“Every now and then, Bob and I would look at each other and roll our eyes a little bit. And we’d tell [Leo], ‘You don’t need that dialogue,’” Scorsese, 80, told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published on Thursday, October 19.
The two actors couldn’t be more different, the director told the outlet, adding that some of DiCaprio’s creative choices were so “endless, endless, endless,” that De Niro, 80, “didn’t want to talk.”
Based on David Grann’s 2017 nonfiction book of the same name, Killers of the Flower Moon is a western crime saga based in 1920s Oklahoma on Osage Nation land. When Osage people begin getting murdered one by one after oil is found, the FBI steps in to investigate. Apple TV+ is distributing the film, which premieres in theaters on Friday, October 20.
When Scorsese and cowriter Eric Roth first set out to craft the on-screen adaptation of Grann’s story, DiCaprio, 48, was signed to portray Tom White — the lead FBI agent on the case — with Paramount backing the film. However, DiCaprio requested the script undergo an overhaul more than two years into the writing process.
“Leo came to me and asked, ‘Where is the heart of this story?’” Scorsese shared. “I had had meetings and dinners with the Osage, and I thought, ‘Well, there’s the story.’ The real story, we felt, was not necessarily coming from the outside, with the bureau, but rather from the inside, from Oklahoma.”
DiCaprio swapped roles, now playing Ernest Burkhart — a World War 1 veteran who gets pulled into his uncle William K. Hale’s (DeNiro) greedy plot to rob the Osage of its wealth. The new script now focuses more on his marriage to Osage wife Mollie (Lily Gladstone). Jesse Plemons stepped in to play Tom White, with the FBI story line becoming a secondary focus.
Scorsese’s changes to the film ultimately prompted Paramount to pull their financing due to the increase in budget. When Apple TV+ eventually stepped in to provide the $200 million needed to produce the movie, Paramount rejoined as a theatrical distribution partner. (Paramount’s decision to back out of Killers of the Flower Moon marked the second time they’d pulled financing from Scorsese. The studio parted ways with him amid production for The Irishman due to budget conflicts.)
“After a certain point, I realized I was making a movie about all the white guys,” Scorsese told Time magazine in September 2023 about the drastic changes. “Meaning I was taking the approach from the outside in, which concerned me.”
Gladstone, meanwhile, told Vulture in August that the film’s new iteration is “not a white-savior story” but “the Osage saying, ‘Do something. Here’s money. Come help us.’”
In May, Osage Nation’s Chief Standing Bear reflected on the past events as a “deep betrayal” of his people during a Killers of the Flower Moon press conference.
“My people suffered greatly, and to this very day, those effects are with us,” he shared. “But I can say, on behalf of the Osage, Marty Scorsese and his team have restored trust, and we know that trust will not be betrayed.”
Although the film’s runtime has garnered criticism — it clocks in at a lofty 3.5 hours — Scorsese hopes that people will give the movie the “respect” it deserves.
“People say it’s three hours, but come on,” he told The Hindustan Times in an interview earlier this month. “You can sit in front of the TV and watch something for five hours. Also, there are many people who watch theater for 3.5 hours. There are real actors on stage, you can’t get up and walk around. You give it that respect, give cinema some respect.”
He continued: “In the case of Killers of the Flower Moon, it should be seen on the big screen. Are we intending to make a blockbuster? No, we’re making a movie, which should be watched on the big screen. Other pictures I made? Maybe not. Sometimes, it’s the strength of the picture too, if it plays well on a smaller screen, that’s interesting. Killers could play on a small screen, but in order to truly immerse yourself, you should take out the time.”