The Iconic and prolific filmmaker teams up yet again with both Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio for his latest masterpiece ‘Killers of the Flower Moon.’ To celebrate the release of the 3-hour 20-minute story, Scorsese sat down to discuss turning the rage-inducing true story of the murders of innocent members of the Osage community in 1920s America.
The epic Western crime saga tracks the suspicious murders of members of the Osage Nation, who became some of the richest people in the world overnight after oil was discovered underneath their land. Based on David Grann’s number 1 New York Times best-selling book, the movie consists of a stellar cast of Lily Gladstone, Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, John Lithgow, Brendan Fraser, Cara Jade Myers, Janae Collin, Jillian Dion, William Belleau, Louis Cancelmi, Tatanka Means and more.
During a press tour Scorsese took the time out to attend a press conference for the movie in which he delved into the making of the film and reuniting, yet again, with both De Niro and DiCaprio.
On his approach to and learning about the Osage community.
“I wanted to keep balancing with the Osage. And it was getting bigger, and bigger, and more diffused. And ultimately, this was supplemented by the times that we went out to Oklahoma and met with the Osage. My first meeting was with Chief Standing Bear and his group: Julie and Addie Roanhorse, and Chad Renfro. And it was very different than what I expected.
“They were naturally cautious. I had to explain to them, and I’m just gonna try and deal with them as honestly and truthfully as possible. We weren’t going to fall into the trap. We think of the cliché of victims, or the drunken Indian, or all of this sort of thing, and yet tell the story as straight as possible. What I didn’t really understand the first couple of meetings was that this is an ongoing situation, an ongoing story out in Oklahoma. In other words, these are things that really weren’t talked about in the generation I was talking to. In the generation above them, before them I should say. It was the generation before them that this happened to. And so, they didn’t talk about it much. And the people involved are still there, meaning the families are still there, the descendants are still there.”
On the support from the Osage Community and the unraveling of the culture
“(We got) a lot of support from the Osage authority, the experts who were giving us the indication about how to go about these things: Johnny Williams, a number of other people. And so, with them, we tested the accuracy of the rituals, the baby namings, the wedding, the funerals, everything that happened at the funerals, all of this sort of thing. I think the last two generations of Osage forgot about or was taken out of their experience because they have to become White European. They had to become, Christians, Catholics, whatever. They forgot about all that. In fact, there’s a new resurgence of learning of the language. And we had language teachers there, and Lily Gladstone learned the language, and so did Leo, and so did De Niro, who really fell in love with it, and wanted to do more scenes in Osage. They were all learning again to put their culture back together through this movie. And we were going with them.”
On how the script became a love story as well as one of complicity
“What I learned from meeting with them (Osage community), having dinners with them, Margie Burkhart, I think she was the relative of Ernest Burkhart. Margie got up and said “One has to remember that Ernest,” her ancestor, “loved Mollie, and Mollie loved Ernest. It’s a love story.” And so, ultimately, what happens, the script shifted that way. And that’s when Ernest, when Leo, decided to play Ernest instead of Tom White.
We started reworking the script and it became gritty. Instead of from the outside in, coming in and finding out who done it, you know, when in reality it’s who didn’t do it. It’s a story of complicity. It’s a story of sin by omission, you know? Silent complicity in cases, certain cases. And so, that’s what afforded us the opportunity to open the picture up and start from the inside out.”
On constantly returning to working with both Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio
“In the case of Robert De Niro, we were teenagers together, and he’s the only one who really knows where I come from, the people I knew, and that sort of thing. Some of them still alive, He knows them. I know his friends, his old friends, and we had a real testing ground in the ’70s, where we tried everything and we found that, you know, we trusted each other. It’s all about trust and love. It’s what it is. And that’s a big deal, because very often if an actor has a lot of power, and he had a lot of power at that time, an actor could take over your picture. I never felt that. There was a freedom, there was experimenting, and also not afraid of anything. I wasn’t afraid to do something. I just did it.
Years later, he told me he worked with this kid, Leo DiCaprio, a little boy, in This Boy’s Life, and he said, “You should work with this kid sometime.” It was just casual. But within a line, something like that, a recommendation at that time, I think in the early ’90s, is not casual. He rarely gave recommendations. And so years go by, and I’m presented with Leo, with Gangs of New York, and we worked together in Gangs. He made Gangs possible, actually. He loved the pictures I’ve made, and he wanted to explore the same territory. And so we developed more of a relationship when we did The Aviator. And towards the end of it, there was a kind of something happening, a maturity with him, not quite sure, but we really clicked in certain scenes. It’s really, you know, its trust. Particularly doing Wolf of Wall Street, by the way. He came up with wonderful stuff that was outrageous, and so I pushed him. He pushed me, then I pushed him more, then he pushed me, and suddenly [laugh] everything was wild.”
Killers of the Flower Moon is out in cinemas now.