the darkness in this story, and that’s something very, very few filmmakers can accomplish. I always remember Marty telling me that ‘Goodfellas’ was a dark comedy – so that’s why I approached him originally.”

Still, everyone involved was taken aback by the sheer dauntlessness of Scorsese’s leap into unexpurgated depravity. Sums up screenwriter Terence Winter:  “When I saw the movie for the first time, it was jaw dropping.  I mean it was exactly what I had written; yet I couldn’t believe the level of insanity  and  intensity  and  hilarity.  Just  the  level  to  which  all  of  these  actors,  Leo  particularly, committed was astounding. Marty obviously has that gift where he can take something off of a page and turn it into a visual storytelling masterpiece.  He created a tsunami of craziness.”

THE GANGSTER TRADITION . . . GONE MAD

For Martin Scorsese, Jordan Belfort’s story was a chance to go places even he has never gone before as a filmmaker – into the most comic extremes of real-life human behavior.

Henry Zebrowski is Alden Kupferberg ("Sea Otter"), P.J. Bryne is Nicky Koskoff ("Rugrat"), Leonardo DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort, Jonah Hill is Donnie Azoff in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, (c) Paramount Pictures
Henry Zebrowski is Alden Kupferberg ("Sea Otter"), P.J. Bryne is Nicky Koskoff ("Rugrat"), Leonardo DiCaprio is Jordan Belfort, Jonah Hill is Donnie Azoff in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, (c) Paramount Pictures

“Jordan’s  story  falls  squarely  into  American  fascination  with  the  rise  and  the  fall  --  the gangster tradition,” says the director.  Yet Jordan took the gangster tradition and turned it inside out. Rather than hiding from the law, he flaunted his illegal wealth in every way imaginable – and some ways that weren’t imaginable -- practically begging for the comeuppance that ultimately toppled his mini-empire.

Scorsese  also  saw  an  opportunity  to  take  a  highly  entertaining  trip  around  the  cycle  of financial  ecstasy,  madness  and  disaster  that  seems  to  play  out  over  and  over  in  the  American economy.

“As someone who enjoys history, I’ve been quite stunned and amazed that the same things keep happening over and over,” the director comments. “You have periods of financial boom with a kind of euphoria when it seems like everybody’s going to get rich and everything’s gonna be great -- and then it all falls apart, and there’s a realization that only a few were getting richer at the expense of others. It happened in the Gilded Age in the late 19th  Century. It happened in 1929.  It happened in

1987, which is when our film takes place.  It happened at the turn of this century when the dot.com bubble burst and it happened again in 2008. And, it could be happening again soon.”

 

Belfort furthermore fit in amidst a certain kind of character Scorsese has been drawn to throughout his career – men struck by ambition in the most alluringly flawed, human way, men who succeed on their own terms yet can’t escape a moral morass.

“Jordan’s someone who led a life that wasn’t exemplary, that was pretty ignoble in a way,” says Scorsese.  “Not because he wanted to harm anybody per se but because this is what he learned from the world around him. So that’s something that I’ve always been attracted to and is interesting to me – people like Jordan or Jake LaMotta or Tommy, Joe Pesci’s character in ‘Goodfellas.’  People try to distance themselves from these kinds of characters:  it’s someone else; he’s not like me.  But in actuality I feel it’s not someone else.  It is us.  It’s you and me and if we had been born under different circumstances we maybe would have wound up making the same mistakes and choices and doing exactly the same things. I’m interested in acknowledging that part of these characters which is in our common humanity and we have to deal with it.”

Scorsese saw all of this brought to the fore in Terence Winter’s screenplay. Winters is best known  for  his  Emmy-winning  work  on  “The  Sopranos”  and  for  the  hit  Prohibition-era  series “Boardwalk Empire,” which Scorsese executive produces, but he also worked at Merrill Lynch for in the 1980s.  So he was able to twine together an intimate knowledge of the financial world with a penchant for writing about the lure and perils of the high life.  He began his research by going directly to the source, meeting several times with Belfort.

