As the 96th annual Academy Award nominations were revealed on Tuesday morning, Martin Scorsese was in New York, the city that shaped his gutsy and gritty style of filmmaking. His latest epic, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” picked up 10 Oscar nominations, although lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio was snubbed. With his director nod, Scorsese has been recognized 10 times in the category, making him the most nominated living filmmaker, edging out Steven Spielberg. (At 81, Scorsese has been nominated at least once a decade since the 1980s, beginning with “Raging Bull” and now with “Killers.”) But as he achieved that feat, his thoughts returned to old friends from “the neighborhood,” those rough-and-tumble streets of Little Italy where he came of age.
“The ones I knew are mostly gone, along with the neighborhood itself,” Scorsese says. “But they’re always with me, wherever I go. Maybe they’re joking around with me and giving me a hard time, but they’re proud.”
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At the same time, the film’s star, Lily Gladstone, was braving a frost in Pawhuska, Okla., near the tribal land of the Osage Nation. She was waiting to see if her name would be called. She’d end up making history herself, becoming the first Native American actress to receive an Oscar nomination for her stunning turn as Mollie Kyle. In “Flower Moon,” Mollie’s Osage friends and family are murdered, mutilated and conned out of their oil wealth, while she is betrayed by her husband, Ernest Burkhart. The film is a searing reminder of the exploitation that Indigenous people have endured at the hands of colonizers.
“I decided if the news came that morning, I wanted to be as close to Mollie as I could,” she says. “When the roads are good enough, I can roll out to [the tribe] and pay my respects.”
Gladstone’s recognition is a breakthrough in an industry that’s been scrutinized for its lack of diversity. But beyond the cultural significance, it acknowledges the arrival of an acting powerhouse. In “Flower Moon,” Gladstone burns up the screen alongside Robert De Niro and DiCaprio.
Her parents applauded Gladstone’s nomination, then soured when DiCaprio was snubbed. “They were pissed,” she says. “He was the first to text me congratulations, with popping confetti. I told him how upset we all were. My nomination is equal parts his. I would not have been able to do what I did without his generosity as an actor and as a human being.”
Scorsese argues the actor’s performance will stand the test of time — Oscars be damned: “He went so far into the complexities and contradictions of a man who was so weak, so malleable, who did such unspeakable things, but who also truly loved his wife. Leo fearlessly created a true Everyman … an Everyman that people just don’t want to acknowledge. So that will endure.”
Just weeks before the nominations, Variety sat down with DiCaprio, Scorsese and Gladstone. In a private bungalow, Gladstone kicks off her shoes. Scorsese tosses the jacket of his three-piece suit and tucks into a loveseat. DiCaprio joyfully ravages a crudité like a marathon runner accepting water from the sidelines. They are, after all, in a race. Gladstone reveals that along the campaign trail she’s recently visited DiCaprio’s house, where she got a look at his best actor Oscar for 2015’s “The Revenant.” It lives on a bookshelf. “I don’t use it as a doorstop,” DiCaprio says with a flail of his arms, perhaps nodding to a recent gag from Gwyneth Paltrow (who used her own Academy Award to prop open the gate to her Hamptons home during an interview).
In our conversation, nothing — from broken treaties to “Barbenheimer” — was off-limits as they reflected on their struggle to bring “Killers of the Flower Moon” to the screen.
Marty, do you remember the first scene you ever directed Leo in?
MARTIN SCORSESE: I think it was in “Gangs of New York” when he was on the docks with the boats coming in. You were throwing away the Bible. Within one day of shooting, we were a week behind schedule. I don’t know what the hell happened.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO: I do — it was incredible. We built all of late-century Five Points, New York, in Rome. You would walk around that set and feel transported 100 years back in time. It was an incredible experience. It was a culmination of many years of wishing to work with that man.
Marty, Leo recently said that you hired Lily on the spot after she read for “Killers of the Flower Moon.” He said he’d never seen you do that before. What was it about her?
SCORSESE: What I saw Lily do in “Certain Women” — how she commanded the space and the screen and the emotional impact of what appeared to be minimal and very internal — that’s what I was looking for. We had just started developing the character, and I felt that Lily had it in her. That she would seriously find her.
Leo, this is your sixth film working with Marty. Where does “Killers” fall in the pantheon of that work? Check the scoreboard, as Jay-Z would say.
DICAPRIO: I feel like it’s one of the most important films we’ve ever worked on. Marty is different ways on different films. He takes on the pathos of the story. I remember he looked me in the eyes, it was a quiet moment, and said, “I feel this story in my bones. I have to tell it right.” Then he locked himself up in Oklahoma for eight months and was obsessive about getting to the truth. He’s always obsessed about making a great movie, but this one in particular was on a different level.
Speaking of Jay-Z, Leo, you and I were at Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour on the same night in Los Angeles. Where does that fall in all-time best concerts you’ve seen?
It was amazing. It was incredible. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen better stage production.
In addition to this level of representation for the Osage, people are noticing the tenderness of the romance Leo and Lily build behind the larger betrayal in their characters Mollie and Ernest Burkhart. How did you create that?
