It’s one of the most challenging movies ever made and now The Revenant is tipped to do well in awards season, writes Susan Griffin
He’s often hailed as one of the best actors in the world, but despite five Oscar nominations, Leonardo DiCaprio has never walked away with a golden statuette.
Following his Golden Globe win on Sunday, along with his Bafta nomination announced last week, for his role as frontiersman Hugh Glass in The Revenant, perhaps 2016 could finally be his year.
When asked why the California-born star hasn’t hasn’t managed to bag one of the coveted gongs so far, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant’s Mexican director and co-writer, says: “Honestly, you’ll have to ask the 6,000 members of the Academy, I don’t know.
“I think he’s an amazing actor, and hopefully he will be appreciated,” adds the 52-year-old film-maker, who has three Oscar under his own belt, for 2014’s Birdman.
The Revenant has so far received three Golden Globes plus eight Bafta nominations - and that’s before the Academy Awards shortlists are announced on January 14.
But rather than ticking off awards, Inarritu believes that “the important thing is to have finished the film” - and he doesn’t say this lightly.
The movie was shot chronologically in Argentina and northern Calgary, Canada, where temperatures can dip to minus 40, so cold that even the cameras stopped working.
“I feel very fortunate to have survived,” says the director. “To have made a film that I really think is an experience for audiences, in a way that they will never have experienced before, or in a long time probably, and that’s the marrow of the whole thing.”
Some involved in the production have described it as “hellish”, but Inarritu disagrees. “It was challenging and brave and rewarding and unique - definitely difficult, but not hellish. Hell is in other parts of the world, where people are really suffering.”
At times, it did feel like everything was against him and his team, though, but he reasons: “When you establish a relationship with nature, nature will dictate the rules, and you will adapt to that and struggle to find a way to get what you need.”
And that, he notes, is not always what film-makers today are looking for.
“Everything has to be a controlled, profit-friendly, designed, pasteurised, virtual world, but this was not like that. This was about guys surviving tough circumstances and we went through the same. And I think the film benefited from that.”
The movie is inspired by the true tale of the legendary explorer Glass, who, in the 1820s, was attacked by a bear during a fur trapping expedition in unchartered wilderness - and abandoned and left for dead by his own hunting team.
Refusing to succumb to death, Glass undertakes a 200-mile odyssey through the vast and untamed West, on the trail of the man who betrayed him, John Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy.
Inarritu chose this story, he says, “to observe what a man can survive”.
“There’s a resilience to the character of the story, which is very admirable and inspiring, and the question was, ‘Why?’
“Why did he make that [journey]? Why did he survive? What was the driving force? What maintains you, your spirit, when you have lost everything? There were a lot of things which resonated very much with the times we are living in today.”
One of DiCaprio’s most intensely physical roles to date - he was buried under snow, required to strip in sub-zero condition, jump into freezing rivers, sleep in animal carcasses and eat raw meat - it’s also almost a wordless performance.
“There are powerful themes for me in the film: the will to live and our relationship with the wilderness,” explains the 41-year-old actor.
“I’ve previously played a lot of characters who were incredibly articulate in different ways and had a lot to say, so this was a unique challenge for me,” adds DiCaprio, whose recent credits also include The Great Gatsby and The Wolf Of Wall Street.
“A lot of it was about adapting in the moment, about reacting to what nature was giving us and to what Glass was going through as we filmed.”
It’s a period of the American West’s history which has been rarely explored on the big screen, something which interested him.
“It was far more wild than the ‘Wild West’. It was like the Amazon, a completely unknown wilderness, a no man’s land, where few laws applied. These trappers who came from Europe and the East Coast had to learn to live life in the middle of the elements, surviving like any other animal in the wilderness.”
The film’s yet to be released, but the incredible bear attack is already proving to be one of the movie’s most talked-about scenes.
DiCaprio recalls it being “incredibly difficult and arduous but it’s profoundly moving”.
“In the film, Alejandro puts you there almost like a fly buzzing around the attack, so that you feel the breath of Glass and the bear. What he achieved is beyond anything I’ve seen.”
And his co-star, 22-year-old Brit Will Poulter, agrees. “It’s a testament to what an amazing job the visual effects team did, because there were very few moments where CGI was used. That was something Alejandro was very intent on,” says the star of We’re The Millers and The Maze Runner.
The Revenant marks the first time Poulter has been able to watch anything he’s in - and “been able to totally disconnect myself from everything I know about the movie and the worrying fact I’m going to pop up on screen”.
“It really is that immersive and affecting,” adds the London-born actor.
He plays Jim Bridger, a man who would later go on to become one of the West’s most legendary guides, and along with the rest of the cast, attended a ‘trappers bootcamp’ before shooting started.
Poulter believes this was “designed to bring us together, develop camaraderie, and allow us to learn some basic survival skills and familiarise ourselves with weaponry”, but points out...
“What actually felt like the bootcamp was the shooting of the film. That’s when we were tested every single day, in very harsh conditions,” he continues.
“Genuinely, for all of us, I think it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. And a lot of us think it’s the hardest thing we’ll ever do”.
:: The Revenant is released on Friday, January 15