“Jordan  was  unbelievably  forthcoming,”  Winter  recalls.     “I  mean  the  book  doesn’t  hold anything back, but in person it’s even more so.  He went into great detail about the drug use and the orgies and the relationships and really everything. He was an open book. From there, I interviewed his parents, his ex-wife, the FBI agents who brought him down, the people who worked for him and the also some of the people he scammed.”

Soon, Winter had a multi-dimensional portrait of Belfort in his head, “The genius, if you will, of Jordan is that he is extremely seductive – he’s funny and smart and he also can be charmingly self- deprecating.  And I think that’s also true of the people who went to work for him.  You know, these were people so charming that for a moment you forget they were really robbing everyone else.”

He continues:  “For me what was interesting is that it makes you say, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’  Jordan started out a regular kid in Queens.  His parents were accountants – and he all wanted was to make good, to be successful like we all do, and then he just fell down a tremendous rabbit hole. He had these natural gifts as a salesman, but then he got corrupted by the system until he was feeding off of it. I saw it as the story of a fresh-faced kid who turned into a financial monster.”

That monster soon had an insatiable, out-sized craving for every toy and pleasure known to humankind. “This is not just a story about the rise and fall of a guy who stole money on Wall Street. It’s also a story of a guy whose life became unbelievably full of insane events that were generated with by his obsession with sex and drugs.   He was basically addicted to everything a human being can become addicted to,” notes Winter.  “He just wanted more, more, more.  More drugs.  More women. The biggest yacht.  Homes all over the place.  And it got wildly out of control.  Part of the fun was trying to full create this roller-coaster ride of insanity.”

Winter sees this accounting of insanity as particularly intriguing right now, in the wake of a global financial crisis that exposed widespread corruption – and altered the public view of Wall Street forever.  “Here we are in 2013, five years after the incredible collapse of our economy, and so many of the people who were responsible remain in incredibly important positions,” Winter points out.  “So we still have to wonder if we’ve yet learned anything.”

DiCaprio was exhilarated by Winter’s writing.  “Terry wrote a screenplay that encapsulated all the most insane moments of Jordan’s life – and he stylistically wrote it for Martin Scorsese.  He also gave me some of the most wonderful dialogue I’ve ever had the opportunity to say as an actor. We’re incredibly thankful that he did the adaptation because he painted so many nuances into all these characters and brought bold color into it in a way I don’t think anyone else could.”

TAKING THE CAST ALL THE WAY

After initial conversations with DiCaprio, Scorsese was drawn to “The Wolf of Wall Street” but there was only one way he was interested in taking it on:  with the full force of wicked, wanton decadence he witnessed in Winter’s script and Belfort’s book.

“I had to have total freedom with the cast and crew to do what I needed, which meant we all decided that we were going to go all the way,” Scorsese comments.  “This is a story about the profane as opposed to the sacred, the obscene as opposed to the decent. Yet it’s not an expose.  I mean the obscenity, the profanity, it’s all right there.  It’s in plain sight.  It’s part of the very fabric of the culture. Yet ultimately I think it comes out that this is a lifestyle – the ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’ as the TV show had it -- that becomes about avoiding yourself, or a fear of being alone with yourself.”

This film marks Scorsese’s fifth collaboration with DiCaprio, following “Shutter Island,” “The Departed,” “The Aviator” and “Gangs of New York” – and the director was motivated to take their diverse work together another step deeper.

“I’ve been very lucky over the past 14 years or so to be able to check in with Leo and really to be attracted to the same characters and stories. There’s a matter of trust in our relationship and that translates into the ability to take more risks – for me to push him as an actor and hopefully to be pushed as a filmmaker. Yes, he’s 30 years younger than me but I must say the last several years have given me a kind of a reboot so to speak, with a renewed energy and inspiration.”

Emma Tillinger Koskoff enjoyed watching their collaboration continue to evolve in new ways.

'Leo's transformation and growth in this movie, from start to finish, was truly amazing to watch,” she says. “The risks he takes with this performance, both on screen and off, will once again prove him to be the best actor of his generation.'

