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Martin Scorsese Goes Gangster in The Departed

By Julian Roman — October 3rd, 2006

Martin Scorsese Interview

The director returns to form with an all-star cast

Martin Scorsese goes gangster again in The Departed. The auteur returns to form with a visceral adaptation of the Hong Kong classic, Infernal Affairs. The plot moves to Boston, where two undercover Irish cops engage in a dangerous game of cat and mouse. The film has an all-star cast with Scorsese favorite Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead and Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Wahlberg supporting. The Departed is the first collaboration between Scorsese and Jack Nicholson; who eats up the screen as the twisted mob boss Frank Costello.

You've made a career of Italian gangster films. What drew you to this story of Irish-American gangsters?

Martin Scorsese: I've always felt a close affinity with the Irish. Particularly coming out of the same area of New York City. It goes back to Gangs of New York, stories about the way the Irish helped create New York and America. I have a very strong love for cinema and some of the greatest filmmakers to come out of Hollywood were Irishmen, John Ford and others. You talk about a Ford film and you talk about the family structure. "How Green Was My Valley" was about Welsh miners, but it was directed by an Irishman. It has that warmth that we felt, the family structure of the Irish and the Italians. Yes, there were some differences when they first moved in the same neighborhood. Irish literature is very important to me and the poetry of the Irish is something that's extraordinary. The Irish sense of Catholicism is a very interesting contrast to the Italian sense of Catholicism and that's very interesting to me. So that's my personal reasons. And besides, the script is written by William Moynihan.

Are there any similarities between The Departed and the Hong Kong film it was based on, Infernal Affairs?

Martin Scorsese: I didn't think of it as Hong Kong. I just thought of it as how Bill put together the script. I liked the idea. Hong Kong cinema, once I saw John Wu's The Killer, you can't go near that. You can't even begin, as far as my skills as a filmmaker, you can't. It's a whole other thing going on here. Even if I had a moment where I said to myself, gee, maybe I can make a film like John Wu; you have to appreciate as a filmmaker new ways of making narrative film. I was responding to how Bill Moynihan put down a way of life, a way of thinking, an attitude, a cultural look at the world, a very, very enclosed society. That's what I responded to. Taking from the Hong Kong trilogy, Andrew Lau's film, that's the device, the plot, the idea. The concept of the two informers, and whether I like it or not, I am drawn to stories that have to do with trust and betrayal. I found that I kept being drawn back to the script and to the project. It became something else.

How did the script evolve over the shoot? We've heard that Jack Nicholson especially did some different things?

Martin Scorsese: It evolved over a long process, a very long process. Ever since I've been making film, I've loved talking about how the process has got to be the way they are, between the writers, myself, and the actors, but I've found over the years that it gets misunderstood. So it could be harmful to Bill or the people involved. You have to be there. It's the old phrase. You really had to be there. It's a collaborative process, there's no doubt, but the basis is what Bill did. And he continued to do when it was called upon to evolve a character, that's how that worked. Nicholson worked in a different way, but that again is kind of a private process. You'd have to be a part of that situation. It's something that's we developed as a character that was a little different than what Bill had put in. We had decided the power of this man and the appearance of his total coming apart with such power. We went in that direction, supplemented by Bill, and whoever else had an idea. This is the way I work. This is my process. And the other actors can talk, but we all worked together.

The last shot of the rat is great. Was that always your choice for the ending?

Martin Scorsese: I thought it was pretty strong. Bill had written, "and then a strange thing happens", comma, "a rat comes out and starts to eat the croissants". That's really strange, that's interesting. I don't know what you would call it. It really isn't meant to be literal, but it's a comment on the subject matter. Without giving out the story, it's what's in the beginning of the frame, and then as the rat is revealed, it's the image of the statehouse itself, the gold dome, a throwback to the old gangster genre. It also represents that for me the developed a sense of paranoia and betrayal and one person never knowing who the other person is or what the other person is doing, or if you can believe anybody. It kind of reflects the world now, the America that we now know, post September 11th. All those elements are in there, but first on an entertainment level as a reference back to the old gangster genre.

The Departed is in theaters this Friday and is rated 'R' for strong brutal violence, pervasive language, some strong sexual content and drug material.

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