Getting together with directing legend Martin Scorsese offers the unique pleasure of hearing him describe his creative process and career milestones, which can be as fascinating to listen to as watching his movies. Also materializing during this conversation was Scorsese’s latest venture into moviemaking, his psychological crime thriller Shutter Island. So pressing matters up for discussion were bound to include the director’s own inclinations nearly as much as his detective star Leonardo DiCaprio, to play the sleuth himself while exploring the pathological depths of his mentally institutionalized characters. Though questions about Scorsese’s obsession with spending time around maniacs in a movie, being haunted by his own films, and his tendency to favor Italians as his leading men were not far behind.
Q: How come you cast Italians in your movies, is this like an Italian thing?
MARTIN SCORSESE: They’re half Italian! But I’ll tell you what it is, they’re Italian and Jewish, and they’re New Yorkers. It’s a New York thing basically. I don’t know!
But it just happens that Leo is half Italian. And Mark Ruffalo, and of course DeNiro over the years, there’s no doubt. Also, the stories, too. Maybe it’s the stories that lend themselves to that type of performance of acting.
Q: What was your vision and your process, going into Shutter Island?
MS: Hey, that’s like asking how did you make the entire movie! And in my mind, I still haven’t quite finished it! But it was the world of that material as I imagined it, and how it turned out to be. And how it was revealed to be, with many different realities. So all that intrigued me.
I then sort of gave myself to the material, along with the actors. And I didn’t know where we would be, at any given time. And I think we discovered this as we went along. In other words, it was a process of discovery throughout, and that includes the editing of the picture.
That doesn’t mean I knew that it was going to be a process of discovery! I only had an intimation of that. And I didn’t know how much it would be. Though it turned out to be a great deal. But this is the way films are made.
Q: Is this movie political, with all the references to World War II, Nazis and McCarthyism?
MS: No, not at all. What got me was the nature of the character’s journey, and ultimately the fact that I was emotionally moved by the end of the story. So we never set out to do any of that, and I didn’t add anything.
But I don’t know if there are any levels, political levels. There might be. There might very well be, that are inherent in the material.
Q: How did you know that Leonardo would be just the guy to be your leading man in your movie?
MS: We’ve been working together, this is four pictures together now in a row. And by the second picture, The Aviator, I knew it. Particularly in the scene where he was sort of stuck in the screening room for 12 days and nights while we were shooting, stuck in the screening room alone and talking to himself.
So I felt that we were finding things, in a way. And I just thought that it would be a collaboration that’s worth pursuing. Because we would work together and pretty much agree on what we wanted to do. I also know that if I asked him for something, I seemed to get it and get more.
Q: And this one has been the best so far?
MS: Ah, I think so. I kept seeing that he’s very brave and so I’d say, “What if we pushed that and what if we go there?” And then we’d go off someplace else and I’d go, “Why don’t you come back here? Could you come back and then we could try again this way?”
There were a couple of times too where he’d suddenly say, “I don’t know where I am or what I’m doing!” And I’d say, “That’s OK. Let’s start again.” What that was, I guess and I didn’t know this, but I think it’s an issue of wiping the slate clean.
You know, just getting all the thinking out of the way, and just dealing with his primal emotions. I think that’s what happened. And when that happens, it’s amazing sometimes. It comes together. It’s exciting.
But it’s a fine line. And it’s very, very beautifully put together by Sir Ben [Kingsley] and Leo, and all of them. This also by the way, is the trust between the actors. So we had a pretty good time that way.