THE DEPARTED Press Conference with Vera Farmiga, Matt Damon, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Graham King, and William Monahan.
Posted By: Wilson Morales
When the Chinese film, “Infernal Affairs”, came out a few years ago, the film was met with critical acclaim. Here was a gangster film that featured a great deal of substance and violence but kept the story moving and good enough to spawn two sequels. Of course, an American version was bound to happen, and with Martin Scorsese attached as the director, only good things can come out of this. With “Goodfellas”, “Casino”, and “Gangs of New York” to his credit, can he wrong? We think not. Using his current muse of the moment, Leonardo DiCaprio, and setting the film in Boston, Scorsese brought Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg, two Boston locals, to add real flavor to “The Departed”. With Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, and Martin Sheen, you have one hell of a male lineup. At a recent press conference in New York City to promote the film, Vera Farmiga, Matt Damon, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Producer Graham King, and ScreenwriterWilliam Monahan spoke about the process of coming together and working on this film.
Martin, my question's for you. Why have your films become more Irish in recent years and will you return to Italian-centric cinema?
Scorsese: It's an interesting question. I've always felt a close affinity with the Irish. Particularly coming out of the same area of New York City. Although by the time the Italians had moved in, by the 1920's, 1930's, most of the Irish had moved out of that neighborhood that it came from. And it goes back to Gangs of New York, stories about the way Irish helped create New York and America, the city itself, and don't forget I do have a very strong love for Hollywood cinema and some of the greatest filmmakers to come out of Hollywood, films by Irishman John Ford, and others. You talk about a Ford film and you talk about the family structure and although “How Green Was My Valley” was about Welsh miners, but still, it was directed by an Irishman. It has that warmth that we felt and we felt very close to the culture, we think, the family structure, of the, uh, the Irish and the Italians felt that. Yes, there was some differences when they first moved in the same neighborhood, but suddenly, Irish literature is very important to me and the poetry of the Irish is something that's extraordinary and the Irish sense of Catholicism is a very interesting contrast to the Italian sense of Catholicism and that's very interesting to me. So that's my personal reasons. And besides, the script is written by William Monahan.
Martin, why did Hong Kong translate into Irish Boston? And for Matt and Leo, can you each talk about why you picked the character you did?
Damon: We actually did flip a coin. That was how we decided. No, in terms of the roles, the second part first, I think Leo and I both thought they were these incredible roles, you know, speaking for Leo, I think we would have been happy to play either one and we did it this way and we're happy that that's the way it turned out because I can't imagine playing the other one now but, you know, it's really rare in a film of this budget to have characters this interesting. Generally the bigger the budget, the less interesting the characters become and actually all of us had great things to play so that's a real credit to Bill Monahan and his script to be able to have that much to do when you go to work everyday was really great. And then we also heard the director had done a good movie here or there, so…
DiCaprio: I agree with Matt 100%, you know, these characters are two sides of the same coin in a lot of ways. They come from different backgrounds but they could have easily made choices the other character made, but depending on the circumstances. It just sort of happened that way. I don't know. I suppose Marty and I got the script first and Matt was the next guy onboard and it was ultimately Marty's decision at the end of the day.
Damon: I wanted to playVera's role.
Farmiga: I wanted to play Matt's role.
DiCaprio: And I wanted to play Jack's role.
Scorsese: I didn't think of it as Hong Kong. I just thought of it as how Bill put together the script. Really. I liked the idea. You know, Hong Kong cinema, once I saw John Woo's The Killer, you can't go near that, you can't even begin, as far as my skills as a filmmaker, you can't, that's taking our film and their culture and mix everything up together, that was not 1998, 1997, 1998. Then I saw another Hong Kong film I saw in the '80s called King Hu. King Hu and The Touch of Zen and things like that, I saw and I said, it's a whole other thing going on here, we do what we do, and if we influence their culture at all, it has come out through John Woo and Tsui Hark. I mean, the Hong Kong cinema of Wong-Kar Wai and Stanley Kwan, all of this is something that you can't, you have to appreciate as a filmmaker because you say, okay, we see new ways of making narrative film, however, no matter even if I had a moment where I said to myself, gee, maybe I can make a film like John Woo, the minute I get to design the shot or I get behind the camera with the cinematographer who happens to be Arthur C. Miller in this case, well, many times I said, “my god I've done this shot five times already in two other movies”, you know, so, but that's what I do, that's how it came out, but really what it comes down to is what I was responding to was how Bill Monahan put down a way of life, a way of thinking, an attitude, a cultural look at the world, really, a very, very enclosed society, and that's what I responded to, I think. Taking from the Hong Kong trilogy, Andrew Lau's film, you know, that's the device. And it's the plot. That idea. The concept of the two informers and being totally whether I like it or not drawn to stories that have to do with trust and betrayal, I found that I kept being drawn back to the script and to the project, so. As I say, it became something else.