The rest of the all-star cast, many of whom worked with Scorsese for the first time, also excited the director.  “We have Jonah Hill, who’s incredible as Donnie; Cristin Milioti who is Jordan’s first wife Teresa and in only in a few scenes but is remarkable in them; Kyle Chandler as the FBI agent who’s wonderful especially when has a little meeting with Jordan on his yacht; and Margot Robbie, who is strong, tough and funny as Naomi, holding her own in every scene.”

Koskoff recalls that Hill won over Scorsese instantaneously.  'When Jonah auditioned for the role of Donnie, he blew Marty away.  I had seen him in ‘Moneyball’ and knew he had tremendous potential as more than a comedic actor.  Even with that knowledge, we were continually surprised by the breadth of his talent,” she comments.

Scorsese continues:   “I’ve always been a fan of Rob Reiner’s work as an actor and as a filmmaker -- so finally I was able to hang out with him on this picture as Jordan’s father. And working with Matthew McConaughey the first time was really interesting.  I saw him in ‘Mud,’ the Jeff Nichols picture and I really liked him.  I didn’t recognize him actually. He just seemed to be part of the very nature of the world that the film was depicting. So when we talked about doing this part, he said,

‘What about my accent?’ I said, ‘Well, why couldn’t there be a Southern accent on Wall Street?’ In the luncheon scene, he and Leo played beautifully off each other and Matthew has a way of chanting these tonal vocal exercises, and that found its way into the film. It opened up the movie for us in a way that we were able to not have any limits as to what would be deemed absurd. It’s all absurd.”

Scorsese concludes:   “Jon Favreau is also wonderful actor and director who was perfect to work with especially in the scene between him, Rob Reiner and Leo DiCaprio at the horse farm.  For Saurel, our Swiss banker, Jean Dujardin brought a great sense of humor that transcends language -- he’s quite funny and a damn good actor.”

Wolf of Wall Street
Wolf of Wall Street
(c) Paramount Pictures

 

AMONG THE WOLVES: THE CHARACTERS

Jordan Belfort:  Dental school dropout who by his early 30s is a multi-millionaire taking companies public, running the biggest “pump and dump” shop in New York and acquiring a highly developed taste for women, drugs and infinite luxury

“Jordan is a complex character, because you want to love him but you hate what he’s doing,” notes producer McFarland.  “Those complexities are very exciting for an actor like Leo DiCaprio.  Leo is so charismatic himself that I think he was really able to channel Jordan and then bring an extra bravado that makes his performance unique. Jordan has a lot of leadership qualities. Unfortunately, he  used  his  intelligence  and  entrepreneurial  spirit  to  manipulate  people.    And  ultimately,  his arrogance and his lifestyle brought him down.  This is a guy who lived like a rock star, but it was never enough, and that drove him to destruction.”

DiCaprio wanted to play Belfort from the first time he encountered “The Wolf of Wall Street.” To do so, however, he knew he would have to step off the edge.  “The big question that you have going into a movie like this is whether audiences will respond to a character who is really committing atrocious acts. But I think that rests on the honesty with which you depict a character like Jordan.  And that was one of the things that Marty said very early on to me.  He said, ‘You know, through my experiences in making movies, if you’re authentic with the characters and who they are and don’t betray that, people will go along with anything.’ That stuck with me.”

He continues:   “Our attitude was to pull no punches.   Let’s not try to whitewash anything. Let’s not try to make these characters ‘likeable.’  Let’s portray them for what they are and the unbelievable times they had during those few years where they were completely unregulated and had no rules.  These guys were running wild with America’s money in their hands.  But watching them disintegrate, watching them succumb to their own lust and greed, is incredibly entertaining.”

DiCaprio did a lot of research but during rehearsal, and on set, an improvisatory spirit reigned. “We had reference points of where we wanted the scenes to go but it was incredibly loose,” he explains. “It was like a theater company coming in and playing around with the material. We’d have a scene that was only a page long and we’d be improvising for hours and hours.  We had such great actors that anything could happen and a lot of times it did.”