DICAPRIO: There’s the underlying story of deception that’s occurring, but we knew there had to be a connection because, frankly, that’s what the Osage community kept telling us adamantly — that these two people did fall in love. It became incredibly corrupt, one of the most twisted love stories I’ve ever come across in my life, but all true. The challenge was how much she knew I was complicit.
LILY GLADSTONE: If you’re playing the complicity, then it doesn’t work. You play the love, and the complicity and the betrayal come out of what is built with love there. It’s hard to explain how you find chemistry between two actors. It’s there or it’s not.
How has the feedback been?
GLADSTONE: I would say the most glowing reception that I’ve seen is from the Native cinephiles. There’s a lot of Natives whose favorite filmmaker is Scorsese, my dad included.
GLADSTONE: My introduction to Marty as a filmmaker was because of Robbie Robertson. [When I was a kid], my dad and I would drive around the rez listening to Red Road Ensemble. It sounded like what it felt like to grow up where I lived. He told me Robbie was an actual rock star from this band called the Band, and Martin Scorsese used to come over to his house and watch movies with him in the basement. I was 10. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. He told me Marty did this movie “Casino,” so I watched the first few minutes and got scared and turned it off.
I reminded my dad recently of what he said back then. Of course he doesn’t remember saying it, but it was burned into my head. He said, “One day, Martin Scorsese is going to make his Indian movie.”
GLADSTONE: And he said it would be epic. My dad just knew.
Lily, you wrote a lengthy trigger warning about the movie on social media shortly after it came out. Did you feel supported by Marty and Leo to do that?
GLADSTONE: That came out of a lot of conversations I’d had with the Osage. They said how thankful they were that they saw it together as a community, because they could unpack it and process it together. A lot of my Native friends were so excited and getting dressed up for the premieres and taking their nieces, and I thought, “This is also going to be really triggering for them.” As soon as I could speak [after the strike], it felt like that was the most important thing to say.
There’s such a backlash now against being a good and decent person. We’re not telling anybody not to watch the film. It’s just, when you watch it, be aware this is going to be an experience. It’s an entertaining, arresting film, but a lot of people I talked to who had seen it alone outside of the community said they felt lonely and triggered afterwards.
Leo, you’re someone who hasn’t been able to move easily in the world because of your fame. But so much of being an actor is observing other people. How do you get around that in your work?
DICAPRIO: I don’t necessarily think that’s a factor. You draw upon a lot of different relationships in your life. I was a great mimic and imitator as a young man — kind of a goofball in that respect. You have base models, and when I thought about Ernest, there were certain people that sprang to mind. People I had met in my life, certain types that if you asked a question, they’d have a blank look on their face. You can read the confusion.
This character is not that smart, is he?
DICAPRIO: I went through a puzzling moment at the beginning of this shoot. I was struck by how slow Ernest was in his articulation. His writing seemed on the verge of having some sort of mental issue. At the same time, he was incredibly duplicitous and calculating. He was also manipulated by his uncle, who was the puppeteer of these heinous acts. I had a discussion in my own mind, wanting to make him culpable without going too extreme in either direction. It needed to be somewhere in the middle.
So it’s fair to say that you’re drawing on earlier life relationships? I imagine you’re not the type that can pop into public screenings and watch with an audience.
DICAPRIO: Not too often. I generally see stuff at premieres.
What was the last movie you saw in a public theater? One you bought a ticket for.
DICAPRIO: Good question. I think it was “Top Gun: Maverick.” I do not recall.
Marty, do you slip into public screenings of your own movies?
SCORSESE: I don’t do that. People talk and move around a lot. I’m short and there’s always a big person in front of me. It’s the same with Broadway — I can’t go to theater. There’s someone in front of me, and I can’t see the stage or hear the show. I really enjoy Imax as I get older. You go in, you can sit up in the back and you’re sort of looking up. Regular screenings, I have found the audiences becoming a bit more raucous than they used to be. But maybe it’s always like in the ’50s when we used to yell back at the screen. But it’s very important to me to support films while they’re on the big screen. I just wait a while.
Has everyone seen “Barbenheimer”?
DICAPRIO: Saw them both in the theater. That may have been the last theatrical film that I saw. But you just reminded me — I saw “Blue Whales: Return of the Giants” in the Imax theater in downtown L.A.
You bought your own tickets? You walked up to the kiosk and punched the buttons yourself?
DICAPRIO: They took my credit card and I signed a piece of paper, the whole thing.
GLADSTONE: Can we still see our movie in Imax? I don’t know that it’s still playing in Imax.
Call Tim Cook and get it done.
GLADSTONE: Yes, on the phone that he just gave me.
Marty, how do you feel about the criticism that at three hours and 25 minutes, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is too long?
SCORSESE: I really don’t know how to respond to it except for the fact that many people seem to go with it. Some people say, “I want to see it again.” Not every film is for every person. Not every novel is for every reader, not every painting, etc. I don’t know if it’s something that will be universally accepted. This one felt right [at this length], and I felt that while I was watching it. I felt inside of it.
Leo, some people have struggled seeing you play the villain, though you have done it before in “Django Unchained.” Paul Schrader posted to Facebook that he wished you’d taken the Jesse Plemons role. What do you make of that?