Martin, I was wondering how the script developed on the shoot and if you had a lot of changes for Jack's character?
Scorsese: It evolved and it evolved over a long process, a very long process. Ever since I've been making films, I've loved talking about how the process has got to be the way they are, between the writers, myself, and the actors, but I've found over the years that it gets misunderstood, maybe, and so it could be harmful to Bill or the people involved if you don't really, you have to be there. It's the old phrase, “You really had to be there.” It's a collaborative process, there's no doubt, but the basis is what Bill did. And he continued to do when it was called upon and when he was called upon to evolve a character, it was usually with the actors and myself, and that's how that worked and Nicholson worked in a different way, but that again is kind of a private process. It's again, you'd have to be a part of that situation. We developed it as a character that was a little different than what Bill had put in there but basically we had decided that the date, the age, and the power of this man and the appearance of his total coming apart with such power, so much power and yet he's falling apart and there's the danger of that when we went in that direction, supplemented by Bill, and whoever else had an idea. This is the way I work. This is my process. And the other actors can talk, but we all worked together.
Mr. DiCaprio, can you talk about your influences for developing your character's violence?
DiCaprio: I guess by watching Martin Scorsese movies, right? You know, well, it's not really familiar to me, that form of immediate violence, but that's what you do as an actor, if you can't draw upon anything in your real life, you go meet people that have done these sorts of things and part of the process for me was going to Boston. I had never spent any time there. Sort of learning about the Boston subculture, meeting some of the real people who were around during the late '80s, sort of the whitey era, we may call it, but I really wanted to meet some guys from south Boston. I met a guy in Los Angeles and spent a lot of time with him, told me a lot of stories about the streets there and Boston's a really interesting place because everyone knows each other's business. It's like a little microcosm there and everyone waves to each other on the street and they all have overlapping stories, but for me, we shot a lot of it in New York. We should have shot some of it in Boston, it was very important to meet some of the real characters and get to know them and hear some stories. You can read books and I read a few books, but to be able to penetrate some of these guys, their minds, and really get deep into what they were thinking was important.
Matt, can you discuss going on a drug bust with police? And Leo, please discuss anything that stands out from your adventures.
DiCaprio: Matt actually went on a, what was it, raiding a crackhouse? Was it? We had a great technical advisor named Tom Duffy who was there throughout the entire filmmaking process who knew the entire history of Boston and knew what the streets were like and the police gave us unbelievable advice. And he was there constantly, but Matt went on those raids.
