Face to face with dark humanity

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese and Sir Ben Kingsley are en route- or at least that’s what a group of anxious journalists have been told for the past 20 minutes.

Then, a development. All of a sudden, the room goes quiet. A familiar voice breaks the silence.

“A press conference?” Scorsese asks while entering the room, donning his signature black-frame glasses. “I didn’t know there would be…”

“Just think of it like a birthday party,” a publicist says.

It might as well be a celebration. At 67, the director is promoting the release of “Shutter Island,” his 45th film, and certainly not his first to garner critical acclaim.

The film also marks the fourth time he has directed Leonardo DiCaprio, who walks into the room with much less of an aura and entourage as Scorsese. Somehow, DiCaprio’s respect and idolization of Scorsese transcends the actor’s individual popularity, making Scorsese’s film-making- not DiCaprio’s celebrity- the main topic of discussion.

“A lot of this film is very much being publicized as a thriller with a surprise ending and terrifying elements to it; very much a genre piece,” DiCaprio said. “But at the end of the day, [the film] is what Martin Scorsese does best: portraying something about humanity and human nature and who we are as people.”

The film explores these ideas through the eyes of U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) who visits a controversial and remote hospital for the criminally insane to figure out how a patient disappeared. While working with his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) and Dr. John Cawley (Sir Ben Kingsley), however, Daniels begins investigating his own rocky past. The Laeta Kalogridis-penned screenplay stays true to the 2003 novel by Dennis Lehane. As much as the twists and turns captivate the audience, they exhausted DiCaprio on set.

“It got darker and darker and more emotionally intense than I think we ever expected,” he said. “There were a few weeks there that were, I have to say, some of the most hardcore filming experiences I’ve ever had.”

Kingsley credits the intimacy and eloquence of the character-driven piece with Scorsese’s unique style of directing.

“Marty directs like a lover,” he said. “Everything is held together by affection; affection for his craft, affection for his actors, affection for his crew, affection for the material and affection for the great journey of cinema in our lives.”

Scorsese expresses this affection by challenging his actors. Case in point: scenes in which DiCaprio is in the rain, on the side of a cliff or facing Hurricane-force winds.

“By the time we got to [shooting outdoors], it adds to the emotional levels that [the actor] has to get to, that Leo had to get to,” Scorsese explained. “When you see rain and wind hitting actors to the level that it’s almost impossible for them to move in the frame, it was a brutalizing experience for them, for everybody, but this is the way films are made.”

“Shutter Island” opens in theaters nationwide this weekend.

Nick Maslow may be contacted at nmaslow@themiamihurricane.com.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures (Left to right) Ben Kingsley, Leonardo DiCaprio, director Martin Scorsese and Mark Ruffalo on the set of the thriller ÒShutter Island.Ó