“The Departed” marks the third collaboration between Hollywood A-list actor Leonardo DiCaprio and America’s reigning auteur, director Martin Scorsese.

When the two first collaborated on “Gangs of New York” in 2002, no one could have expected that DiCaprio would be Scorsese’s new De Niro, the actor who collaborated on nearly all the director’s best films: “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas.” But according to the director, “there’s something between the two of us, maybe we feel about life the same way, even though there’s 30 years’ difference between the two of us.”

DiCaprio, appearing with his director at a Roppongi Hills press conference for “The Departed,” described their continuing collaboration as “just a natural progression. It’s never been a master plan, it’s been like, wow, here’s a new script, who do you like working with, well, I’d love to work with Scorsese again. He had a similar reaction, and it just sort of happened that way.”

In “The Departed,” Leo plays a cop from the streets of South Boston, in deep undercover to infiltrate the gang controlling this tough, Irish-Catholic neighborhood. To prepare for the role, DiCaprio spent some time in Southie, where he says, “I got to meet a few people that were involved in crime situations there. I also got to meet a young guy from South Boston, and I spent a lot of time hanging out with him, getting his mannerisms down, his accent.” The results speak for themselves as DiCaprio, never a good one with accents, does a serviceable Southie squawk here.

DiCaprio has certainly matured as an actor under Scorsese’s tutelage, with a shifty, physical, often desperate performance here that is a far cry from the callow youth seen in “Gangs.” Scorsese sings his praises, saying, “I found a number of times on this film with Leo, moments where — in the middle of the madness and chaos on the set — he would do something that would make me remember why I wanted to make movies. Something so moving and unique. I was totally stunned at times.”

DiCaprio had to be on form when facing Jack Nicholson (who plays the crime lord Frank Costello), an actor known for stealing scenes if you’re not careful. “People are always asking what is was like working with Jack Nicholson,” said DiCaprio, “and I would say there’s this particular documentary in ‘The Shining’ DVD, where you see Jack really act out his emotions before (they shoot) the scene, and really amps himself up, and that is most like his process. Jack is entirely unique in his own regard, and somebody that you learn a tremendous amount from. He’s constantly creating those accidental moments that turn out to be the scenes in movies where you go ‘wow!’ “

The soundtrack is full of rock ‘n’ roll by the likes of the Allman Brothers Band and the Dropkick Murphys, but also features an original score by Howard Shore. “What I told Howard is, everyone’s revolving around each other in a web, and eventually they’re all gonna be caught, all gonna be killed,” recalled Scorsese. “What’s a dangerous, passionate dance? And Howard said, a tango. A tango of death. And what plays the tango is a guitar. And of course when I think of the guitar, I think of two movies I have to mention: the zither in ‘The Third Man,’ which has similarities to our picture. And an obscure movie called ‘Murder By Contract,’ a very memorable American B-movie directed in the 1950s by Irving Lerner, with a very simple guitar score. So we developed themes on the attraction that each character had for each other, and how they were pulling each other into this vortex of destruction.”

Scorsese just scored a Golden Globe award for Best Director for “The Departed,” and the film is tipped to scoop Oscars. It’s also been his biggest box-office success so far, earning over $120 million in the States alone. So it’s somewhat of a surprise to hear Scorsese say, “I had to make the movie, I didn’t want to at first.” Whether he’s referring to owing a studio a favor for backing one of his more difficult films, or perhaps more friendly pressure from Leo or producer Brad Pitt, it’s clearly a good thing that somebody twisted his arm. Says the director: “I was angry making the picture, I’m angry at the movie . . . but I loved it. So for me, the reception by the audience and by some critics in America and elsewhere in the world has really been a surprise to me. Because I’ve learned, once again, with this picture, how much I really don’t know.”

Read the film review
“The Departed”
A straight but stylish Scorsese

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