A Conversation With Martin Scorsese

The iconic director on 3D movies, old New York, Boardwalk Empire, and his eponymous drinking game.

Photo courtesy of Hennessy.

DETAILS: At the SAG Awards earlier this year, the ladies of Bridesmaids came up with a unique drinking game—they took a shot every time someone said "Martin Scorsese." Later, when they presented at the Oscars, the joke came up again when someone in the audience shouted "Scorsese!" What do you think of the tribute?

Martin Scorsese: I jumped, first of all, when I heard my name being shouted about. I'd just gone through almost four months of promoting Hugo and being all over the world and answering questions and talking to people on red carpets. You hear your name being shouted and you jump! Spielberg was sitting across the aisle. I said, 'Steve did you have anything to do with this?' He said, 'No, I didn't!'

DETAILS: Have people mentioned the Martin Scorsese Drinking Game to you since?

Martin Scorsese: Yes, of course. It's become a thing! All right. Drink. Enjoy yourself! (huge laugh)

DETAILS: When the Academy went to 10 Best Picture nominees, did it somehow cheapen the awards?

Martin Scorsese: I kind of feel it diffuses it, in a way. I'm confused by it. But maybe it's just me. I'm an older generation. I don't know.

DETAILS: Is there one performance this year that was overlooked?

Martin Scorsese: There are many, I think. This year was interesting for me. I think of DiCaprio in J. Edgar—he was really remarkable. I'm watching the film and the film is so meditative. And so interior. And it was being drawn into this man's world, and seeing everything through the paranoid eyes. There's something in his performance—you really want to see what these people are going to do. And I don't like them! (bigger laugh) I thought it was amazing. I can't believe that it was overlooked by the academy.

DETAILS: You're working with Hennessy. Why did you decide to appear in their advertisement?

Martin Scorsese: The Michael J. Fox Foundation—Hennessy is donating $250,000. The Foundation means a lot to me.

DETAILS: Have you always been a Cognac drinker?

Martin Scorsese: No, I had to develop into it. I grew up in the Lower East Side, an Italian American—more Sicilian, actually. We were living in tenements. It was the mid 20th century, more than half a century ago. It was a very different time. Working class people—we didn't drink wine. If we drank wine, it was made by my grandfather in the basement. It was taken care of. The police didn't bother you.

DETAILS: You've made some of the most iconic films about New York. Mean Streets. Taxi Driver. I'm not sure it's the same New York anymore. How do you feel about the city these days?

Martin Scorsese: Fran Lebowitz pointed out—people always think of New York when they were younger. 'It's a great time!' As you get older it's, 'What happened?' But the young generation is still saying the same thing—this is the greatest time. Years from now they'll say 2014 was the best time ever. But we're saying, 'It's all gone.'

DETAILS: I don't know that young people are saying this is such a great time, though I know what you mean. What are some positive recent developments?

Martin Scorsese: What's happened is interesting. I'll never forget the first time there was an idea of saving the environment and establishing a respect for the American culture—it was when they were taking down the Metropolitan Opera House and Jackie Kennedy and all the people in New York were rebelling against it. It didn't work. They took it down anyway. I became aware, they're taking down these beautiful buildings that represent who we are as a culture. What I'm very pleased to see is a reconstruction and restoration and a renovation.

DETAILS: How so?

Martin Scorsese: This [neighborhood] was a factory. You didn't come here. It was the meatpacking [district]! You want meat, eventually they'll deliver it—and characterless buildings replacing these buildings—there's been an embracing of the architecture. People much younger than me, they appreciate the architecture, and the architecture has appreciated.

DETAILS: What do you miss about the old New York?

Martin Scorsese: I'll tell you, I miss the old Italian restaurants on Mulberry Street. We never really went to many, but . . .

DETAILS: Because there wasn't enough money to eat at restaurants?

Martin Scorsese: No. If your mother cooks Italian food, why should you go to a restaurant? But in the 1970s, it was different and I was making films and we'd go down to Palucci's and Villa Roma and places like that that are gone. There's more tourist-type places now. That's disturbing.

DETAILS: Your next project is another New York story, The Wolf of Wall Street, about Jordan Belfort—a 1990s finance guy who refused to cooperate with a securities fraud investigation and (among other things) ran up a $700,000 hotel bill. What about that story resonates with you?

Martin Scorsese: A lot of people have asked me, 'Don't you want to do something about the economic situation?' And Leo has a passion for the character. That and the film is able to make comments about the values in our culture—in terms of not caring about hurting other people and taking their lives, their houses, cheating other people constantly.

DETAILS: Do you think we're through with the worst of the economic crisis?

Martin Scorsese: For now, probably. But it will happen again. It's the history of the country, and it's happened many times all over the world throughout history.

DETAILS: Hugo was in 3D. Will Wolf of Wall Street be, as well?

Martin Scorsese: I don't think so. I'd like to!

DETAILS: Has making a film in 3D changed the way you work?

Martin Scorsese: I've always been interested in it. But I was never able to use it. I was never able to get it. First of all, it had fallen out of fashion and it took too much money.

DETAILS: What changed?

Martin Scorsese: When I saw James Cameron deliver an address—really, a speech to us—in San Francisco.

DETAILS: Was this a Ted Talk or something?

Martin Scorsese: No, George Lucas called together a group to talk about digital projecting. It was Oliver Stone, Spielberg, Michael Mann, Francis Coppola—all of us.

DETAILS: That's quite a room! What's that conversation like?

Martin Scorsese: When I walked into the room, Francis looks at me and the first thing he says is, 'You look like your father!' I said, 'You're right!' That's what it's come to. James Cameron didn't show up, but he sent a video, and he's talking on the video—in 3D. I said, 'Jeez, look at that. I bet you he's going to go there. That's what we should be doing.' It's just him sitting there talking—and it's as if he's in the room! This is exactly what we need. I thought I'd never get a chance to do it. Then Hugo came around. I'm hoping more directors use 3D for dramatic films.

DETAILS: Leonardo DiCaprio just shot Gatsby in 3D with Baz Luhrmann.

Martin Scorsese: Baz Luhrmann came and saw 15 minutes of Hugo. He got up and said, 'This is it! I'm going to use it.' I'm sure he'd decided before. But he wanted to see the system and how we were using it. He went down to Australia and that was it.

DETAILS: Is 3D going to save the film industry from the threat of piracy?

Martin Scorsese: Well, I think the audience has always wanted something to experience in the theater that they can't experience at home. That's what happened in the 50s with widescreen and stereophonic sound.

DETAILS: There are 3D televisions now.

Martin Scorsese: But we'll always need that audience experience—to share something with people around you. And 3D just seems natural. That's the way we experience life.

DETAILS: Let's talk TV. Will you direct another episode of Boardwalk Empire?

Martin Scorsese: I hope so. It's purely timing now. I'm going to do Wolf this summer. We should have started last week!

DETAILS: Where does Boardwalk Empire go from here? I was shocked when Michael Pitt's character was killed off.

Martin Scorsese: Well, the third season is pretty interesting. I don't want to give away anything. But you'll be surprised. Do you know what happened at the end of the 1920s? The worst economic crash in the world. You have all these people—bang bang bang—having a great time. Prohibition was a noble experiment, but you wind up nurturing the underworld. The whole story goes that way up until the market crashes.

DETAILS: Last question: You're attached to direct The Snowman—based on a kick-ass Norwegian crime novel. Why are the best crime stories coming from Norway these days?

Martin Scorsese: It's very dark there. There's hardly any sun!

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