ON THE WILD SIDE
LEONARDO DICAPRIO GETS REAL IN THE REVENANT
Alejandro G. Inarritu knew Leonardo DiCaprio would go to the ends of the earth to make the 19th century survival epic The
Revenant exactly as the famously meticulous director wanted.
For Inarritu, DiCaprio was the best person to play Hugh Glass, a real life fur trapper who survived a bear mauling and then went to find his mates who left him for dead in the unforgiving wilderness.
Over the course of the nearly year-long production, the Oscar-nominated actor and environmentalist proved his commitment over and over. He ate raw bison. He stripped naked in subzero temperatures. He jumped into an icy river.
But Inarritu had one very specific worry: Could DiCaprio grow a beard? “You cannot shoot this film with a fake beard. It would look terrible,” Inarritu says. “Not every man grows so much hair in his face. That was a bet.”
Thankfully for the director, DiCaprio sprouted a gnarly, unruly beard that becomes a symbol of where exactly his character is on his journey, and how deeply he’s devolved.
Makeup added dirt on a daily basis, and a combination of glycerine and grit gave his hair that unwashed, bloody look – the look of someone who’d survived a bear attack.
“It’s a really primal story of man and the natural world,” DiCaprio says. Of the bear attack scene, he adds: “I think it will go down in history as one of the most voyeuristic action sequences ever created.
“You feel the blood and the sweat. You almost smell the bear. It accomplishes what movies do at their best which is to really make you feel like the rest of the world has evaporated and you’re singularly in that moment.”
In an era of computer generated imagery and other post-production fixes, this was an unconventional shoot from the outset, with the crew travelling to Calgary, Alberta and then to Argentina when the Canadian snow melted earlier than expected.
Shooting occurred only in natural light, allowing a mere 90 minutes a day to achieve complex, highly choreographed long takes.
But DiCaprio knew what he was signing up for.
“When you’re out in the elements like this – and there are people who have much harder jobs than people making a movie – you appreciate the endurance of man and how we’re able to adapt to circumstances.
“You’re signing on to find elements that will ultimately transform the narrative … it was all basically us putting ourselves in this environment and seeing what happens.”
Partly for the sake of his character, DiCaprio largely isolated himself from the rest of the cast.
He studied the life of Hugh Glass and the lives of fur trappers at the time. He learned and practised the choreography for the shots. But when it came time for the cameras to roll, everything became very animalistic – a largely silent performance rooted in instinct and reaction.
“For me it was about really thinking these thoughts and really trying to feel this man’s pain,” DiCaprio says.
The Revenant opens today
Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass in a scene from The Revenant.