Leonardo DiCaprio talks about the making of Christopher Nolan's Inception, his own dreams and why he finds playing intense characters to be quite therapeutic. He also discusses the joy of working with French Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, and what idea he might like to plant in the mind of the CEO of BP.
When you first read the script, did you understand the movie?
Leonardo DiCaprio: [Smiles] It certainly took a couple of readings but [the understanding] really came from the interaction, one-on-one, with Chris [Nolan, director]. This is a concept that has been locked in his mind for eight years now. For me a lot of the preparation, and a lot of the understanding of what he was trying to achieve, came from being able to sit down with him and understand that he had this extremely ambitious concept of doing a highly entertaining Hollywood film that is existential and cerebral and surreal, that delves into various states of the subconscious.The way he wanted to put that on screen involved us talking with him at great length to truly understand his concepts. I don't know how everyone else felt but for me personally I felt my interactions with Chris really gave me a grasp of what he was trying to achieve.
Since shooting Inception have you begun to analyse your own dreams?
Leonardo DiCaprio: I'm not a big dreamer, I actually tried to take a very traditional approach to researching this film and read The Analysis of Dreams [by Medard Boss] immediately and tried to pick apart the psychology of what things represented in the dream world.But I quickly realised that this was a whole new type of preparation and that meant, like I said, talking to Chris at great length about the sort of cathartic therapy session that my character goes on, this psycho-analysis... Ellen [Page]'s character is almost my therapist in this movie. So, in doing that I think we created this emotional, powerful journey.As far as the dreams, the analysis of the dreams and how Chris was going to make the four different states of the human subconscious interact with each other in a cohesive plot structure, I left entirely up to him [laughs] and did not want to get involved. He's obviously very capable of pulling off complex narratives like this and making them emotionally engaging for an audience so it's reassuring for an actor to know you're dealing with someone who has a great track record of accomplishing stuff like that in the past.
Did you suffer any nightmares while filming?
Leonardo DiCaprio: I'm not a big dreamer, I think obviously we suppress things in life, emotions and thoughts, and we should wake up and look at that. Ironically, I had a really powerful dream the other day. I won't get into the details of what it was, but I remember sitting there saying to myself, forgetting totally that I'd done this movie Inception, but saying to myself: "Wait a minute, the details of these dreams are real aren't they? And I can create these dreams and I can manipulate this environment... I've heard this somewhere before!"And I started to play with the dreams in a very surreal and sane way. I had that moment of knowing I was dreaming and being able to combat my surroundings, so it was very cool and I had no previous knowledge that I'd done Inception or ever heard of this movie within this dream state, so it was kind of fun.
What idea would you plant into the mind of the CEO of BP?
Leonardo DiCaprio: [in Southern accent] "To pay back, fool!" To help everyone that's suffering right now. I think their annual revenue can cover the cost of most of the damage they've done to the Gulf but it's a horrible tragedy and it's up to us, as the people and organisations and especially the government, to put pressure on BP to resolve these major catastrophes.But more so than that, hopefully this is the turning point for us to realise that digging for oil in the depths of the ocean is probably not the best alternative for the future and we need to make the transition to greener, cleaner technologies and hopefully the United States will do that. We have our fingers crossed. Hopefully, this is a catalyst for something, that's my main wish.
What is your professional dream and what is your personal dream?
Leonardo DiCaprio: I just want to continue being a working actor, that's professional, and personal that we can co-exist with this planet a little better. Ooh, good!
Shutter Island, your last movie, also had dream-like distortion of reality. How did the two experiences compare for you?
Leonardo DiCaprio: I was definitely aware thematically that they had similar character attributes but the execution couldn't have been farther apart in the way the films were laid out. Something Chris and I talked about was that there was such a unique through line with this line in that he's almost like an addict - he's an addict to the dream world and an alternative reality and he keeps escaping to that reality to not come to terms with the truth of his past trauma.But they couldn't have been farther apart as [far as] experiences were concerned. It was something we were aware of but I think they are both unique storywise.
Do you see a similarity between film-making and dream-making?
Leonardo DiCaprio: It's almost like the 8 1/2 of the dream world, the construction and dissolving of a dream and the infiltration of it and all the mechanics that go along with it. But just from an actor's perspective I get to live out, or flesh out a lot of demons through my film-making experiences. I've gotten to play some pretty intense characters just lately and I tend to think it's therapeutic for me, I really do.It's amazing to completely focus on something for four, five or six months, have it completely consume your life and be constantly thinking about somebody else's set of circumstances and how they would react to something. I find it fascinating. It's rewarding, and on a professional and personal level.
What's the scariest moment you've experienced in films?
Leonardo DiCaprio: The twins in The Shining, which were influenced by the Diane Arbus photograph. That scared the living daylights out of me. I think that's one of the most powerful images in film as far as terrifying is concerned.
How was working with Marion Cotillard?
Leonardo DiCaprio: It was wonderful working with her. She has such incredible access to her emotions. She's almost like a silent actress... you read everything on her face. But more so than that, it was one of the most surreal conversations I've had as far as that specific scene [her suicide] was concerned: we got into very existential conversations about what the hell we were doing because she is in essence a projection of my mind, yet she did exist in the real world - so she was also speaking to me as a fragment of my own mind, telling myself what I need to hear.So we started to have these conversations that spiralled into many different directions but it was an honour and a pleasure to work with somebody of that calibre... that is, that committed and that into doing something interesting. With her input and her abilities it made it a powerful scene.
Interview: Rob Carnevale
Photos: PA/Warner Bros