Leonardo DiCaprio Talks About 'The Departed'

Leonardo DiCaprio stars in The Departed
Leonardo DiCaprio stars in The Departed. © Warner Bros Pictures

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Billy Costigan, an undercover officer assigned to infiltrate the mob in the crime drama, The Departed, co-starring Matt Damon and directed by Martin Scorsese.

The Departed marks the third collaboration between acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese and two-time Oscar nominee Leonardo DiCaprio. Scorsese and DiCaprio previously teamed up on Gangs of New York and The Aviator, and according to DiCaprio, mesh so well because they have similar taste in films.

Analyzing the Two Central Characters of The Departed: DiCaprio and Damon are moles on opposite sides of the law, yet there are similarities between the two characters. "They're two sides of the same coin, it's true,” explained DiCaprio. “They're products of their environment. They make certain choices early on in their own lives that affect everything that goes on in the film.”

Their characters are very much alike, however DiCaprio and Damon had to arrive at how to play them without the benefit of sharing much screen time. “I think the working experience was interesting because it was almost like we were shooting two entirely different films,” said DiCaprio. “Of course they intersected at moments, but they were two different films and they were entirely completely different experiences. …It was interesting to intersect the different pieces and Marty [Scorsese] was the segue for that. ‘What was Matt doing in that scene and how does that affect me here?’ ‘Well, let's rewrite the entire scene then, okay?’ But the moments that I did have with him… He's an unbelievable actor, he really is.

I enjoyed them.

I think there's a lot of really, really interesting characters in this film. That's what I love about Mr. Scorsese's work is that he not only gives the same appreciation to the entire film and the construct of the film, but he really lets the audience engage with every character. No matter how small they are, each character is fulfilling.

I don't know how I got on that tangent, but that's the point I wanted to make.”

Choosing to be a Part of The Departed: It was a relatively simple decision for DiCaprio once he read the script. “Bill Monahan’s work here, this tightly-woven, highly complex ensemble piece, this gangster thriller, it's very, very rare I must say in this business where a script lands on your lap ready to go. This was one of those rare occurrences. There was a certain amount of work, character development, taking things out, changing dialogue, but to have the construct of the story there and really complex characters there, duplicitous characters, information, disinformation, plot twists, you know, all leading to a satisfying ending is something that you hardly ever get to in this business. I know I got the script around when Marty got the script and we just talked to each other. It was one of those things that we really didn't need to discuss. He really wanted to do it; I really wanted to do it. And for a lack of a better term, the rest is history.”

DiCaprio on the Original Film: The Departed is based on the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, which was directed by Andrew Lau and featured Tony Leung. DiCaprio was familiar with that film prior to filming Scorsese’s version.

“We all watched it and we all enjoyed the film, but I think we had to separate ourselves from it to a certain extent. Certainly, the construct and the skeleton of the story is pretty much, well, it's very similar in this version, but it's dealing with an entirely different underworld. It's dealing with Irish-Americans in Boston and we watched it very early on, but we also had to forget a lot of those elements because we knew that we had to invent an entirely different film.”

Researching the Role and Getting to Know Boston: “No matter where we grew up, we all experienced violence in one way or another in our lives. For me, it was about getting to meet some of the real guys from South Boston, and I got to spend time with a guy in Los Angeles who knew the streets and the tragedy of the streets.

He told me about the tragedies of what was going on when he grew up and the gang violence and that sort of whole underworld, and that was not just to get acquainted with the accent. But it's an entirely different place. I'd never spent any time in Boston and it was important for me to spend some time in Boston and hear the real stories and real accounts of what really went down, and meet some of the real characters.”

Page 2: Leonardo DiCaprio on Jack Nicholson and Working with Martin Scorsese

Leonardo DiCaprio on Working with Jack Nicholson: “Well, as far as Jack was concerned, we kind of expected the unexpected, you know? We knew that if he was going to come [on board], to have Jack Nicholson join up with Martin Scorsese and play a gangster is something that I think a lot of movie fans have been waiting for.

For me, there were a number of different scenes where I had no idea what was going to happen.

One scene in particular, the prop guy sort of… We did the scene one way and I remember Jack speaking to Marty because he said he didn't feel that he was intimidating enough. It was one of the table scenes, yeah, and it was one of the most memorable moments of my life as far as being an actor is concerned. I remember coming into the scene one way and then I came in the next day and the prop guy told me, ‘Well, be careful. He's got a fire extinguisher, a gun, some matches, and a bottle of whiskey.’ Okay… So, you know, some things are in the film that he did that day and some things aren't. But for me, as an actor, it wasn't necessarily [that] I'm afraid.”

DiCaprio continued, “You know, we're all professional actors and we're all playing roles, but for me playing this character of this guy that has to relay to the audience this constant 24-hour panic attack that I'm going through for my life, surrounded by people that would literally blow my head off if I gave them any indication of who I was, coupled with the fact that I'm sitting across the table from a homicidal maniac that will maybe light me on fire.

It gives you, I don't want to say as an actor a sense of fear, but as a character a whole new dynamic. It completely altered and shifted the scene in a completely different direction.

I think we all knew that if he came on board that he would have to sort of grab the reins with this character and let him be freeform.

We all were completely ready for that every day that we walked up on the set. You know, he had a short run. He filmed his scenes and then he left, but those were some of the most intense moments of the film for me, certainly. And as a human being, as a person, there were some memories that I will never forget.”

The Appeal of Martin Scorsese’s Films: As an actor, what is it about Scorsese that attracts DiCaprio to his films? DiCaprio answered, “Well, I'm a fan of his work, number one. The truth is I suppose, for me anyway, that it all started [about] wanting to work with him doing This Boy's Life with Robert De Niro and getting sort of familiar with Robert De Niro's work, and obviously that means Martin Scorsese's work as well. I became a fan of his work at a very early age. If you asked me who I wanted to work with starting out in the business, it would have been this guy right here [pointing to Scorsese].

I got fortunate enough to work with him on Gangs of New York in 2000 and I think just from there we, I don't have an exciting term for it other than we have a good time working together and we have similar tastes as far as the films we like. He certainly has broadened my spectrum as far as films that are out there in the history of cinema and the importance of cinema.

It really brought me to different levels as an actor. I look at him as a mentor.”