Category: Archive

Green streets

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

“Brad came to me because his (production) company had access (to the script,)” the Beantown native told reporters in New York recently. “And it’s like the dream of all dreams: ‘Hey, did you hear that Martin Scorsese is directing a movie about Boston?'”
Flashing his trademark grin, the “Good Will Hunting” and “Ocean’s 11” star says his immediate reply to Pitt’s news was, “Really?”
“So, then I got a copy of the script and loved it and when I came back to New York, I met with Marty,” he recalled. “I wasn’t even trying to be cool about it. I was just like: ‘OK, I’m in!”
Based on the 2002 Hong Kong film, “Infernal Affairs” and co-produced by Pitt’s Plan B shingle, the film stars Damon as Colin Sullivan, a young Irish-American cop quickly moving up the ranks of the Massachusetts State Police as he is assigned to build a case against notorious Southie mob boss, Frank Costello (played by Jack Nicholson.)
Unbeknownst to his employers, Sullivan is also reporting everything he sees and hears to Costello, his long-time mentor and benefactor. At the same time, the police send rookie cop Billy Costigan (played by Leonardo DiCaprio,) undercover to infiltrate Costello’s camp.
As both men realize there is a rat in their midst, they race against time to uncover the other’s identity before their own is discovered or before they become consumed entirely by their new life. Real-life Irish-American actors Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin play assorted senior investigators on the Costello case.
“I think Leo and I both thought they were these incredible roles,” Damon remarked, describing the characters as being like two sides of the same coin, since they come from the same neighborhood and are both pretending to be people they’re not.
Already well-versed in the Boston accent (a dialect Boston author Dennis Lehane once said smote down more actors than Shakespeare,) Damon had the luxury of spending countless hours hanging out with real-life cops to prepare for the role instead of working with speech coaches like most of his co-stars.
“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,” he explained.
Damon says he feels the experience he gained watching and talking to cops helped him make a valuable contribution to the authenticity of Scorsese’s latest crime drama.
“Marty’s really insistent (that in) all of his films there’s 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 (they) get as much understanding of the people that they’re playing,” Damon revealed. “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.”

Just Jack
DiCaprio also spent a considerable amount of time researching his role, although, he confides, some of his sources were on the other side of the law, including several folks who knew real-life Boston legend Whitey Bulger.
“We had a great technical advisor named Tom Duffy (a 30-year veteran of the Massachusetts State Police) 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.”
Asked how he learned to capture so perfectly the violent side of his character in this film, DiCaprio joked, “I guess by watching Martin Scorsese movies, right?
“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,” he said.
One of the most interesting things DiCaprio said he learned about the area was how everyone seems to know each other and how many of the stories he heard appeared to intersect.
“It’s like a little microcosm there and everyone waves to each other on the street and they all have overlapping stories,” he observed.
While he may not have gone on a drug bust with the cops, DiCaprio’s job had its own unsettling moments, particularly when enormously talented, though eccentric actor, Jack Nicholson, was on set.
“As far as Jack was concerned, we kind of expected the unexpected … For me, there were a number of different scenes where I had no idea what was going to happen,” he explained. “To have Jack Nicholson join up with Martin Scorsese and play a gangster is something that I think a lot of movie fans have been waiting for.”
DiCaprio says one of the scariest moments of the movie shoot was when he heard Nicholson tell Scorsese he thought he should be more threatening in his scenes with the younger actor.
“I came in the next day and the prop guy told me: ‘Well, be careful. (Nicholson) has got a fire extinguisher, a gun, some matches and a bottle of whiskey,” DiCaprio related.
He went on to say he knew Nicholson was a professional actor, but admits his unpredictability helped DiCaprio play a guy who is in “a constant 24-hour panic attack” about being found out.
“It gives you — I don’t want to say as an actor a sense of fear — but as a character, a whole new dynamic,” he revealed. “I think we all knew that if (Nicholson) came on board that he would have to sort of grab the reins with this character and let him be freeform and we all were completely sort of ready for that every day that we walked up on the set.””
Those were some of the most intense moments of the film, for me, certainly, and, as a human being, as a person, there were some memories that I will never forget,” he added.

Honorary Irishman
So, what makes the director who brought us Italian-American classics like “GoodFellas,” “Mean Streets” and “Raging Bull,” suddenly so interested in a tale about Irish-Americans?
“It’s an interesting question,” conceded the man who also brought us the 19th-century Irish-American epic, “Gangs of New York.” “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 1920s, early 1930s, most of the Irish had moved out of that neighborhood. And it goes back to (the era of) ‘Gangs of New York,’ stories about the way Irish helped create New York and America.”
The 64-year-old native of Manhattan’s Little Italy went on to say the contributions great filmmakers like John Ford and Raoul Walsh have made to Hollywood cinema also helped him develop an appreciation for the Irish and how similar their family structures and customs are to those of the Italians.
“(These films have) that warmth that we (Italians) felt and we felt very close to the culture, we think, of the family culture, of the Irish,” he noted, using his trademark rapid-fire speech pattern. “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 (for ‘The Departed’) is written by (‘Kingdom of Heaven’ scribe) William Monahan!”
Scorsese says he was fascinated by the way Monahan was able to transplant a hit Chinese film to Boston’s Irish-American underworld, while still maintaining the basic structure of the original work.
“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,” Scorsese said. “Taking from the Hong Kong trilogy … that’s the device. And it’s the plot; that idea. I found that I kept being drawn back to the script and to the project.”

“The Departed” opens nationwide Oct. 6.

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