The M Interview: Leonardo DiCaprio embraced brutal cold for The Revenant
The fearless Leonardo DiCaprio braved the elements while filming new movie The Revenant - to keep things real
Even as Leonardo DiCaprio's latest movie, The Revenant, was in production, stories were rife about the budget overruns, the perfection-seeking director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu firing crew members left and right, the production shutdowns when the weather didn't cooperate and the move from Calgary, Canada, to Argentina to find snow.
Advance footage was shown to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in an effort to combat the negative press and not jeopardise the movie's awards chances.
After watching the film, which opens here on Feb 4, it is fair to say that The Revenant is a visual masterpiece, and that its Mexican cinematographer, back-to-back Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki (for 2013's Gravity and 2014's Birdman), is really one of the stars of the project.
The brutality depicted in the film is another story.
But no matter.
The Revenant is sitting comfortably at the top of the US box office and has earned a worldwide haul of US$223.5 million (S$319 million).
It also recently won three Golden Globes (Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Director and Best Actor) and, with 12 nominations, is the frontrunner to beat at the upcoming Academy Awards, which is also where the oft-nominated 41-year-old US actor will likely receive his elusive Oscar.
It sure makes the extreme lengths the dedicated environmentalist and philanthropist endured - going in and out of frozen rivers, sleeping in animal carcasses and eating raw bison liver - well worth it.
The Revenant is inspired by the true-life experience of frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) in 1823 Montana and South Dakota. During an expedition, he is attacked by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team and must navigate a vicious winter in his relentless pursuit to survive and seek revenge and redemption.
At the movie's press conference at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills last November, DiCaprio, always smartly dressed in a suit, is even better-looking as he ages and thankfully clean-shaven after the matted beard he sports in the movie.
And he is always a pro, ready to sell his project to the press but deftly avoiding anything personal.
Tell us what attracted you to this project.
What Alejandro was wanting to pull off here was this epic sort of cinematic poetry.
It was one man's struggle against nature. It was a revenge story that turned into something more existential as he finds this will to live and the reason to live after he has lost absolutely everything.
I knew it would be a unique journey, hard to compare to anything that had ever been done, and that is part of the reason I wanted to go on this adventure.
And the entire film is shot in natural light?
It is unlike anything I have ever done. I think what Cheevo (Lubezki) and Alejandro were trying to achieve and accomplish, is to bring this massive, epic scope with a static frame and have the ability to weave in very intimate character moments with the camera.
So that took months of rehearsals and every single day, we would rehearse all day long. At the end of the day, we would have this magic time of an hour and a half where there is this magic light that they would only shoot in. And every day was waiting for this magic piece of light. It was a mad scramble to get the shot off.
There were so many things that were happening behind the camera, and so many people working in coordination with one another, but they achieved this incredible intimacy and these close-up sort of moments with these characters that make you feel like you are really immersed in this movie.
Can you comment on the brutality of some of the scenes?
Well, I have a penchant for doing films that have extreme violence in them, I suppose, so I don't know if I am desensitised to it, but for me this film is an accurate depiction of that time period.
These types of films have to be authentic, and this was well handled and has the perfect fusion of the savagery and the beauty of nature.
What were some of the shooting challenges?
There were certainly moments where it was so incredibly difficult that you had to pull from some other imaginary place, because this was the hardest film I have ever had to do.
The real challenge was, of course, the cold. It was a constant struggle and they even had to invent machines for the actors not to get hypothermia after every single take - it was that extreme.
It got down to 40 below (minus 40 deg C), sometimes to the point where the camera actually couldn't operate and the camera's gears didn't work.
So you can imagine how our fingers and faces... the hands were a constant source of pain. We had machines on set that would warm our hands. But I knew what I had signed up for and that was part of the... I don't want to say fun (laughs), but it was part of the intent of making the movie, which was to experience that as closely as we could.
Your character is silent for most of the movie. How did that inform your performance?
When I read the script, I actually kept urging Alejandro to take more lines out. I wanted less dialogue because that was the exploration of this character, how to portray someone's emotional journey without words.
Any time he does speak, Glass is a man that gets straight to the point because I don't think he necessarily wants to communicate with that many people. And we see what he goes through, through his eyes, and we experience this whole story without words, and that to me was one of the main catalysts for doing this movie.
Is there anything in life you want that you haven't yet got?
(Laughs) What haven't I got? Look, there are a lot of things that I would wish for in the world, and I am not here to complain about anything because I think I have been incredibly fortunate. On a personal level, if I heard myself say I wished this or that, it would be nauseating.
What have you learnt from your parents that has had an impact on the way you live your life?
My dad has an old saying: No matter what you do, try to lead an interesting life. And no matter what you do professionally and no matter what your life is like, try to find a way to wake up every morning and just be happy you can put your pants on.
I can't say that I am 100 per cent there, but those are my ambitions.
Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the most highly decorated stars in Hollywood.
Here's a look at his acting laurels throughout his 27-year career, ranked according to the total tally of best actor and best supporting actor wins and nominations.
35: The Revenant (2015)
18 nominations, 17 wins
35 The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)
25 nominations, 10 wins
22 The Departed (2006)
11 nominations, 11 wins
18 The Aviator (2004)
12 nominations, 6 wins
11 Blood Diamond (2006)
9 nominations, 2 wins
10 Django Unchained (2012)
6 nominations, 4 wins
9 Inception (2010)
8 nominations, 1 win