No actor signs up for an Alejandro Iñárritu project looking for a boondoggle. The Academy Award-winning director has made a name for himself by demanding a level of excellence from all those around him. In the case of his last film Birdman – which won four Oscars – he pushed his actors to memorize reams of dialogue for his long tracking shots. For his new film The Revenant, Inarritu trekked to the most remote locations he could find in Canada and relying on only the natural light, challenged his actors with lots of rehearsal so that when the time was right he could capture the moment in very few takes. The method was difficult but rewarding, especially for his lead Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Hugh Glass, a fur trapper and hunter who is left for dead by his fellow hunters (Tom Hardy, Domnhall Gleeson) after a bear attacks him in the wilderness. We tracked DiCaprio down in Argentina, where the actor had recently decamped with Iñárritu and the rest of the cast to film their final days in the snow on the Ushuaia Peninsula. Below are the excerpts from our e-mail chat.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How would you describe Alejandro’s filmmaking style?
DICAPRIO: Alejandro is a bold and fearless director. He’s a creative force who fights for what he wants to see up on screen and works tirelessly until it’s a part of his vision. For The Revenant, he really wanted to create an almost subversive virtual reality, an existential journey of Hugh Glass that’s almost documentary-like in its approach. He depends on extensive rehearsals and works incredibly close with Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman, Gravity) his cinematographer.
What was your first impression of Alejandro?
DICAPRIO: I heard about The Revenant – it had been a screenplay that developed a reputation for being difficult to pull off because of the far off locations in the wilderness. But the second I met Alejandro, he had such a specific vision for how he wanted the film to look and feel. He knew exactly how he was going to capture the gritty realism of this world. I knew he would be the perfect partner for this incredibly challenging journey.
EW: Were there specific films of his that you loved that prompted your desire to work with him?
DICAPRIO: I’m a huge fan of Babel. He is incredibly dedicated to bringing the truth to the screen. After my first reading, I knew that the film would take a huge amount of time and commitment. Alejandro’s passion for the material is ultimately what made me sign on. He was incredibly determined to make something extraordinarily unique.
EW: The constraints set forth by Alejandro (natural lighting, all exteriors, extreme weather) required you to have a tremendous amount of trust in your director and he in you. How did you two develop that trust?
DICAPRIO: I understood that in order for Alejandro to pull off some of these complicated sequences, everything needed to be very precise. The whole cast and crew rehearsed meticulously for months beforehand to meet his vision and make it all possible. Nearly everyday we reworked the choreography of the scene and shot it at a specific time of day when the natural light was at its best.
EW: What made you want to play Hugh Glass? Was it the character itself or more the challenge of playing a role in this style, very physical with little dialogue?
DICAPRIO: I was fascinated by [Hugh’s] journey. A man stranded in the wilderness after losing everything. Relaying that emotional journey and getting into his angst without a lot of words or interaction intrigued me. I’ve played a lot of vocal characters in the past, so this was something I really wanted to investigate: How to convey Glass’s complex emotions with very little dialogue.
EW: A lot has been said about the working conditions of the set and Alejandro told me himself that he made you guys “f—-in’ miserable”. How bad was it?
DICAPRIO: The entire cast and crew worked in tough conditions for long periods of time, there is no denying that. We all worked hard and we worked together – the result will be an incredibly powerful and memorable film, and that’s ultimately what we do this for, a great piece of art.
EW: Can you describe your worst day?
DICAPRIO: There were many very difficult days. Too many to count. But all of it is up on screen. That’s what is great about making movies.
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