Many scenes allowed DiCaprio to delve far beyond the usual boundaries of human behavior –

 

but one particular Quaalude trip stands out. “It all happens in one day that Jordan realizes the FBI are bugging his house, Donnie messes up a money transaction, and then Donnie and Jordan take these very, very, very powerful pharmaceutical grade Quaaludes and take way to much of them because they don’t realize they have a delayed fuse.  Marty created this insanely hilarious, very intense and terrifying at times sequence where both Jonah and I are just completely obliterated. I remember Jonah looked at me and says, ‘This is the most insane thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.’  And I had to say the same. It turned into this wild, surreal event in the life of these two maniacs.”

Though  he  threw  himself  into  Jordan’s  self-destructive  ecstasy,  DiCaprio  also  became fascinated  by  his  rousing  speeches  in  front  of  the  whole  company.    “The  speeches  were  very interesting because it almost became like a U2 concert,” he muses.  “It took on a life of its own.  He had these money-crazed stockbrokers wanting to become rich at any cost and he had to ramp them up for warfare. So it was like stepping up on stage as a rock star and having to get the audience pumped up – only the irony is that he’s pumping them up to be as greedy as possible and to take advantage of other.  But those were incredibly memorable scenes for me because we worked on them in great detail and once I got up on that stage it became its own animal.”

 

Donnie Azoff:   Known for his crazy antics, including marrying his first cousin and regularly

transporting drugs where the sun don’t shine, Donnie becomes Jordan’s loyal partner.

Jordan’s partner in business, crime and most of all mischief is Donnie Azoff, who goes from Jordan’s seemingly nebbishy neighbor to the co-founder of his quasi-legal brokerage and a kind of anti-role model with a disdain for any and all rules. An Academy Award® nominee for “Moneyball,” Jonah Hill took on the role with total commitment to its inherent comedy.

“Jonah brings a humorous quality right out of the gate,” says McFarland. “He’s a fantastic actor but he’s also incredibly funny and the way he plays Donnie helps to lighten the whole film. The chemistry between him and Marty was unbelievable.”

Says DiCaprio of Hill’s work on the film: “His attitude throughout was, ‘I want to be your wing man in this endeavor. I want to go out there and support you and Marty and show the essence of these characters, and this man in particular.’ That attitude was electric for all of us. He ignited each scene he was in . . .his character is hilarious from the moment he comes on screen to the bitter end.”

 

Naomi:        Jordan’s gorgeous ex-model second wife, whom he dubs “the Duchess of Bay Ridge,”

intending to shower her in luxury befit for royalty, until their marriage implodes

Playing Jordan’s second wife Naomi – a glittering trophy who soon had enough of Jordan’s unceasing shenanigans -- is rising, 22 year-old Australian star Margot Robbie.   Robbie was able to leave her past behind and dive fully into the life of a Queens princess.  Says DiCaprio:  “Playing a girl from Queens when you’re all the way from Australia and understanding the mannerisms and the hand movements and the culture is a difficult undertaking.  But, Margot worked so diligently creating the character, she’s incredibly believable.”

Robbie says she could understand why Naomi might fall for Jordan.  “I met Jordan in person before we started filming and there’s something about him that is very likeable, even though he did terrible things.  He just seems to be someone who does everything to an extreme.  He works to an extreme, makes money to an extreme and then he did drugs to an extreme.  Everything he does is ten steps further than everyone else does it, and that can seem exciting.”

Still she had to contemplate why a woman would stay with a philandering, addicted, conniving husband, no matter how rich and attractive.  “My take on it was that Naomi is just 22 when they meet and she gets completely caught up in this whirlwind surrounding Jordan. She’s having fun, and then it all begins to escalate very quickly. Before she knows it, she has kids with him and suddenly he’s a sex addict and a drug addict, and she realizes it’s not the lifestyle she wanted at all.”

Playing Naomi also meant jumping directly into the madhouse of partying she and Jordan were into at the time they met. “There are a lot of crazy scenes but what was so fun is that everyone was so committed to making the best movie possible, and they kept pushing further and further with it. Everyone was just going out on a limb and that makes a really great environment,” she says.

She especially enjoyed working in close quarters with DiCaprio.  “Leo’s so very committed,” she comments.  “I could go in any direction and he’d be right there.  It pushed me to take more risks because he was.”

