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Leonardo DiCaprio on ‘Shutter Island’

Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island

Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Shutter Island.’

© Paramount Pictures

Leonardo DiCaprio reunites with one of his favorite directors, Martin Scorsese, for the psychological thriller Shutter Islandhitting theaters on February 19, 2010. DiCaprio and Scorsese previously worked together on Gangs of New YorkThe Aviatorand The Departed, three critically acclaimed films that earned a combined total of 26 Oscar nominations (with nine wins, including Scorsese’s first Best Directing Oscar for The Departed

).Shutter Island is based on the Dennis Lehane novel and finds DiCaprio playing U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels who, along with his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), are sent to investigate Shutter Island’s Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The tight security and remoteness of Ashecliffe make it one of the least likely prisons for an inmate to escape from, yet a murderess has somehow managed to disappear from the confines of the hospital. Daniels and Aule have to battle the elements (a hurricane is bearing down on Shutter Island), cover-ups and half-truths in order to ferret out the real truth about what’s happening in this institution for the criminally insane.

At a New York press conference in support of the film, DiCaprio told journalists he was very intrigued by the screenplay written by Laeta Kalogridis (PathfinderAlexander). “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 [Scorsese] 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,” said DiCaprio. “There was this discovery for us while making the movie, and this process 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 there’s no way we could have foreseen. It got darker and darker, and more emotionally intense than I think we ever expected.”

“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 one way, and you can have your decisions, before you wind up on set, about what that set is supposed to mean. But until you’re actually there doing them, there’s really no way to understand it. So in that nature it was the best type of movie to do.”

DiCaprio admitted discoveries about the story in general and his character in particular made during filming took both he and Scorsese by surprise. “We felt surprised at the depth of the material because a lot of this film is very much being publicized, and is a thriller in a lot of ways with a surprise ending – or with 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 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.”

Getting Into Character

Portraying such an emotionally complex character took a lot out of DiCaprio but it helped that the three-time Academy Award-nominated actor did his homework, including his own research into 1950s U.S. Marshalls and what mental institutions were like during that decade. Scorsese also showed the cast and crew Frederick Wiseman’s 1967 documentary film Titicut Follies to help everyone understand the time period. Titicut Follies exposed the deplorable, inhumane treatment of inmates at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute for the Criminally Insane at Bridgewater. The film’s release prompted permanent changes in the way state institutions would be run from then on, and DiCaprio got a lot out of watching the documentary as well as talking to Dr. James Gilligan. Dr. Gilligan is the former director of Bridgewater State Hospital (in the 1970s) and has been a crucial player in the reform of mental institutions. Dr. Gilligan is now teaching at New York University and was on hand as the film’s technical advisor.

And the set itself helped DiCaprio get into character. “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 every day. I mean we were around, you know, dilapidated walls of an old mental institution.”

Finding a Connection

Digging deep and getting into the emotional depths of his character was like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle, said DiCaprio at the NY press event. “The more we started to unearth, and peel back the onion of who this guy was and 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 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,” explained DiCaprio. “And for one thing to be believable, we needed to push another storyline even further. And it really wasn’t until we were on set that we discovered that.”

DiCaprio added, “There was a few weeks there that were, I have to say, some of the most hardcore filming experiences I’ve ever had. And, you know, I think [Scorsese] will say the same. It was like reliving trauma in a way. It was pretty intense. And I don’t say that stuff very often because it always seems superficial when you’re talking about it in reference to movie making, because it is an art form. But it really went to places that [in] unearthing who this man was that I didn’t think it would get to.”

* * * *

Shutter Island hits theaters 2/19/10 and is rated R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity.

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February 19, 2010 - Posted by | 1

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