Leonardo DiCaprio is the star of Baz Luhrmann’s latest film, “The Great Gatsby” in which the actor plays Jay Gatsby, a fabulous party-giving man with a mysterious past who comes out of nowhere and buys a mansion on Long Island, across the bay from his one true love and obsession, the now married Daisy Buchanan. Every night, Gatsby stands out on his dock and tries to reach out for a green light that comes from Daisy’s house but when Nick Carraway, cousin of Daisy, moves to a small bungalow next door, Gatsby ceases the opportunity to get closer to his golden girl in a plot that ultimately leads to… enough for now.
This week we had the opportunity to speak with DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and director. Here is what they had to say.
ShowBizCafe (SBC): Did you identified as someone who didn’t grow up very wealthy? Did you identify with this hunger to want more?
Leonardo DiCaprio (LD): I think everyone has some sort of connection to Gatsby, he is a character that has created himself according to his own imagination and has lifted himself from his own bootstraps as a poor youth in the Midwest and created this image that is the great Gatsby and it’s a truly American Story in that regard. Here is this emerging democracy that is America in the 1920s and he wants to emulate the Rockefeller of that time period and of course creates his wealth in the underworld, but this is the new land that is America and it was a very exciting time and I think we can all relate to that dreamer in Gatsby, each one of us gets excited by the prospect of someone that has that much ambition.
SBC: Gatsby is somebody who has reinvented himself. Did that plug in at all in how you saw Jay Gatsby and what he was doing?
LD: Certainly, the Gatsby that I remember reading when I was 15-years-old in junior high school was far different than the Gatsby that I read as an adult. What I remember from my years in junior high was this hopeless romantic that was solely in love with this one woman and created this great amount of wealth to be able to respectfully hold her hand. But then to re-read it as an adult, it was incredibly fascinating, it is one of those novels that is still talked about nearly 100 years later because it’s incredibly nuanced, it’s existential and here at the center of this movie is this man who is incredibly hollow and is searching for some sort of meaning in his life and has attached himself to this relic known as Daisy, she’s a mirage.[As an adult] I was struck by the sadness in him for the first time and I looked at him completely different, I looked at him as somebody that was very hollow and searching for some sort of meaning and Nick is the only one that truly sees what is going on in reality: here is this man that’s desperately holding on to this image.
One very telling sequence that we talked a lot about and for me was a very important one from the book was after this caravansary that he’s created known as Gatsby’s castle in order to lure Daisy in, Nick notices that he is holding her yet he is still staring out into the green light, he’s finally got her in his arms but is still searching for this thing that’s going to complete him. That was the Gatsby that I was incredibly excited about playing as an actor and as I got older it took on a new meaning and that’s what is so incredible about this novel, everyone who reads it has their own interpretation of who these characters are and that’s what is very difficult about a making a movie about it, everyone has their own personal attachment to the book and they feel like they know these characters on a very intimate level and of course when you’re making a movie you have to be much more specific.
SBC: Tobey and Leo, you guys have a lot of great chemistry on screen, a great friendship and that really came across. Did the friendship you already had, do you think that translated into the characters?
Tobey Maguire: I think that Leo and I have a very trusting and close friendship so I think just the comfortable open dialogue we had in terms of the work in process contributed to what we did and in regards to the actual chemistry of the relationship, it’s harder for me to judge what contributed to that but I’m sure [the friendship] had an effect. I think the Nick and Gatsby relationship is such an interesting relationship to explore because from my point of view, obviously I’m looking through the eyes of Nick and searching through the book as Nick and his relationship to Gatsby in particular. The way we made the movie and the way the book sort of is written, Nick is looking back over his experiences so there is both the experiences in real time as he lived them and Nick’s relationship to the later. Looking back on who Gatsby was to him personally and as an idea, I think inspires Nick to go off into his own future and then specifically, having an understanding that Gatsby had an agenda for Nick, but ultimately unfolded into a real friendship and perhaps Gatsby’s only friendship. I think [this] was very meaningful to Nick and I definitely have an affection for Leo so it’s easy for me to have an affection for Gatsby as Nick.
LD: For me, this is like American Shakespeare, this is one of the most celebrated novels of all time so to venture into a project of this magnitude it sort of took a core unit of trust for me to feel comfortable and to know that … Baz Luhrmann was involved and Tobey was immediately involved in that process from the onset was incredibly comforting. [Tobey and I] are always extremely honest with each other and to me, I don’t know if this project would have happen if we hadn’t had that relationship because it needed that, we needed those checks and balances and we needed to have a contract with each other to continue to be honest with one another.
Baz Luhrmann: Can I add a little thing to that? Because I think these two gentlemen cannot say this but it’s a little anecdote from our first day of shooting in the flower scene and we were all very nervous because what we touched upon is that we felt we were carrying a very heavy chalice and great responsibility.
There was written dialogue in the scene, it’s when Gatsby is waiting with Nick for Daisy to arrive… I put a locked camera as a wide shot and said: “You’re just waiting for Daisy but let’s not do the scene, just improvise.”… That moment I think is one of the purest and most connected moments of the whole film and it completely came from a depth of relationship that existed before we began rehearsals and it’s funny because it was this first thing we ever shot and for me, it’s one of the most truthful and wonderful moments in the film.
SBC: Seemingly the more that things change the more that they remain the same. Leo, Tobey, why do you think that history repeats itself?
LD: Baz talks about it a lot, but in a lot of ways this book predicted the great crash of the early 1930s in America. It’s a book that talks about the great opulence and wealth in America during that time period and the idea that the future is endless and we can keep consuming and living the way we do without any consequences. [The book] is timeless in the way that this is an 80 year cycle; we encounter this again in our modern era and is something that we keep doing. It’s not just an American novel in that regard, is something that is happening worldwide, Fitzgerald is commenting on society and human nature and the great pursuit of wealth and it’s a timeless novel in that regard.