Damon: Yeah, it was like, have you ever seen the movie “The Hard Way” with Michael J. Fox? That was me. Hey guys, can I get a gun? They're like, “absolutely not, shut up.” I love sitting next to Marty who'll reference 40 of the greatest films ever made and I'll say, have any of you guys seen The Hard Way? As Leo said, Tom Duffy was a huge resource for us and for me Leo got connected to a bunch of people who were around Whitey Bulger, but Duff was able to get me around a bunch of police. And it was really fascinating. And you know, for me, I had a real advantage because I'm from Boston, so I didn't have to learn an accent or do anything like that, I got to get straight to investigating this sort of subculture of state police and you know, what I knew of the state police was from the times that I got pulled over for speeding on the Pike. And so to get in there and really see what these guys do was great and any time you get access like that, it's really the most amazing part of this job of acting because it's your own time and it's months ahead of time and nobody's, there's no production around you, you don't have to, you know, once you get on a film set, the clock is ticking as Graham King can tell you, every minute costs a lot of money, but with research you can go at your own pace so, I spent a lot of time with these guys just sucking it in, not really having to have a goal but just sitting there and spending time, you know, meals and you just start to pick stuff up and most of that stuff ends up, for instance, this raid on the crackhouse. I mean, I'm sure I was in no real danger, they brought twice as many cops as they usually do with one of those raids and I was in the back of the line so I had my bullet-proof vest on standing there going, “well, what am I doing here?” And I didn't go in until they cleared the house, but I got to see them do it, and so I told Marty and Bill, this is a good way to establish Colin rising up because it follows this kind of progression into, he keeps getting promoted and so one of the ways of showing that was showing the extremely aggressive and violent world that he's in, hitting a house and what happens and how they do it. And the guys that are in the shot with me are the guys who were really in the house with me that night when it happened. Marty's really insistent on, you know in all of his film's there an authenticity that you just can't fake and it's because he uses a lot of real people and because his actors have access to these real people and get as much understanding of the people that they're playing. I mean, ultimately it's a giant magic trick. We're just trying to be believable. And if you're taken out of the movie at all, then we haven't done our job right. So there's all of this legwork that goes into beforehand just so when we show up hopefully the process is really smooth and the result is believable.
Scorsese and Moynihan, I found the last shot of the film to be amusing. Where did it come from and what did you intend by it?
Scorsese: Can I just ask a question first? Because I was wondering what you meant by it as well. Not really. I've worked on it a lot, that last shot. It's an interesting thing, when I got to the end of the script, and I didn't know Bill or who even owned the script, or who were the producers or the studio, I just knew the script. I took a long time reading it too, about three and a half hours, and that was time to get to that plot point. There's some plot issues. But it had to do with the way the characters were interacting and the dialogue that Bill had in there. The attitude that was in there and the stance against the world that they had, particularly not only the main characters but the parts played by Mark Wahlberg and Alec Baldwin, at the end when I saw the shoot-out in the elevator at the end and what happened, and then as Colin goes home at the end and what happens to him there, I was pretty stunned by it, it was pretty truthful, I thought it was pretty strong. And then Bill had written the phrase, saying, as written, and then a strange thing happens, comma, a rat comes out and starts to eat the croissants. And I said, “that's really strange, that's interesting, and then the rat comes out” and it's like a comment from a little bit from I don't know what you would call it, it really isn't meant to be literal, but it's a comment from the filmmakers on the subject matter. However when you try to this is the nature of filmmaking, and then when you try to interpret, and then a strange thing happens, on film, one runs into difficulty because the rat comes in from the left, no, no, suddenly, it all looks like, no it looks too literal, why isn't it poetic like he wrote it? Why can't? And it took me a while to finally, we took a while on that shot, ultimately it's the nature of, it's, well, without giving out the story, it's what's in the beginning of the frame and then as the rat is revealed, it's the image of the statehouse itself, the gold dome, the sense of, for me, well, a throwback of the old gangster genre films at the end of Scarface, “the world is yours”, which is a shot, Tony Montana is shot in the street, there's a shot, a shot of a sign in the movie that says the world is yours, globe, I think the end of Little Caesar is the same way, so for me, or the end of “White Heat”, on the top of the world, well the top of the world to him was that Beacon Hill and in a sense the gold dome of the statehouse was it near it, represents that, but it also represents that for me as the film developed a sense of paranoia and betrayal and one person never knowing who the other person is or what the other person is doing or if you can believe anybody and it kind of reflects the world know, the America that we know now, post September 11th. And so all those elements are in there, but first on an entertainment level as a reference back to the old gangster genre.
Damon: I was also going to say that it's also like the end of The Hard Way. Times Square and they're running around. A lot of neon.
Monahan: Well, what I was thinking at first was that after such an intense bloody ending, we could go out with a little bit of a joke on the simplest level. There's also the idea of the rat behind the wall of Colin's supposedly perfect world. And it was made to work. It worked beautifully, I think.
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