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Martin Scorsese’s Favorite Shot in Wolf of Wall Street Was the DiCaprio-Quaalude One

Last night at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City, Leonardo DiCaprio, Wolf of Wall Street screenwriter Terence Winter, and longtime Scorsese editor Thelma Schoonmaker got together as part of a short DiCaprio-Scorsese retrospective to discuss their most recent film. One topic was of discussion was the film's lengthy Quaalude scene, in which Jordan (DiCaprio) and Donnie (Jonah Hill) pop some decades-old sedatives, with interesting results.

According to Winter, the idea to combine the first part of the scene — which involves Jordan losing control of his body outside a country club — with Donnie's choking scene that comes later arose from the extensive script meetings that Scorsese, DiCaprio, and Winter held prior to shooting. “At some point during that we were laughing, and Leo remarked about the great energy in that scene. We were talking about Goodfellas and the scene of you know, that sequence with Ray Liotta’s crazy day and trying to get to the hospital ... and Leo said, 'Guys, if there’s a way to extend this, that would be great,” explained Winter. “And there is a sequence that’s at the end of that where something happens to Jonah Hill, without giving it away, but that was originally a completely separate scene. And that was Leo’s idea: What if we take a run at combining that, and that became an extended sequence in the film that I think we all agree was one of the funniest bits in the entire movie.” 

Schoonmaker also talked about Scorsese’s decision to shoot a portion of that scene solely as a single shot. “Marty had this determined feeling that the last part of that Quaalude scene, of Leo dragging himself across the ground to get to the car, and getting his legs stuck in the door, all of that, he decided that he wanted that just as a master shot,” explained Schoonmaker. “And when I saw the dailies I said, didn’t you get a close-up of it? And he said no, no, no, the humor is there in the master shot. This is my favorite shot in the whole movie, so I just want to hold on it. And he was dead right.”

As often happens when Scorsese is being discussed, the conversation devolved fairly quickly into hagiography. "This is one of the rare opportunities where you’ll see a sort of grand American epic, where it’s truly the director’s vision," said DiCaprio. "This is the director’s cut."

Photo: Mary Cybulski/Paramount Pictures