DICAPRIO: I have no thoughts on that other than the fact that our intrinsic role in this was to try to bring truth to light. It was never a question for me, how to play the character. This was one of the most bizarre and hard-to-believe love stories I’ve ever come across, but it was complete reality.
SCORSESE: Leo ultimately suggested that he play Ernest, and that came from a dinner we had in Gray Horse on my second visit to Oklahoma. About 250 to 300 of the Osage were there. [Mollie Burkhart’s granddaughter] Margie Burkhart said, “You have to remember: Mollie and Ernest were in love.” Everything shifted after that.
This movie obviously seeks to correct history. What do you all think of this moment in time when the truth is under attack and forces seek to ban books from schools?
GLADSTONE: Like “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which is banned in Oklahoma. I would quote Addie Roanhorse, who worked in the art department on the film. Addie said, “You can ban the book, but you can’t ban Scorsese.”
SCORSESE: It’s always better to know where the hell we’ve been and who we were. That doesn’t mean we have to be the same — what do we do better? When you hide this stuff, it’s like hiding secrets in a family. One day it comes out — there’s a complete breakdown.
GLADSTONE: It’s ironic that the FBI was formed on a case solving the murder of Indigenous people, when now they’re the only governing body that has authority to do something and they don’t. It’s always our communities that are searching for our missing women, that are finding answers. Our sovereignty has been stripped back to the point that we can’t prosecute those who kill our people on our tribal land. That’s all the feds. So it’s important that the FBI was formed solving Native murders, but it would have been tragic for people to think that they were still doing that. It just doesn’t happen.
Do you find any reason for optimism, especially in an election year?
SCORSESE: This is the most dangerous time I’ve ever lived through. I was born during World War II and lived through the Cuban missile crisis and all that, but it was never like this.
GLADSTONE: The erosion happens in small, insignificant ways. It’s what Bob De Niro says about his character Hale: the banality of evil.
Leo, how do you process the current state of the world?
DICAPRIO: People look at this story as 100 years old, but my God, it’s incredibly relevant. This is still happening on tribal lands to this day. From an environmental perspective, it’s always Indigenous people and the places that they inhabit that are under threat. This is what’s going on in the Amazon, what’s going on in Africa, what’s going on in the Pacific Islands. These places are rich in natural resources. Without protecting sovereign rights and helping Indigenous leaders, who have always been stewards of this planet, we’re going to lose the natural world.
GLADSTONE: It comes back on us how we treat the planet. How we treat our Indigenous women, in particular, is the biggest indicator of how we treat our land. They’re the same thing. We talked about this so much during shooting.
DICAPRIO: It was so bizarre to be there, walking around Tulsa with newscasters there talking about the anniversary of the Tulsa massacre — which was a half-hour car ride away from the first murder in the Osage Reign of Terror.
GLADSTONE: Many of these 100-year returns are coming. In the 1920s, we Natives were making our own films, and people cared about what we had to say. There’s a resurgence of that again. Making this film felt a lot like us asking, “What’s the answer?” For Indigenous peoples on this continent, we’ve already lived through the end of the world.
SCORSESE: That’s the most extraordinary thing. You’ve already gone through the apocalypse, kid.
GLADSTONE: We’ve lost 95% of our public population, which means we’ve lost 95% of our knowledge base. We’ve lost our languages. And yet we’re still here rebuilding. That’s what the last shot of the film means to me: If you’re watching it on a deeper level and asking, “How do we survive? How do we move forward?,” follow our Indigenous people. See how we do it.
Leo, what did Lily teach you that you’ll take into future performances?
DICAPRIO: I think that beyond her talent and her ability to embody Mollie the way she did, she became an authority and a partner on how to craft the story. My character was living in the world of darkness and shadow and deception. We based this film on an unreliable protagonist, inspired by films like “A Place in the Sun,” “The Heiress,” “Red River” and movies like that from the ’40s. My character is lurking in the shadows. But Lily was there when we needed to get to the core of certain answers about the relationship. Lily was Mollie to us. Marty can attest to that. She always seemed to have the answer.
GLADSTONE: Because the community did. I never volunteered something that wasn’t offered first by somebody who was Osage. Anybody who walks in the Indian country … people figure you out quick. If you go in with a good heart and good intent, people invite you in. I did that in my off time. When I was called on to answer some question as a creative partner, if it had to do with anything that was particular to the history to Mollie or the Osage Nation, I never gave an answer that wasn’t first from them.
SCORSESE: So much so that you’re an honorary part of their community.
GLADSTONE: Everybody’s joking they’ve just got to adopt me now.
Set Production: Buffalo Art Co; Gladstone: Styling: Jason Rembert; Makeup: Nick Barose/Exclusive Artists/Cheekbone Beauty; Hair: Marc Mena/EA Mgmt; Coat: Emilia Wickstead; Shirt: Christian Cowan; Shoes: Amina Muaddi; Earrings: Weomepe; DiCaprio: Styling: Even Sanchez; Grooming: Sian Grigg; Jacket and pants: Paul Smith; Shirt: Brioni; Shoes: Nick Wooster x Scarosso
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