MOTW: Five Behind-The-Scenes Facts About "The Wolf of Wall Street"

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Based on the central character's real-life story, this Wall Street-themed crime drama is a big screen adaptation of a memoir of the same name directed and co-produced by Martin Scorsese. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, the former Long Island penny stockbroker who penned his experiences based on what he encountered during a massive securities fraud case of the 1990s. Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey star alongside DiCaprio in the 2013 biography film.
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
February 18th, 2014

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"The Wolf of Wall Street" is a 2013 film directed by acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese, starring the charismatic Leonardo DiCaprio. This film is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, a stockbroker and banker who lived for wealth and consumption, an excess that led to corruption, crime and an inevitable, eventual fall when the FBI apprehended him and charged him for his crimes. Belfort swindled clients out of a whopping $110 million. In exchange for turning on his fellow corrupt colleagues, Belfort plea bargained his prison time down to four years, of which he only served 22 months. Since his release, he has written two books about his life and works as a motivational speaker.

The first intriguing behind-the-scenes tidbit about "The Wolf of Wall Street" is that the actual wolf, Jordan Belfort, consulted on the movie. Because Scorsese, the film's director, makes it a habit not to communicate with the actual people on whom his films are based, DiCaprio was the one who talked with Belfort. The two discussed the character that DiCaprio would play and the realism in the different scenes. Often this meant changing and tweaking a scene. DiCaprio consulted with Belfort when it came time to film the sequence where he has a seizure after taking Lemmon Quaalude, a sedative-hypnotic drug that is used as a muscle relaxant and to treat insomnia. Belfort reenacted the moment so that DiCaprio could record and study it for the film. DiCaprio's portrayal of Belfort's Quaaludes' induced seizures was so accurate and violent that he had to see a chiropractor later. In fact, Belfort was so involved with this movie that he has a cameo in it.

Another tantalizing set of behind-the-scenes facts involves DiCaprio's co-star, Jonah Hill. Hill portrays Donnie Azoff, Belfort's friend and business partner. During one of Belfort's infamous parties where the alcohol and drugs are flowing, Azoff nearly chokes on a piece of ham. After Belfort successfully uses the Heimlich maneuver to save his friend, the offending piece of ham sticks to his face. It took 70 takes for the ham to actually stick to DiCaprio's face, and the production team had to combine K-Y Jelly with the meat to get it to stick. In another scene Azoff swallows a goldfish whole. To film it, Hill actually put the goldfish in his mouth where, according to all accounts, the goldfish then proceeded to defecate in his mouth. Although Hill was willing to actually swallow the fish, PETA stepped in and forbade it.

During one scene where Belfort and his fellow corrupt bankers are dong cocaine, the actors were actually snorting white powder. The difference is that this white powder was made entirely of ground-up vitamin B tablets. Apparently, according to one of the actors, snorting the tablets was not nearly as difficult or painful as he feared.

One behind-the-scenes fact that Leonardo DiCaprio fans everywhere are sure to enjoy is that the dance moves he performs in one scene are all his own moves. DiCaprio did not have to learn anything new for his portrayal of Jordan Belfort because he is proficient in pop-lock, a type of dance that utilizes rhythmic muscle contractions and movements.

Finally, fans of "The Wolf of Wall Street" will be surprised to know that McConaughey did a lot of improvisation work in his role as Belfort's boss, Mark Hanna. The most notable moment of improvisation is filmed in the scene where Belfort and Hanna are sitting in an upscale restaurant, and Hanna is advising his new, young employee on how to live life with drugs and sex. In this scene, Hanna shows Belfort the "War Cry of Greed," which becomes a hedonistic rallying cry for the rest of the movie. In reality, McConaughey was beating his chest and doing an acting exercise. Scorsese just happened to catch the moment on film, and everything else grew out of that moment, including the resulting rap number.

"The Wolf of Wall Street" contains several other interesting facts. One such factoid is that the actual movie is only three-quarters the length of the original cut, a four-hour long movie. Another factoid is that the comedy aspect in the movie was completely unintentional. The dark humor grew out of the ridiculous lavishness of the lives of the actual men behind the story. A final takeaway is that DiCaprio sees this movie as a cautionary film, one that warns against excess and greed and paints a dire future of corruption if the tide is not stemmed.