NBR Awards: 'Wolf of Wall Street' Producers, Rob Reiner Dismiss Claims Film Glorifies Bad Behavior
"Saving Mr. Banks" star Emma Thompson also discussed P.L. Travers' motivation in her dealings with Disney, and Will Forte ("Nebraska") talked about pursuing similar, unexpected projects.
The Wolf of Wall Street arrived at Tuesday night's National Board of Review awards gala having already won best adapted screenplay and the spotlight award recognizing Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese's career collaboration. But the film also has found itself the subject of criticism from those who see it as glorifying the greed and debaucherous behavior of Jordan Belfort, the real-life basis for the film's main character, played by DiCaprio.
Scorsese, DiCaprio and others have dismissed that perspective on the film, with DiCaprio telling The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg, "Look, it is a cautionary tale. It is an indictment of this world. We don't like these people."
Speaking to THR on the red carpet ahead of the ceremony at Cipriani 42nd Street in Manhattan, The Wolf of Wall Street's producers, screenwriter Terence Winter and castmember Rob Reiner also came to the film's defense.
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Producers Joey McFarland of Red Granite and Emma Tillinger Koskoff said that they recognize that films dealing with issues such as those explored in Wolf, particularly ones involving the economy and victims of fraud, are likely to have some controversy attached. But they both insisted the film doesn't glorify Belfort.
"I'm not exactly sure where the glorifying comes from because the despicable acts that we represent in our movie are far from glorious," said McFarland, whose firm financed the movie.
Winter expressed similar confusion: "For the life of me, I can't imagine anybody watching this movie and think that that is behavior that any sane person would want to emulate or find attractive or glorifying or glamorous."
"It's the same thing I experienced on Sopranos," said the former writer and producer for the HBO series. "I never looked at Tony Soprano, for example, and thought, oh, that's a guy that I'd like to be. And certainly Jordan, to be addicted to drugs and have your family unravel and go to jail, if you find that glorifying or glamorous, so be it, but again, that's sort of a head-scratcher."
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But perhaps Reiner, who plays Belfort's father, put it best.
"There's nothing glorified about a man stealing his child, hitting his wife in the face and being high as a kite," the legendary actor-director-producer told THR. "There's nothing glorified about that.… If you think that's a thing to aspire to, then I think you gotta think a little bit."
Reiner also compared the controversy around Wolf to the one he faced with All in the Family.
Incidentally, Reiner said that Scorsese and DiCaprio, who have worked on five films together, made him feel like family on the Wolf set.
"They are very cognizant of the fact that since they are so close, like a family, that when an outsider comes in like me, they know that the way they're going to get the best work is to make you feel like you're part of that family, which is what they did," Reiner said.
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When asked how their experience together manifested itself onset, co-star Jonah Hill told THR, "I think shorthand and understanding the common goal of what the film was and just both being so talented and aware of one another."
Hill added that Scorsese and DiCaprio worked together "on a level I'd never seen two people collaborate on before in terms of skill and quality at that level and knowing one another so well."
Koskoff, who has worked with Scorsese since The Aviator and thus seen his relationship with DiCaprio grow over multiple films, said of their collaboration: "There's a shorthand, there's a trust. They share a lot of the same sensibilities. It's just a wonderful creative partnership and let's hope for many, many more."
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Others in attendance to accept their previously announced awards included Emma Thompson, best actress winner for her performance as P.L. Travers in Saving Mr. Banks.
[SPOILER ALERT: The following paragraph contains spoilers from Saving Mr. Banks. Do not read if you haven't seen the film.]
In the film, the reason behind Travers' final decision to grant Disney the movie rights to Mary Poppins seems a bit ambiguous, with her saying "enough" as she signs the paperwork, after fighting with the filmmakers, facing financial difficulties and receiving a plea from Tom Hanks' Walt Disney that he'll see to it that the film's Mr. Banks is represented in a way she'd approve of. But Thompson said there was a simple reason for Travers' decision: "It was needing the money. And we laugh, but this is a woman who didn't have a father, who didn't have a husband, who had to make a living, was about to lose her house. She didn't want to let go of it, but economic necessity meant that she had to."
[END OF SPOILERS]
Will Forte also was recognized for his supporting role in Nebraska, which was a bit of a departure for the SNL alum from his broad-comedy background. But producer Albert Berger said Forte's comedy background helped him land some of the film's funnier lines.
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"Because of his comedic timing, there are some very funny lines in the movie that he kind of understates … just his ability with those lines, and he knew not to oversell them," Berger said.
Forte seemed genuinely touched by the NBR honor, saying, "It's so exciting! It means so much to have gotten this award. It's something I never would have expected and am really thankful for."
He also told THR that his experience on Nebraska made him want to pursue similar projects.
"I would love to try to do something else like this," he said. "This Nebraska experience has just been amazing. If I got a chance to do something different like this again, I would jump at it. It's just been nothing but incredibly exciting and was the most unexpected thing of all time for me."
Other award recipients who stopped to talk to THR ahead of the gala included producer David Heyman (part of a team receiving the Creative Innovation in Filmmaking Award for Gravity), who said he was just "enjoying the ride" after the many years it took to make the space epic, and Sarah Polley (best documentary winner for Stories We Tell), who said of her win, "It's kind of overwhelming to be honest. I mean, it's thrilling, but it's strange to have made a film so quietly and for so long feeling like not many people would see it, and then to have it recognized on this level is a really surreal experience."