 

Mark Hanna:      An early mentor to Jordan at a soon to be defunct Wall Street brokerage, who teaches him the first rule of the game: “move the money from the client’s pocket to your pocket.”

When Matthew McConaughey took on the role of Mark Hanna, he brought his own stamp to it.  The actor, who this year has already received accolades for diverse roles in “Mud” and “The Dallas Buyers Club,” took off in his own direction.

Recalls DiCaprio:  “Matthew came in with a very specific idea for this character.    Mark was one thing written on the page but then he came in and went into this monologue that was so incredibly rich and colorful and insane and really introduces the audience to the world of Wall Street at that time. He managed to encapsulate all the insanity in this one moment.  He used the reference points that were in the script but ultimately all the color and all the flavor is all him.”

McConaughey also started the chant that became the Stratton Oakmont anthem. “He started beating his chest like this weird drum and I sort of looked at Marty like, ‘Do you see what’s going on here?’  Later, I picked that up again for the scene where I’m bring my troops back for war,” DiCaprio explains.  “So Matthew, in the brief time that he was here, had an incredible influence on the mood and tone of the film.”

 

Patrick Denham:   The straight arrow FBI agent surveilling Jordan’s incredible empire while putting together a money laundering case that will take it all down

Taking the role of the FBI Agent on Jordan’s boastful, unapologetic trail is Kyle Chandler, who in the past year has been seen in “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Argo” and “The Spectacular Now.”

“The main impetus my character is to bring down Belfort,” Chandler says.  “Denham is a guy

 

who relishes going after Jordan because he is so absolutely brazen and I think it outrages him.”

Like the rest of the cast, Chandler found his own way into the character, focusing on the contrasts between his net worth and that of the stockbrokers he is chasing. “I think he’s someone very dogged. He’s a gentleman who thinks people ought to play by the rules and if you don’t play by the rules, you’re gonna be brought down. Throughout the film with all the chaos and all the decadence and the beautiful women, the money and the cheating and the stealing and the humor I’m the guy who’s firm and loyal.  But this is a guy who is not shiny, whose car is full of burned out coffee cups, who wears a Sears jacket if you will and mustard on his tie. I love playing a smart character who has a little bit of an oaf in him.”

Going tete-a-tete with DiCaprio when Agent Denham comes onto his yacht was a highlight for Chandler.  Says DiCaprio of the scene: “It’s one of the most important and integral scenes in the movie because my character is still thinking that there’s no consequences and there’s no rules and I’m audacious enough to try to bribe an FBI officer in my wickedly corrupt way  -- and Kyle just baited me, giving me just enough rope to hang myself ultimately. That was all done through improvisation.”

 

“Mad” Max Belfort:        Jordan’s father, known for his wild temper, who becomes Chief Financial Officer of Stratton Oakmont and tries to reel in his son’s outrageous use of company credit cards on his everything from midgets to prostitutes

Taking the role of Max Belfort is Rob Reiner, the actor and Oscar®-nominated filmmaker who hasn’t been seen in a feature film role in a decade.  He was attracted instantly to the material.  “It's a tale about what money can do to people,” he summarizes.  “And at a time when we’ve just come out of a period of excess in our economy that caused a financial collapse, I think it’s very interesting to look at what happens when people are allowed to run rampant without any restraints or regulations.” Then  there was  the opportunity  to  work  with  Scorsese.  “Marty  is  a  great  chronicler of characters who are fatally flawed,” he notes, “and Jordan is another one of these larger-than-life, outsized guys undone by his terrible human flaws.  On the set, Marty creates a great atmosphere.  He likes people to improvise if they can, and there's no more fun for an actor than to be able to do that.”

Reiner took a careful approach to understanding Max as a father witnessing his son veer into criminal activity.  “He didn't try to raise a criminal; he just wound up with one,” observes Reiner. And the thing is you love your children no matter what they are. So Max loves Jordan even if he's gone off the rails.  I also think Max is proud of the fact that Jordan is tremendously successful. I don't think he loves the fact that he cheats on his wife and goes with hookers. And he thinks Jordan has been excessive in his spending, but I think he’s still quite proud.”

