Once you reach a certain height of celebrity in Hollywood, it is assumed that you can get any project off the ground in any role you prefer. But that was apparently not the case for Leonardo DiCaprio for his new movie Killers of the Flower Moon, co-starring Robert De Niro, and to be directed by Martin Scorsese. In an interview with the Script Notes podcast, the screenwriter for the project, Eric Roth, revealed that he and DiCaprio entered into some pretty tense negotiations regarding the script before coming to a compromise.
“That’s supposed to start filming in March once the [infection] clears out, and it’s Martin Scorsese. They’ll be continuing rewrites with that. Leonardo [DiCaprio] wanted some things changed that we argued about. He won half of [the arguments]. I won half of them. So that’s happening.”
Killers of the Flower Moon is an adaptation of the 2017 non-fiction book Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by journalist David Grann. The movie is highly-anticipated among cinephiles for bringing together Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro on the big screen for the first time with Martin Scorsese in the director’s chair. The duo previously paired for 1993’s A Boy’s Life and later in 1996’s Marvin’s Room. And they both appeared in Martin Scorsese’s 8 minute short The Audition where they played heightened versions of themselves. During the interview, Roth went on to provide some clues as to what the movie is going to be about.
“I spent four or five years on this book, ‘Killers of the Flower Moon,’ which everybody should read. It’s a wonderful book. My screenplay I think was accurate to the book. It’s the story of Osage Indians, 1921, the poorest people in America who discover oil in this terrible land in Oklahoma where they’ve been driven to. Then every killer in America comes to kill 184 of them for their money, but this really heroic guy comes in [to help].”
The history behind the making of Killers of the Flower Moon is a long and troubled one. After Scorsese and DiCaprio joined the project, Paramount was set to produce the film. But Scorsese’s asking budget of $180 million proved too much for the studio, and they were trying to negotiate the budget down to $150 million. According to THR, things got even more complicated when Scorsese and DiCaprio decided to make some changes to the script.
“Sources say things changed when the director and his star decided to revise the script. Originally DiCaprio was playing the good guy working for the then-nascent FBI. In the revised version, DiCaprio would portray villain Robert De Niro’s nephew, torn between love and the evil machinations of his uncle. A source with knowledge of the situation says Paramount felt that turned the film into a moody and less commercial character study – “smaller scale; same budget.”
Paramount allowed Scorsese to shop the project to other studios, confident that no one would be willing to spend close to $200 million on a moody character study piece. But Paramount was not counting on new streaming giant Apple TV+, and its desire to add prestige projects to its lineup, no matter what the cost. Now, with Apple acting as producer, Scorsese has the massive budget he wanted for his movie, and Apple has a Scorsese-DiCaprio-De Niro cinema sandwich to entice viewers with. This story originated at ScriptNotes Podcast with additional reporting from The Hollywood Reporter.