DiCaprio lives Gatsby’s American Dream

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First Posted: 5/13/2013

The first time Leonardo DiCaprio read “The Great Gatsby,” he was instantly intrigued by the love story at the heart of the novel. But years later, when he revisited F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age cocktail, he found himself appreciating the book on a whole different level.

Narrated by the Fitzgerald-esque Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), the story concerns the mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio) and his efforts to reignite the spark with his now-married ex-girlfriend, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan).

“The Gatsby that I remember reading when I was 15 years old in junior high school was far different from the Gatsby I read as an adult,” says DiCaprio, 38. “What I remember from my years in junior high was this hopeless romantic who 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 when I re-read it as an adult, it was incredibly fascinating [how it seemed to change.] It is one of those novels that is talked about a hundred years later for a reason. It’s nuanced, it’s existential, and here at the center of [the book] is this man that is incredibly hollow and is searching for some sort of meaning in his life.

“He’s attached himself to this relic known as Daisy. She’s a mirage. I was struck by the sadness in him for the first time, and I looked at him really differently.”

As depicted in the $120 million film, the 1920s are a time of loosening morals, bootleg czars, endless parties, and skyrocketing stocks. In the middle of it all is Gatsby, a self-made who is, in some sense, the manifestation of the American Dream. “One really telling sequence that we talked about a lot and, for me, was really important is the one where, after [Gatsby builds] this great castle to lure Daisy in, he’s still staring out at the green light [across the bay]. He’s finally got her in his arms, but he’s still searching for this thing that he thinks is going to complete him. That was the Gatsby that I was incredibly excited about playing as an actor.”

From New York to Australia

“The Great Gatsby” has been filmed four times before, most memorably in 1974 with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in the roles of Jay and Daisy. Baz Luhrmann’s version, which opened the Cannes Film Festival, is a big departure from previous adaptations thanks to the lavishness of the film, the use of 3D, and the contemporary score performed by rapper – and executive producer – Jay-Z, as well as Bryan Ferry, Jack White, Beyonce, and Florence + The Machine.

Another element that makes Luhrmann’s “Gatsby” distinctive: it was filmed almost entirely in the director’s native Australia. Oddly enough, the outside of Gatsby’s grand mansion – “a Disneyland for adults,” says the filmmaker – was filmed at Luhrmann’s old high school. (In the book, the palace is located in Long Island). “What was interesting was that our original intent was to shoot in New York, and for budgetary reasons, we shipped the whole production to Australia,” says DiCaprio, who’ll next been seen in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which marks his fifth collaboration with Martin Scorsese.

“What was amazing about shooting in Australia and recreating this whole world was the incredible enthusiasm of all the people there. I think it infused us with this great energy. Every actor, besides three or four, was Australian, and the whole crew was Australian. “Everyone’s…work ethic was tireless, and I don’t think [the movie] would have been infused with the same energy and passion if we hadn’t shot there.”

Behind the wealth

DiCaprio admits that, from the get-go, he identified with Gatsby’s drive. “Gatsby created himself according to his own imagination and dreams,” says the actor. “He lifted himself by his own bootstraps as a poor youth in the Midwest and created an image that is this ‘Great Gatsby.’

“It’s a truly American story… Here is this emerging democracy that is America in the 1920s, and [Gatsby] wants to emulate a Rockefeller of that period, so he creates his wealth in the underworld. This is a new land, and it’s a very exciting time. I think we can all relate to the dreamer in Gatsby. Each one of us gets excited by the prospect of someone who has that much ambition.” DiCaprio feels as if, at least in part, “The Great Gatsby” is a cautionary tale about the dangers of living only for status and wealth. “In a way, this book predicted the great crash in the early 1930s in America. It’s a book that talks about the great opulence and wealth in America in that time period and the idea that the future is endless, [but that we can’t] keep consuming and living the way we do without some consequences.

“[That’s something] we encountered again in our modern era… Fitzgerald was very much commenting on society and human nature and the great pursuit of wealth. It’s a timeless novel in that regard.”

Friendship on and off-screen

As soon as DiCaprio was cast, Luhrmann opted to give the role of Carraway to Maguire, who happens to be DiCaprio’s best friend of more than two decades. The pair met in 1990 when they were both auditioning for the “Parenthood” series. The casting of Maguire as Carraway was a big boost for DiCaprio. “For me, this is American Shakespeare,” says DiCaprio. “This is one of the most celebrated novels of all time, so to venture into a project of this magnitude took a core unit of trust for me to feel comfortable, and to know that somebody I’ve known for 20 years…was involved was incredibly comforting.

