An Actor Prepares: On Revenant, DiCaprio, and the Silly Things Actors Do in Order to Play Pretend

He risked hypothermia, he ate bison liver, and slept in an animal carcass. Or so actor Leonardo DiCaprio, claims. These are just of some of the stupid things he and other actors like him do when playing pretend. All in pursuit of Oscar glory. But will he finally get the golden statue named Oscar which has eluded him all the years? Does it really matter in the larger scheme of things. No, it doesn’t. And here’s why …

Revenant is the new Alejandro González Iñárritu film co-starring DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. The movie takes place in the 1820’s. DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass, a frontiersman who sets out on a path of vengeance against those who left him for dead after he’s attacked by a bear. And by the looks of the trailer, this is going to be an intense film. Thankfully, it’s all fun entertainment. Of course, don’t tell that to Leo who slept in an animal carcass. Yes, that’s what I said. An animal carcass.

I thought risking my life for college was being tough. Boy was I wrong. I joined the military when I was seventeen precisely because I could not afford to go to college. The military offered me assistance. All I had to do was sign on the dotted line, give up a decade of my life and risk going to war so I could pursue my goal of an education. I used to joke with friends that I was willing to die to get a college diploma. I thought I was tough shit. I was so wrong. So very wrong. Leo is tough shit.

According to an interview Leo gave to Vanity Fair concerning the film Revenant, he remarks:

“I can name 30 or 40 sequences that were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Whether it’s going in and out of frozen rivers, or sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on set. [I was] enduring freezing cold and possible hypothermia constantly.” […] “I certainly don’t eat raw bison liver on a regular basis. When you see the movie, you’ll see my reaction to it, because Alejandro kept it in. It says it all. It was an instinctive reaction.” — Leonardo DiCaprio

This reminds of that famous exchange between actors Dustin Hoffman and the late Shakespearean actor, Laurence Olivier. They were both in the middle of filming the 1976 movie, Marathon Man. Hoffman, being a method actor, stayed up all night to play a character who has stayed up all night. Arriving on the set that morning, Olivier asked Hoffman why he looked the way he did. Hoffman explained to him what he was doing or order to achieve realism in his acting. To which Olivier replied, “Have you ever tried acting, my dear boy? Have you ever tried pretending to stay up all night?” This story is a favorite among acting geeks because it explores some of the different philosophies in acting. Method acting has only recently proved largely unnecessary. But it still has its defenders.

However, in 2004 Hoffman finally admitted this story was mostly taken out of context. Hoffman now claims that he was, in fact, out partying at Studio 54 the night before and that Olivier’s comment was a mild rebuke for his debauchery. Be that true or not, I prefer the story over what Hoffman is now saying. It certainly has more charm to it than the latter version.

Going back to Leo, how far is too far?

“Some other actor (in a movie directed by someone other than Iñarritu) might have faked it, using a green screen or other cinematic trickery, but that wouldn’t have made for nearly as strong an Oscar campaign. Ball’s in your court, Fassbender.” — Huffington Post

Sarcasm aside, this movie was plagued with problems due to the weather and a director who pushed his cast and crew to their limit. According to a July 2015 Guardian article: “While conditions were undeniably brutal, now Damian Petti, president of film crew union body IATSE Local 212, suggests that cast and crew may have been in real danger. He told the Hollywood Reporter that production executives ignored multiple warnings about safety concerns.” In a later article, the Guardian goes on to say, “Crew members say the production suffered extensive delays due to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s determination to shoot only in natural light, and Iñárritu’s preference for filming in chronological sequence. There were also issues with a lack of snow on location in Canada, and the production has now shifted to Argentina in search of the white stuff. One worker described conditions on set to the Hollywood Reporter as ‘a living hell’.”

In February 2014, camera assistance Sarah Jones who was working on the Gregg Allman biopic Midnight Rider was struck and killed by a train on location in Georgia. The director and producer were not given permission to film at those train tracks, but did it any way. An accident that could have easily been avoided but wasn’t. This same director pleaded guilty and is now serving jail time. Jones’ parents, who attended the trials said they hoped the jail sentences would encourage Hollywood to improve safety on the set. [Reference]

Although no one died during the making of Revenant, it is rather disturbing that a director like Iñárritu is allowed to continue in the way he has. Is it because he recently won an Oscar for his film Birdman? It seems the lessons of Sarah Jones’ death have already been forgotten.

In the land of pretend and make believe is any of this really necessary? We praise actors as if they were superheroes. As if they actually did the things they pretend to do on film and television. In a recent award acceptance speech, Jerry Seinfeld makes several good points on this:

Seinfeld goes on to call awards in general, stupid. Comparing awards to one big jerk off: “Awards don’t mean a god damn thing.” It’s a brutally honest and hilarious speech but a necessary speech for the entertainment industry and mabye the whole world. This is all pretend. There is no need to kill onself in order to make a film. “Why do we care so much about actors in this culture?” Jerry asks. He goes on to make fun of people praising someone for pretending to be a famous person. “Playing dress-up and pretend is not genius, ladies and gentlemen,” Seifeld says. Simply said: There is no need to give actors the same reverence one would give to Nelson Mandela, Pope Francis, or Malala Yousafzai.

I have no doubt The Revenant will be a great and entertaining film. Tom Hardy and Leonard Dicaprio and amazingly talented actors. Iñárritu will no doubt go down in history as one of the greatest film directors to ever live. I cannot wait to see the end product. Thankfully no one died to make this film. But boy, did they try.

Originally published at on October 27, 2015.


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