LOS ANGELES — Leonardo DiCaprio made the decision not to wrap the tops of his fingers in warming bandages on the first day of shooting the endurance drama The Revenant.
He would come to regret that seemingly minor wardrobe choice.
“It’s those decisions early in a film that come back to haunt you,” says DiCaprio, 41. “But I decided not to cover any of my fingers because I wanted to manipulate my environment. And, of course, I ended up crawling through miles and miles of snow-covered landscape.”
Not just miles and miles over one day. The heavily bearded DiCaprio crawled, swam and limped through the brutal winter in northern Canada as he portrayed Hugh Glass, the 19th-century frontiersman upon whom epic tale The Revenant (opens Christmas Day in New York and Los Angeles, nationwide Jan. 8) is based.
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Glass was famously mauled by a grizzly and left for dead, yet managed to crawl back to civilization to seek revenge. (The title references a person who has returned from the dead.)
Shooting the odyssey with director Alejandro González Iñárritu over six months was the most grueling film challenge in DiCaprio’s storied career. Yes, even more difficult than braving the cold waters for his starmaking role in 1997’s Titanic.
“I put this in a category unto itself,” DiCaprio says. “We knew what we were signing up for when you say you’re going to do this in subzero temperatures in places untouched by man.”
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as legendary frontiersman Hugh
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass in ‘The Revenant.’ (Photo: Kimberley French, 20th Century Fox)
While DiCaprio doesn’t love dwelling on those challenges during an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel, they are becoming part of Hollywood lore. No acting was required to look cold while being immersed in frigid rivers or tossed around by a stuntman during the intricate CGI bear attack.
“The main nemesis making this film was always the weather,” DiCaprio says. “It was a struggle to stay warm and not get hypothermia.”
His quest for reality even carried into a scene in which DiCaprio eats freshly bloodied bison liver. He asked for the real thing instead of a gelatin replica. His screen retch is real.