“[Tobey and I] are always extremely honest with each other, and I don’t know if this project would have happened if we didn’t have that sort of relationship because we needed those checks and balances.”

Maguire was able to use the warmth he feels for DiCaprio to fuel his performance. “I definitely have an affection for Leo, so it’s easy for me to have affection for Gatsby as Nick as well,” notes the actor.

Luhrmann marveled at the ease with which the two performers communicated both on and off the set. On the first day of shooting, for instance, the pair improvised a moment that remains in the finished film. The sequence involved Gatsby and Nick awaiting Daisy’s initial visit.

“I thought to put a locked camera on a wide shot and say, ‘Let’s not do the scene; let’s just improvise,’” recalls Luhrmann. “And Leonardo says to [Maguire], ‘Those flowers are lovely aren’t they? Do you think it’s too much?’

“[Maguire] pauses and says, “I think it’s what you want.” And that moment is one of the purest and most connective moments in the film. I think it comes from the depth of the relationship [between Maguire and DiCaprio]. It was funny because it was one of the first things we shot, and it’s one of the most truthful and wonderful moments of the film. So, there was a grand value in the depth of their friendship.”

It wasn’t just Leo and Tobey who pitched in with dialogue. According to Luhrmann, Mulligan spent weeks researching Zelda Fitzgerald and socialite Ginevra King, the two women who inspired the character of Daisy Buchanan.

“We all went on an intense research journey together,” says Luhrmann. “Carey went down to Princeton and we had experts on speakeasies come in. [At one point], Carey says to Leo, ‘I wish I had done everything on Earth with you.’ That’s a line from Zelda Fitzgerald’s love letters to Scott.”

Party like it’s 1929

By Sara Pokorny, Weekender Staff Writer

Jay Gatsby threw lavish soirees that looked like the party to end all parties, yet each one topped the next. Though it may seem like a complicated affair to pull one off on your own, it’s an easy task even if you aren’t some rich guy who uses $20 bills as napkins. We present to you a guide to Gatsby gatherings.

Drink it up

One of the driving factors in The Great Gatsby is the fact that this is the era of prohibition, a national ban on the sale, production, and transportation of booze, so make sure to have plenty of it. Bottles of straight-up whiskey and gin and oceans of champagne are good enough, but if you want to snag some drink recipes from the era, consider these:

Gin Rickey: Fill a highball glass with 3/4 ice and pour in one jigger of gin, the juice of one lime, and 1/2 teaspoon of superfine sugar. Stir, then fill the rest of the glass with seltzer water and garnish with a lime slice.

Highball: This can be done many ways and is simple: mix two ounces of whatever spirit you desire, be it gin, whiskey, or what you have, and then two ounces of soda to match.

Old Fashioned: For those of the whiskey persuasion, mix two ounces of the spirit with a splash of simple syrup, bitters, and soda over ice, then garnish with an orange slice or cherry.

Get glamorous

One glance at a trailer for the movie makes it clear that outfits were more like costumes in the Roaring Twenties, so don’t hold anything back when it comes to getting dressed for the bash.

Women should throw on traditional flapper dresses and get crazy with head accessories that are glittery or full of feathers (or both, if you’re daring). Deep red lipstick, art deco accessories, and a bobbed hairstyle (which can be faked if you have longer locks) are also bonuses.

Men should outfit themselves in three-piece suits, don suspenders, and top it off with some type of hat. A panama hat is precisely what Gatsby’s shady friend Meyer Wolfsheim wore in this theatrical version, while straw boater hats are what Nick Carraway, Tom Buchanan, and Gatsby himself used to shade their eyes throughout the movie.

Put on your dancing shoes

The Roaring Twenties focused on jazz, so breaking out some vinyl wouldn’t be a bad thing. Look for artists like King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, and Duke Ellington. If it’ll make you move your feet, have at it.

Set the mood

‘Tis the season to hit up flea markets, so try gathering up as many antiques as you can to throw about the place. You can go glitzy and decorate in silvers and golds, or give out the speakeasy vibe by using dark colors like maroon and navy to further enunciate the “hush hush” atmosphere of a place that sells alcohol illegally.