 

Jean-Jacques Saurel:       The suave Swiss banker who launders millions for Stratton Oakmont’s

executives at his corrupt bank in Geneva

 

Early on, Scorsese decided to approach Jean Dujardin, the Academy Award® winner for “The Artist” who is otherwise best known for his work in French cinema.  He was thrilled that the actor was willing to take on a smaller but vital role – and bring the full force of his humor and charisma to it.

DiCaprio was also gratified that Dujardin came aboard.  “He’s another actor in a long list of actors that infused this movie with incredible energy,” DiCaprio comments.   “And his ability to improvise in English really astounded us.  Anything that Marty wanted to throw at him or I wanted to throw at him he would react to and it was amazing to, just to be on set with him.  The man was made for cinema.

 

IN THE LAP OF LUXURY: THE DESIGN

The design of “The Wolf of Wall Street” revels in color, brashness and excess along with its characters.  The film marks the second time that Scorsese has used a digital format, and here it brings a contrasting realism to a highly perishable world of lavish fantasies.

To create the look of the film, Scorsese teamed up with Oscar®-nominated cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, who most recently shot “Argo” and is known for his body of work with Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu. “Rodrigo’s a great cinematographer and for me the experience was a very good one. He has a freewheeling style, yet a poetic touch with the images and he was able to capture as much as possible these characters in the frame even when they were skewing off center so to speak.”

Scorsese also collaborated closely with Emmy Award winning production designer Bob Shaw (“Boardwalk Empire,” “The Sopranos”), who honed in a very specific experience of the 1990s -- that of the nouveau riche who came out of middle-class Queens into a life of dazzling, sometimes gauche luxury without any bounds.

“Jordan Belfort was one of those who found he could actually acquire the keys to the candy store – and he did not really exercise any restraint with the candy once he had those keys,” muses Shaw.  “So the direction we had to go in is pretty crazy.” So things like the McMansion became popular,” observes Shaw.  “The average amount of square footage in houses suddenly doubled and it seemed nothing was ever enough. Jordan epitomizes all of that.”

Shaw recalls that he and Scorsese looked for the most sprawling location they could find for Jordan’s house, where he moves with his second wife, Naomi. “The house we ultimately used was even more over-the-top than our initial first choice.   I remember I turned to Marty when we were trying to find our way out of the house and I said, ‘Well, the fact that we’re getting lost trying to find our way out of the house might be telling us that we’re in the right place.’”

For the interior, Shaw focused on the touches Naomi would have brought.  “She’s someone who was very aspirational and I think when Jordan marries her he also acquires her taste.  She has a sort of Ralph Lauren aesthetic and I think wants the family to look like the landed gentry. She wants the house to look like Old Money, so there’s plenty of Shabby Chic.”

In bringing Stratton Oakmont to life, Shaw took the company through several incarnations: from its stark garage beginnings to its wild ending as a no-limits twist on traditional brokerage houses. “It starts as a fly-by-night, unpolished penny stock brokerage, then we have the more 80s office before the world had abandoned peach and teal and glass block; and then we have the offices that Jordan always wanted:  offices that reflect that high level of privilege he has attained, that are almost a satire on L.F. Rothschild, where he began his career,” Shaw explains.

An echoing progression takes place with the characters’ clothing.  Academy Award® winning costume designer Sandy Powell – who has collaborated with Scorsese on “Gangs of New York,” “The Aviator,” “The Departed,” “Shutter Island” and “Hugo” – says reading Jordan Belfort’s book was the start of her process. “I knew a little bit of what went on but it was still shocking to read it,” she recalls. “Then, reading the script, it was incredible to imagine the excess and absurdity of it all.”

Still, she knew the costumes would be a challenge, pushing her into fresh territory.  “It’s not the kind of script I would normally choose to do,” she admits. “But having worked with Marty on five other films I knew that whatever it would be, it would be interesting because he was doing it. Still it was something completely different for me because the characters are so extreme. The question was: how do you convey the outrageous characters through the clothing as well as their behavior?”

She had extensive conversations with Scorsese.  “Marty always has quite clear ideas of how he wants  things  to  look  and  he  knows  a  lot  about  clothing,”  she  explains.    

