It’s finally here! Christopher Nolan‘s big mystery-dream project Inception starring Hollywood’s dream cast, lead by none other than one of the top movie stars in Hollywood, Leonardo DiCaprio. Not too long ago DiCaprio sat down to a press conference to talk about his recent turn to dark, confused (and confusing) characters, why he picks his films by director, the challenges he faced emotionally and physically for his role as Cobb in Nolan’s film, and his possible upcoming role at J. Edgar Hoover (think we’ll get to see him in a dress? Maybe lipstick?) with Clint Eastwood.
Check it out below…
Have you been fascinated by dreams in your lifetime? Have you viewed them differently since working on this film?
Leonardo DiCaprio: You know it was interesting being part of this film because I’m not a big dreamer. I never have been. I remember fragments of my dream. I try to take a traditional approach to researching this project and preparation for it – read books on dream analysis; Freud’s book on, you know, the analysis of dreams and tried to research it in that sort of formula, but I realize this is Chris Nolan’s dream world. It has it’s own structure and own set of rules that he has created, so in doing that, it was basically being able to sit down with Chris for two months, every other day, and talk about the structure of this dream world and the rules that apply in it. The only thing I have obviously extracted from the research of dreams is I don’t think there is a specific science you can put on dream psychology. I think it is up to, obviously, the individual. Obviously we suppress things – emotions, things during the day, thoughts that we obviously haven’t thought through enough – and in that state of sleep, in our subconscious, our minds sort of randomly fires off different surreal story structures. And when we wake up, we should pay attention to those things.
Where there any times while filming that you became disorientated in what dream sequence you were in?
LD: What was very interesting for me was reading the original screenplay and, obviously, this story structure was extremely ambitious in the fact that it was simultaneously – you have four different states of the human subconscious that represented different dream states and each one, you know, affected the other. What Chris talked about, very early on with us, was being able to go to these six different locations around the world. What was startling to me, in how complicated the screenplay was, was seeing it in a visual format. That’s the, sort of, magic of moviemaking. You clearly identify one scenario with the other and you start to – you know, it’s a completely different experience when you are at the snow-capped mountains of Canada, or whether you are in a van or an elevator shaft, or in Paris or London. You experience it and you have a visual reference. It was a lot easier to reference that than I ever thought it would be, and that’s a testament to how engaging movie are and the visual medium is.
What was it like working with Ken Watanabe?
LD: I’ll just be the first to say that Ken should be a national treasure in Japan because he is an unbelievably talented actor. You couldn’t find more of a gentleman. He is sweet, kind, and he is extremely thoughtful in the work that he does and one of the best actors around. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this guy.
What did you love about the character in the film?
LD: Well look, this is what I said before, this was an extremely ambitious concept that Chris was trying to pull off here and he accomplished it in flying colors. There are very few directors in this industry that would pitch to a studio that they wanted to do a multi-layered, almost at times, existential, action, high-drama, surreal film that is sort of locked in his mind, and have an opportunity to do that. That’s a testament to the work he has done in the past. Watching his work, especially Momento and Insomnia, he is able to portray these highly condensed, highly complicated plot structures and give them emotional weight and have you, as an audience, feel fully engaged along that process.
So for me, it was a matter of sitting down with Chris and being able to really form the backbone of a character that had a real, sort of cathartic journey, and almost create a scenario where it became a giant therapy session. At the end of the day, these different layers of the dream do represent psychoanalysis – him getting deeper and deeper, closer and closer to the truth of what he needs to understand about himself. That, in its own right, is immediately intriguing. Chris and I got to work and talk a lot about the different concepts about that, what Cobb has been through in the dream world, what his past is, certainly what Marion’s character represented, and I had a lot of wonderful talks with Marion as well about some of the sequences at the end that start to become very surreal and disturbing at times. As we were talking more and more about the characters, it all became more and more exciting. I think all of us, mutually, felt this was a journey that we had to be a part of. It was extremely exciting.
What was one of the hardest scene to shoot?
LD: The toughest action sequence. I think that the sequence in Morocco was pretty tough because I had to run through a crowd of people. I felt kind of like a pinball because I was bouncing from Moroccan to Moroccan and falling into various vending machines. That was a little bit tough, but at the end of the day, you’d be surprised. We pulled off a lot of stuff in a day’s work that was pretty spectacular; all of us. It was a very professional team that took care of us.
The character has a lot of secrets and a lot of mysteries. Are those the types of roles pitched to you or do you naturally gravitate towards them?
LD: I don’t really question when I read a script. If I feel like I’d be of service to that role, if I feel like it emotionally engages me, something that interests me, and obviously if the director is somebody who has the capacity to pull off the ambitious nature of whatever they’re trying to do in the screenplay, I never question that. So I guess a lot of my films have been more serious in tone, but that’s something that I don’t try to deny. Look, I’m a very fortunate person. I get to choose the movies that I want to do. I have a lot of friends in this industry that don’t get to do that. I grew up in LA. A lot of my friends are actors, and so I realize every day how lucky I am to have this opportunity. So while I’m here, I’m going to try to do exactly what I want.
Do you see this as a darker phase of your career as darker. I wonder if you see this film and Shutter Island as bookends and is it true that you are going to play J. Edgar Hoover for your next role?
LD: Bookends. I don’t know. I think that, like I said before, these were characters and filmmakers and plot structures that I was compelled to do and I’m lucky to be able to do, so I jump on those opportunities. Traditionally, I’ve always tried to work with the best directors I can. These types of films that are psychologically dark at times, I find extremely exciting to do because there is always something to think about. There is nothing more boring then to show up on set and say a line and know that your character means exactly what they say. It’s interesting to have an unreliable narrator and that’s what both of those films have been. Both of these characters are unreliable to themselves and the characters around them. That sheer notion was extremely exciting for me. And yeah, I’m talking to Clint Eastwood about playing J. Edgar Hoover, who had his hand in some of the most scandalous events in American history; everything from the Vietnam War and Dillinger to Martin Luther King and JFK, so it’s about the secret life of J. Edgar Hoover.
So we will see his personal life?
LD: Yes, that will be in there. Definitely.
Will you wear a dress?
LD: Will I wear a dress? Not as of yet [laughs]. We haven’t done the fittings for those and – and I don’t know, so I don’t think so.
We talked about the similarities with Shutter Island and this film. In both films, you are in an imaginary world. I’m wondering if you are a character in an imaginary world, how does that change the rules of acting? When you do two films back to back, is there a bleed between them? Does one influence the other?
LD: I think it was something I was certainly aware of, but as far as them both being locked in this dream world, and going on some cathartic journey throughout the course of the film, that’s about where the similarities ended. This film couldn’t have been more vastly different than the other in its execution and I felt safe, and completely aware of trying not to repeat any of those themes. To answer your question about how one acts in that world, I would say or if there is something you need to be aware of or do different, I would say absolutely not. That’s what was exciting about even attempting – you know this is my first science fiction film. One of the earliest conversations I had with Chris is how both of us have a hard time with science fiction. We have a little bit of an aversion to it because it is hard for us to emotionally invest in worlds that are too far detached from what we know. That’s what’s interesting about Chris Nolan’s science fiction world is they are visually deeply rooted in things that we’ve seen before. There are culturally references and it feels like a world that is tactile, that we understand, that we can jump into. There’s not too much of a leap of faith to make. Emotionally, as well, as far as the character’s journey, I took everything as if it was. You know, you have to otherwise you’re not invested in the character, not invested in the character’s journey, and you’re not going to make it believable to an audience. Everything is real in essence.
See DiCaprio in Inception starting on July 16th!