Warning: This post contains spoilers for Killers of the Flower Moon.
Leonardo DiCaprio has done six movies with Martin Scorsese. In none of these is the handsome actor more pathetic than he is in Killers of the Flower Moon. His Ernest Burkhart is a loser — an shiftless, gutless ne’er-do-well who thinks nothing of working for his psycho uncle, William King Hale (Robert De Niro), even if that means putting his Osage wife (Lily Gladstone) in harm’s way. In one scene Ernest proves his fealty by allowing Hale to paddle the hell out of his bottom. DiCaprio has sometimes gone to extreme for his art, but even for him getting beaten by De Niro was a bridge too far.
“I do remember doing them quite a few [takes] and thinking, ‘Oh, that must hurt,’” Prieto recalled. At least DiCaprio wasn’t going full pseudo-Method. “There was some padding on his butt. But you could tell De Niro was really hitting him.”
Prieto was still impressed. “Leo is game for so much,” he said. “He’ll do anything.”
It’s worth noting that De Niro really does seem to be whacking DiCaprio with full force. At one point, DiCaprio’s knees even buckle under him, causing him to slide on the floor, adding to the humiliation. It’s unclear how much padding he had on his behind, but perhaps enough to have more than an inkling of what the real Burkhart must have gone through, had he really had his derriere beaten inside a Masonic temple.
In the past, though, DiCaprio has sometimes gone full-on. For The Revenant, he really did eat raw bison liver on camera. His reward was an Academy Award. (At least he didn’t have to fight a real bear, which was helpfully CGI.)
While making Flower Moon, DiCaprio took abuse in other ways. Scorsese recently revealed that he did so much ad-libbing that both he and De Niro had to call him out on it.
Killers of the Flower Moon is now in theaters.