From Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island is the story of two U.S. marshals, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), who are summoned to a remote and barren island off the cost of Massachusetts to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a murderess from the island’s fortress-like hospital for the criminally insane.
Q: What were your influences that fed into the making of Shutter Island?
A: There were films that we looked at. The mood and tone of the Val Lewton (producer) films from the early 1940s are great. I showed I Walked With A Zombie and Cat People – terrible titles but great works of poetry. Both of these were produced by Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur and there’s another Lewton picture, The Isle of the Dead, which is directed by Mark Robson, and is also very interesting. And certainly we looked at (Roman) Polanski’s films – Cul-de-sac, Repulsion and the ultimate one of this kind, Rosemary’s Baby. Even when you know the ending of Rosemary’s Baby you can watch that film many, many times because it’s fascinating to see how everybody is behaving. The actors are extraordinary and the way he shot it is brilliant – it’s a film that keeps revealing itself through the behaviour of the characters. So that was a big one. I showed Leo and Mark two films right away – Laura and Out of the Past. Actually, I showed them to Sir Ben Kingsley, too, and he hadn’t seen them. At the end of Out of the Past, Leo started applauding and he said ‘I think that’s the coolest movie I’ve ever seen..’
Q: Does the nature of your collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio change over the years?
A: I don’t think our collaboration necessarily changes over time. But it is getting more intense. This film was very difficult for Leo because there was so much to uncover and the more we did uncover the further there was to go. And we would try things we hadn’t even thought of before, but it was really very complex. And Leo was so dedicated and for him it was like living in that world for so long.
Q: So it wasn’t a good place to be?
A: No, it wasn’t, no. That last night I remember we just looked at each other and I said ‘thank you’ and we gave each other a big hug and that was it. We just left and went our separate way. I thanked the crew and that was it, I went home. And I didn’t see anybody after that for like two months. Leo went away and then when he came back we were looping some scenes and he would look up at the screen and say ‘oh that scene – what a horrible day!’ Or ‘I remember we went through hell on that day, fuck it!’ And then another scene would come up and he would go ‘oh that was worse!” (laughs) And each scene that came up he would go ‘oh this was terrible..’ Meaning that it was a hard day and all the agony, the vomiting (in one scene), the running through the forest, the this, the that, the everything. It was just very hard work. We hadn’t anticipated it; we were like two novices going into this claustrophobic world. But he wasn’t afraid to go there and he took it.
Q: What was the mood like on this set?
A: The mood on set was very good and very positive. Until the last few weeks when it became difficult for all of us because we were subjected to some bad weather and it just didn’t let up. It was one of those things that every time we made a decision – a very thoughtful, carefully worked out decision – to move the trucks and go to another location we would consult the weather bureau, the satellites, everything. But whenever we made a choice it inevitably turned out wrong. And we’d just start laughing, it would be ‘OK, now what do we do? OK, we re-group..’ But that’s what made it become like a real heavy chore. And that was the same for the actors, too, because it was working up hill the whole time. But you know, I think it actually worked out fine for the film and for the performances.
There was one scene that Leo did with Jackie (Earl Haley) where he says ‘you’ve got to let it go..’ It was a Friday night and we’d been shooting all week and the weather was killing us and you can see it in his face, he couldn’t take it anymore. He just said to me ‘I hope that was good..’ And it was. It was great.”
Q: Is there an element of that with all of your films? That making them is kind of, it’s always tough?
A: Yeah, but other directors get it tough and they don’t say anything. But me, I like to complain and that’s part of the fun of it. It becomes like that Monty Python sketch, ‘we used to live in a corridor…’ ‘We dreamed of living in a corridor!’ But actually sometimes when it gets that tough it’s really good because everybody pulls together. It was tough in another way on The Departed – we kept being knocked out of different locations, we had actors who were leaving all the time for different pictures and it was crazy. But the end result was great. There was one time on Shutter Island when I was actually rock climbing at 7.15 in the morning trying to find the right place for a shot. And I’m going ‘what the hell am I doing?’ At a couple of points you get angry but at a certain point you think ‘well, how upset can I get?’ You have to go on and you have to just do it. But this one was pretty interesting and pretty intense and for me, physically, it was hard work. Actually, for everyone it was hard work! (laughs). And you know, I think the complaining thing is part of it, it’s part of the humour (laughs). It becomes part of the war stories from the movie. And you know there was a lot of wind and rain and people were really getting hit with it, and there was all this debris around, but I didn’t get it too bad because I was in a little van, so I didn’t get hit. They would ask for another take but the rain was so heavy it got to the point where they couldn’t see each other. But you know, you accept the nature of it and you realise that’s just what it is. But it was remarkable that in those last four, five weeks, all the decisions we made, the weather just went against us, so we always had to keep thinking of other scenes to shoot, jumping around. The actors had to be ready for anything and they were, it was great.
Q: Can we talk a little more about the look of the film and in particular some of the stand out scenes – one with Leonardo DiCaprio and Michelle Williams where ash is falling all around them. An incredible scene to watch, how did you do it?
A: Well, the ash in the room, which was in the script, and I think obviously comes from the book, but the ash was there, that’s real ash. We did tests and tests with different kinds of ash and that was the best one, then there was some digital enhancement, but not much.
Q: OK, how about the scene with Leonardo and the rats…
A: Again, the rats were in the script. We had about 100, we added some more later, but we had about 100 on the day…
Q: I don’t know how Leo is with rats, but it wouldn’t be one of my favourite ways to spend the day..
A: He didn’t like it – that was one of the tougher days. Or I should say weeks. (laughs) Especially when he put his hand and one of them touched it and he kind of recoils back – that’s all real. We had about 100 rats, and they were actually great – they were handled very well and they, we had to be very careful not to hurt any.
Q: You’ve had so much success. Do you see yourself at home in your slippers and retiring?
A: I’m always in my slippers, I’m never dressed, (laughs) I always have pyjamas and these slippers I have – that’s it. No, you know I want to work. But the thing is – and I was thinking about this the other day – I’ve had like three times that my career was down and came back up again. This is the fourth, I guess. Not that I think of it that way, with The Departed we really just tried to make a great gangster film but I didn’t think it was going to be a big financial success and be received the way it was. It was a damned good story and I loved the characters. It’s the same with Shutter Island – it was a real challenge but I loved the story and the characters and I hope it does well. I certainly want to make more pictures. That’s why I did the HBO pilot, shooting in 30 days. I haven’t shot in 30 days in 30 years…
Shutter Island opens in theaters on February 19th, 2010.
Shutter Island – Martin Scorsese Video Interview [ScreenRush]