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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Hollywood is ready for its most uninhibited awards ceremony, the Golden Globes, this Sunday. And the most uninhibited movie nominated has got to be "The Wolf of Wall Street."

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE WOLF OF WALL STREET")

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (as Jordan Belfort) To celebrate with our weekly act of debauchery, I've offered our lovely sales assistant here $10,000 to shave her (bleep) head.

GREENE: Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a real-life former stock broker and conman. DiCaprio has had plenty of roles in his career, but there's something about this one that screams out this guy's come a long way from his innocence on the deck of the Titanic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE WOLF OF WALL STREET")

DICAPRIO: (as Jordan Belfort) Is your landlord ready to evict you? Good. Pick up the phone and start dialing. Does your girlfriend think you're a (bleep) loser? Good. Pick up the phone and start dialing. I want you to deal with your problems by becoming rich.

GREENE: "The Wolf of Wall Street" is hilarious, at times, but it's so full of drugs and nudity that director Martin Scorsese barely escaped an NC17 rating. It's drawn criticism for its depiction of amoral wannabe masters of the universe, but DiCaprio says that was the idea.

DICAPRIO: It's the exploration of greed, in a lot of ways. And, to me, it's the most destructive force in our modern era, and it's going to continue to be so.

GREENE: Well, if greed is such a destructive force, I mean, does that make greed good entertainment?

DICAPRIO: Well, in this movie, absolutely. It's incredibly entertaining. The entire film is insane. It's hedonism at its finest.

(LAUGHTER)

DICAPRIO: I mean, it's - I really came into this film with the attitude of doing a Roman emperor right before the fall of the empire. I mean, I looked at these people as people that had no real sensibility for anything around them except their own indulgences.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE WOLF OF WALL STREET")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Look at this - $26,000 for one dinner!

DICAPRIO: (as Jordan Belfort) No, no, no. This could be explained.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: We had client. We have five - the Pfizer clients.

(as Jordan Belfort) Right. The porterhouse from Argentina.

DICAPRIO: The expensive champagne and the - we had to buy champagne. And you ordered all the sides. Tell him about the sides you ordered. Tell about the sides, son.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Sides? Sides?

DICAPRIO: (as Jordan Belfort) Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: $26,000 worth of sides? What are these sides? They cure cancer?

DICAPRIO: It's incredibly freeing, performance-wise, to have no moral high ground and nobody really in the film that I had to answer to.

GREENE: Speaking of moral high ground, some of the victims of these schemes, in theory, could've had the moral high ground. Did you and Scorsese make a decision that you didn't want to tell their stories?

DICAPRIO: That was a specific choice on our part, yes. Absolutely.

GREENE: And why make that choice?

DICAPRIO: Because, to us, the intoxication of this world is far more fascinating. I think everyone knows the ramifications of this sort of attitude, where people find the loopholes in our financial systems and take advantage of others. We've heard those stories. To us, it was much more important to explore how you can get so lost in a world where you're like the ship driving forward, and you don't even pay attention to the wake of your destruction. And the victims are irrelevant. And at the end of the film, you know, there's a great irony that I don't want to give away, but in the world that we live in, these people don't suffer or really pay the price.

GREENE: You wanted to really submerge in this so much that you spent a lot of time with Jordan Belfort himself to prepare to play him on the big screen. What's he like?

DICAPRIO: What I got to experience in speaking with Jordan on a personal level was how incredibly forthright he was about how lost he was during this time, and how completely consumed by all these deadly sins. And when you have somebody that you can interact with on a personal level that divulges that much personal information, it can only improve your performance. So I worked with him for months, you know. I even had him rolling around, showing me what the Quaaludes were like on the floor. I videotaped him.

GREENE: So, he was literally on the floor showing you, hey, Leo, this is what it was like when I was all drugged up?

DICAPRIO: Yes. Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE WOLF OF WALL STREET")

DICAPRIO: (as Jordan Belfort) No, I didn't try to bribe an FBI agent. You think I'm stupid? No.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What are you saying? I can't understand. Say that again.

DICAPRIO: (as Jordan Belfort) (mumbles)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Are you high?

DICAPRIO: (as Jordan Belfort) (mumbles)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Jordan, do me a favor. Stay where you are. Don't get behind the wheel of the car. I'll send someone over to pick you up.

Jordan!

GREENE: You even decided to make a promotional video for Jordan Belfort in his business...

DICAPRIO: Mm-hmm.

GREENE: ...to promote him as a good motivational speaker. Why'd you decide to do that?

DICAPRIO: The endorsement from me was a simple one. I see that he's done everything he possibly can to repay his victims, and since then, he's been trying to influence others to make the right decisions.

GREENE: Some people have a different take of Jordan Belfort. I mean, there have been prosecutors who have said that he hasn't done all he can to pay back his victims that he's been required to do under the law. Do you ever worry that you were conned by him, in a way, and that you have a too-glowing perception of him?

DICAPRIO: Look, I mean, no. I don't believe that I'm conned by him at all. To me, this is not about Jordan Belfort. To me, he's a microcosm of a much bigger story. We wanted people to have a closer understanding of what this ride would be like. Why is screwing people over and giving in to your own indulgences and ultimately doing just what's right for you so seductive? And that's the movie that we wanted to do.

GREENE: Do you ever think back to the media tour during "Titanic" and, I don't know, perhaps that was more fun, because you weren't answering one question after another about the criticism of the film you're in?

DICAPRIO: I'm actually happy to talk about it. You know, a little bit of controversy is amazing, because it shakes things up. To me, I'm incredibly proud that this film is taking chances, and I think that as the rest of history unfolds, we'll be looking at this film as something that was somewhat groundbreaking, in a lot of ways.

GREENE: I wonder if you could confirm something that I've read, which is that you got your name, Leonardo, at a moment related to a famous painter.

DICAPRIO: From what my father tells me, yes, that's the truth. My father tells me that they were on their honeymoon at the Uffizi gallery in Florence, I believe. They were looking at a Da Vinci painting, and allegedly, I started kicking furiously while my mother was pregnant. And my father took that as a sign, and I suppose DiCaprio wasn't that far off from Da Vinci. And so, my dad, being the artist that he is, said that's our boy's name.

GREENE: This is a movie where you appear naked at times. There are sex scenes. There are drug scenes. Were your parents able to watch it?

DICAPRIO: Of course.

(LAUGHTER)

DICAPRIO: Granted, I am almost 40 years old now, so I'd hope that I wouldn't have to answer to them, even though I think that the perception of me is still the child actor that, you know, people would wonder what my parents thought. But to tell you the truth, it didn't faze them whatsoever. I mean, I was reading underground comics in the back of my dad's station wagon that were much more gratuitous than this at 10 years old. So nothing really affected them on that level.

GREENE: Leonardo DiCaprio, thanks so much for taking the time on the program. We appreciate it.

DICAPRIO: Thank you so much.

GREENE: Leonardo DiCaprio. He has Golden Globe acting and producing nominations for "The Wolf of Wall Street." This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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