The Aviator (2004) – Q&A with Leonardo DiCaprio & Martin Scorsese

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Movie Interview by Neils Hesse

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the role of Howard Hughes and Martin Scorsese is the director.


Martin, when you are making a film about such a complex man is it hard to decide what to leave out?

MARTIN SCORSESE: Well it was daunting as there are so many facets to him from the aviation and film point of view, there where certain films of his that I liked. I knew his name as being an eccentric and my dad loved HELLS ANGELS and SCARFACE but the two films were banned so I didn’t get to see them till later on. Everyone wanted to do a Howard Hughes biopic and scripts had been floating around for a while but then I saw a script titled the aviator. John Logan wrote the script to cover about twenty years of his life and his obsession with speed and it seemed almost Frank Caparish because they were characters, real people like Katherine Hepburn not documentary figures. What was left out added to the resonance and we left only one woman in a big way otherwise we couldn’t have handled it properly. Also the 1920’s scenes were very tempting to shoot.

Leo, this film has been a work of passion for you why?

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: My perception of Hughes or what I knew of him was that he was this Wolfman figure locked up in hotel rooms. So to pick up a book and read of a character obsessed with literally everything, yet he was also an American icon his life was sort of like a Greek tragedy. But then he did things like designing a bra for Jane Russell, also the famous wooden plane the Spruce Goose and he had his own hell of microscopic germs to deal with, all this couldn’t be thought up by a writer and when I stumbled upon it, I got pulled in also the fact that it concentrated on his younger years and it is like a test case of a man who had everything and filled out his dream yet still had personal demons to battle.

Martin and Leo, how much material did you have to go on?

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: We were playing real life characters but we were not trying to do a Fellini-esque picture so we wanted to add something different to it. I met Jane Russell, his ex wife Terri Moore and I also met his doctor. There isn’t a lot of footage of his personal life there is documentary footage of the senate hearings but most of the other stuff is all very technical, he was very specific about the planes. He was a very private man also he was the first billionaire in America.

MARTIN SCORSESE: He had a lot of things staged for publicity purposes for instance whenever there was a big unveiling of one of his new planes like there’s footage of him stepping out of the Hercules to applause and he would say “none of that, none of that” but then he gets right back in and asks the crowd to do it all over again.

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: There is one piece of footage where he is trying to align Jean Harlow’s scarf on a chair and so he keeps on moving it and the perplexed look on her face is priceless. Take THE OUTLAW it was horrendous, but he kept on editing it over and over again, it was interesting to see the output of someone suffering badly from OCD.

Leo, you said it’s a tale about having everything, wouldn’t you say that you at your young age have achieved nearly everything in your field?

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: Well I don’t have OCD and I wouldn’t have my plate that full in life.

Leo, is it difficult being you?

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: I’m very lucky and appreciative, it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do professionally in terms of work.

Martin, Could you understand how Howard must have felt to have all that he could possibly dream of having in terms of equipment to film a film?

MARTIN SCORSESE: Yes, in certain films I have had it all but like say MEAN STREETS and THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST and could have done with a more money and a few more days to shoot. I could also have done with more for GANGS OF NEW YORK, maybe £10,000,000! But it’s good to have limits. Like Leo said earlier The Howard Hughes story is like a Greek tragedy. The richest man with a curse which in this case is his illness. Like the Greek tale of the Minotaur, the Labyrinth and Theseus. Howard tries to escape from the labyrinth but he can’t until he realises that he himself is the labyrinth.

Martin, the photos of the cleavage can you tell us more about them?

MARTIN SCORSESE: We had to get it all cleared, there’s Jane Russell, Demille’s Cleopatra and many more other famous women’s cleavages on display in that scene.

Martin, apparently you personally don’t like flying and was it fun to quiz Danny Huston about his father John?

MARTIN SCORSESE: I am phobic about flying but I love planes and my first memories of them with all the art décor made me like them. I have actually been trying to show Danny Huston some of his father and grandfather’s films that he hasn’t seen, filling in the gaps.

Mr DiCaprio do you fancy the kick of flying the way that Hughes did?

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: No, in fact the insurance company said no way to me flying any vintage aircraft so I understood and we worked with a great pilot. It was good for Howard to be up there in his germ free zone, which is also where he ultimately met his demise.

Leo and Martin what are your overall feelings for Howard, sympathy or admiration?

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: A mixture of both for us as he’s a multi-dimensional character who was many things. He’s a croc pot of many things and had all the resources to do what he wanted and he was very private. I felt sympathy for his mental state and admiration for his achievements.

MARTIN SCORSESE: I feel sympathy for him and there is a celebration of his accomplishments but I am not sure if I would want him to produce any of my movies and I didn’t like some of his political ideas and he had all the money in the world but the curse he had is in many ways similar in all of us.

Leo, in the movie Cate Blanchett’s character gives an interesting speech about fame does it apply to you in anyway?

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: There are pros and cons to every situation but being able to do what I do is worth it. There is invasion of privacy but I hate complaining and thinking about it. Overall I feel that I am very happy to do what I do.