Then she divided the film into three fashion eras.  “We start in the ‘80s with the huge shoulders, the big hair, the kind of loose fitting clothing.   Then we get into the middle ‘90s, when things start to get a little bit more streamlined, and the colors start getting darker until there is lots of black by the end of the ‘90s, before Jordan’s fall,” she says.

Powell notes that the look Belfort and his cohorts went for wasn’t so much high fashion as it was simply high priced.  “The men were really all trying to emulate classic Savile Row tailoring, so a lot of it was very preppy and conservative,” she explains.  “With the women I could have more fun with some showy pieces.”

She especially enjoyed dressing Margot Robbie as Naomi.  “God what a body to dress,” the designer remarks.  “She’s so young that this clothing was new to her.  She would say, ‘Oh my God I can’t believe people used to wear these things.’ And I’d say, ‘Yes, we did used to wear things like that.’ There’s even a couple of things that she wears that belonged to me from that era.”

Powell adds:  “One of my favorite pieces is an outfit that Margot wears where she’s head-to- foot in Versace with gold boots and a jacket with gold bits.  I call her ‘Versace Superwoman’ in that moment.”

Another long-time Scorsese collaborator, visual effects supervisor Rob Legato – whose skills come into play when Jordan lands a helicopter in his backyard or sails his giant yacht into a fearsome storm -- notes that this film had a different feeling throughout

“It has a really high octane kind of energy to it so things are always slightly over the top. It’s not quite a traditional narrative, so the challenge in the visual effects was fitting in with that very specific tone Marty wanted,” Legato explains.   “The camera moves are really fast and the action is very fast paced.  So with a lot of the stuff I’m doing – such as a car crash sequence -- everything is just a little bit faster and odder. I think the filmmaking reflects Jordan’s sense of hubris: this idea that he can go as far as he wants and he won’t get caught.”

Following production, Scorsese repaired to the editing room, where he worked once again with Thelma Schoonmaker, the 3-time Oscar® winner with whom he has teamed for 4 decades.  He also collaborated with 3-time Academy Award® winning composer Howard Shore on the film’s score and with music supervisors Robbie Robertson and Randall Poster to compile the film’s soundtrack, which veers from Prokofiev to Muddy Waters to the Ramones.

As the final picture came together, DiCaprio found himself as entranced as when he first became intrigued by Jordan Belfort’s rise and fall.   The actor and producer summarizes:   “It’s so exciting the way that Marty has allowed the cast and the crew to play with this story that I think it resonates in a different way.”

 

WOLF WORDS

Blue Chip: Stock, usually in a major corporation, known for its quality and reliable profitability in good and bad times – this is the stock Stratton Oakmont sells to get its foot in the door with bigger investors

 

IPO:  Initial Public Offering – the first stock issued by a company, usually a young, hot company ready to expand, and a classic opportunity to mislead the public about the company’s finances and potential

 

Lemmon:  Nickname for the most potent source of methaqualone – aka Quaaludes – the widely abused 80s narcotic known for its sexy, relaxing, hypnotic effect.  In high doses, it could cause delirium and convulsions. Lemmon Pharmaceuticals discontinued the drug in the 1980s and eventually the entire supply dried up.

 

Money Laundering: The process of taking large amounts of money that resulted from crimes and making it look legitimate

 

Penny Stocks:  Low-priced, high-risk stocks that are very loosely regulated. They have historically been vulnerable to pump and dump schemes.

 

Pump and Dump:  A common financial scam, in which a company “pumps up” a stock with false hype and great embellishment until demand goes up, raising the price, then “dumps” its own shares, and the stock price crashes. This was key to Jordan Belfort’s MO.

 

Pink Sheets: The literally pink pages published each day listing the prices of over-the-counter penny stocks. The term also came to refer to a cheap prostitute.

 

Rathole:  A front man used by shady investors to buy stock in companies they are barred from buying legally.

 

Swiss Bank Account: Famed for their security, Swiss bank accounts have notoriously provided rock- solid refuge for illegal earnings, but some Swiss banks have recently come under fire for financial scandals

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