To say that the shoot for Shutter Island was tough would be, it seems, an understatement. At least, that's according to its leading man, Leonardo DiCaprio.
"We definitely pushed ourselves well beyond the call of duty on this one," smiles the 35-year old actor. "We just kept finding new levels of pain to inflict upon my character, and that meant going that extra mile. In the pouring rain. With the wind howling all around us.
"Part of me began to think that Marty might just be some kind of sadist. That I must have harmed him in a different life, and now he was taking revenge..."
The Marty in question is, of course, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo having become the iconic director's new muse over the last ten years. Back in 2000, as they made the troubled and muddled Gangs Of New York, it was clearly master and pupil stuff, soon progressing to mentor and apprentice, and finally, to where they are now, Leonardo seemingly taken the place of Robert De Niro, Scorsese's partner in such classics as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull.
"I try not to think of it in those terms," interjects DiCaprio. "No one could replace De Niro in that particular equation. And Bob and Marty still have a special relationship, one with an incredible history, and experiences that one can only dream of.
"But I've certainly grown a lot working with a great director like this, and we've gotten to know each other more and more. And that means we trust each other more and more. I was always ready to do whatever Marty wanted, but now, I feel we both just know what's needed, what's going to work."
And with Shutter Island, that often meant coming up with new ideas on a set that was designed to incite madness. And it almost did.
In this 1950s-set mystery thriller, DiCaprio plays tormented detective Teddy Daniels trying to uncover the whereabouts of a missing inmate at a remote island asylum. With his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), by his side, Teddy quickly becomes convinced of a conspiracy, his slowly escalating paranoia not helped by flashbacks, both to his time as a US Marine walking through corpses as they liberated Dachau, and of his late wife (Michelle Williams), mother to their three tragically deceased young children. The biblical storm unfolding outside only adds to the confusion, ensuring the duo's confinement on the island.
Scorsese offers up a highly stylised and entertaining ghost train ride, calling on his vast love and knowledge of classic Hollywood thrillers and chillers (and, in particular, the work of RKO legend Val Lewton) to deliver his isle of fright. The abstract jabs of ominous orchestral works (sourced by the director's old roommate, The Band's Robbie Robertson), the sharp camera angles and jolt edits all add up to a masterclass in filmmaking the old-fashioned way.
It's telling that Scorsese had his leading man watch such films as Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor (about a journalist who has himself committed to a psychiatric home in order to solve a murder) and some of the classics produced by Val Lewton in the 1940s (including Cat People and The Ghost Ship).
"These films are like mood pieces," says DiCaprio, "and they were a great help in finding the right tone as an actor. You have layers going on with a story like this, and you have to be aware of what you're revealing and what you're not revealing at every point of the story."
Luckily, Leo had a director who understood the fine art of deception. With style.
"Watching Marty put this together was like witnessing a master painter at work," smiles DiCaprio. "He had such a clear idea of what he wanted, how he wanted the film to look, to sound, to feel, and we just had to step into this dark tunnel and find that film. It was the most fun we've ever had, but it wasn't always easy..."
Indeed, Scorsese has spoken of the fact that he and Leo "had to take it much further than we had anticipated".
"We would just find ourselves coming up with ideas on the spot," explains DiCaprio, "or realising that we had to go that extra mile to get the scene that we wanted. It got pretty intense, for both of us. In a good way though. We would both just look at each other at the end of some days, and all we could do was smile. It was just so draining, physically, emotionally, psychologically, but, you know, that's really what you want when you're making a film of this nature.
"If we'd ended each day with a high five and a stroll to the bar I would have been worried."
Leonardo DiCaprio has little to worry about these days, having long gotten over the career bump that was Titanic. Up to that point, the young turk was carving out a career as a beautiful, beguiling character actor. Suddenly, he was a star. His previous outing, Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet lit the fuse, DiCaprio suddenly a pin-up of every young girl's wall. The tragic role of Jack in Titanic was enough for the young Leonardo DiCaprio's career to explode. To the point where the 23-year old actor couldn't step outside his door without the paparazzi photographing his every move. And the world constantly contemplating his next move.
A bit like Robert Pattinson after Twilight broke. Only even more mental.
"I can see it happening with Robert Pattinson, absolutely," laughs DiCaprio, "and it brings back such happy, and crappy, memories. Your life isn't your own when that kind of stardom happens, and you have tabloids every day making up stories about you.
"It's not exactly what an actor dreams of, because your anonymity is gone."
Suddenly, you're Elvis, and that means playing someone else for an audience is nigh on impossible. DiCaprio addressed the issue by playing a variation of himself at that time in Woody Allen's Celebrity, but when he tried to actually act in 1998's The Man In The Iron Mask and 2000's The Beach, audiences just wanted more Jack. Or more Romeo. More Leo.
Today, the 35-year old actor has his career firmly back on track, the boyish good looks still just about there, but those few lines, and the first hints of middle-aged stockiness, giving DiCaprio back the power to be someone else other than a pin-up.
"Getting older has certainly helped," he smiles. "I always knew that I was going to have to wait, to just put my head down and do some good work. That was really one of the main reasons I started working with Marty. I knew we would do some interesting work together, work that wasn't just about the opening weekend."
Ironically, DiCaprio and Scorsese both enjoyed the biggest opening weekends of their respective careers in the US when Shutter Island opened to $41m. Then again, DiCaprio's next outing, Inception with director Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight), looks like a winner too. Partly because the film is shrouded in mystery. A mystery that's wrapped up in an enigma. All dipped in a minimalist advertising campaign.
Due for release in July, can its leading man give us even a small idea of what Inception is about?
"I can tell you it's about two hours long, give or take," DiCaprio smiles. "Anything more than that, and Chris has vowed to have me strung up by my tongue..."
Words - Paul Byrne
Shutter Island hits Irish cinemas March 12th