The Great Gatsby: Tidbits from the Stars
By: Lynn Barker
Everyone can relate to having an obsession about a certain hot guy or girl and going to great trouble trying to draw that person’s attention and hopefully again their love. You might try to throw the ultimate party, a super-rave to impress that person. That’s what Jay Gatsby (Leo DiCaprio), who comes from a lower class upbringing than Daisy (Carey Mulligan), the girl he’s crushin’ on, does. The Great Gatsby, based on the classic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a timeless story that works as well now as in the 1920’s when it is set.
Director Baz Luhrmann says he used Jay-Z songs (especially party song “N.I.P.”) along with jazz to get the cast into a “wild party” mood!
Cast and filmmakers gathered in New York to talk about their roles, their real-life friendships, how they worked together and how the novel impressed them differently when they read it as teens than when re-reading it before filming. Check it out….
Q: Leo, as someone who didn’t grow up wealthy, did you identify with Gatsby’s hunger to have more in life?
- Leo: Sure. I think everyone has some sort of connection to Gatsby as a character. He has created himself according to his own imagination and dreams and lifted himself by his own bootstraps as a poor youth in the Midwest and created this image that is The Great Gatsby. It’s truly an American story in that regard.
- Here’s this emerging democracy that is America in the 1920’s and he wants to emulate a Rockefeller (really rich aristocrat) of that time period and, of course, creates his wealth in the underworld but it was a very exciting time. I think we can all relate to that dreamer in Gatsby. Each one of us gets excited by the prospect of somebody that has that much ambition.
Q: Did you read the novel as a teen then again later? Did you see him differently when you were older?
- Leo: Certainly. The Gatsby that I remember reading when I was fifteen years old in junior high school was far different from the Gatsby that I read as an adult. What I remember from my years in junior high was this hopeless romantic that was solely in love with this one woman and created this great amount of wealth to respectably hold her hand.
- Then to re-read the book as an adult, it was incredibly fascinating. It is one of those novels that is talked about almost a hundred years later for a reason. At the center of this movie is this man who is incredibly hollow. He’s searching for some kind of meaning and has attached himself to this mirage named Daisy (played by Carey Mulligan). I was struck by the sadness in him for the first time and I looked at him completely differently. Nick (Gatsby’s friend played by Tobey Maguire) is the only one who sees what is going on in reality. Here’s this man desperately holding on to this image.
- A very telling image in the book was after creating Gatsby’s castle in order to lure Daisy in, his friend Nick (Tobey Maguire) notices that Gatsby is holding Daisy yet he is still staring out at the green light (at the end of Daisy’s dock). He’s finally got her in his arms but he’s still searching for this thing that he thinks will complete him. That was the Gatsby that I was incredibly excited to play as an actor. Everyone who reads the novel has their own expectation of who the characters are. That’s what’s difficult about making a Gatsby movie.
Q: For Tobey and Leo, you guys played great friends in the movie. Do you think your real friendship translated into the characters of Nick and Gatsby?
- Tobey: Yeah, I think Leo and I have a trusting and close friendship so just the comfortable, open dialogue that we had contributed to what we did in the movie. The Nick and Gatsby relationship is interesting to explore. Searching through the book with Nick’s eyes, he’s looking back over his experiences. Gatsby had an agenda for Nick that unfolded into a real friendship. He’s perhaps Gatsby’s only real friend and it was important to Nick. I definitely have an affection for Leo so it’s easy for me to have an affection for Gatsby as Nick as well.
- Leo: This is like American Shakespeare so to venture into a project of this magnitude it took a core unit of trust for me to feel comfortable. To know Tobey was involved was incredibly comforting. We’re always extremely honest with each other and, to me, I don’t know if this project would have happened unless we had a good relationship (with director Baz Luhrmann as well). We had to agree to be honest with each other.
Q: This book and story is very relatable today. Why do you think that is?
- Leo: In a way, this book predicted the great stock market crash in the 1930’s in America. It talks about the great opulence and wealth in America during that time period. It says the future is endless and we can keep consuming and living the way we do without any consequences. It is timeless in the sense that that is an 80 year cycle and we’ve encountered it again in our modern era. It’s something that we keep doing. It’s not just an American novel in that regard. It’s something that is happening world-wide. It’s a comment on society and human nature and the great pursuit of wealth. It’s a timeless novel in that regard.
Q: Carey, how difficult was this role? Daisy couldn’t commit to anyone really. She didn’t seem to have too much fun.
- Carey: I think that’s the most interesting part of her; that she’s very easily led and drawn to the strongest force (guy) in the room. She’s very reactive. She doesn’t make decisions for herself very well. I loved it. There were so many turns in her personality and so often she doesn’t say what she means. She says things for effect. That’s really fun to play.
Q: Carey how did you get into Daisy’s head; a woman of privilege in her time and what influence do you think those types of women have on other women today?
- Carey: Baz gave me seven books about Zelda Fitzgerald (author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife and model for the Daisy character) and I was lucky enough to read love letters. There are holes in Daisy’s character. You meet her at the beginning of the story and then she disappears for a long time. Often she’s not saying what she means and is behaving erratically.
- There was a lot for me to fill in to play her. We read about how people spoke about her at the time when she was young, the way she was raised. Somebody said she had as few cares as a puppy or a kitten. She was a product of her time. She came from a family who would have expected her to marry for money. If she had done anything else, it would have been scandalous.
- (As women), we’ve become more and more liberated I hope today but people still get trapped in loveless marriages and marry for the wrong reasons all the time. I think we’ve grown more and more, really.
(Note: Director Baz Luhrmann says: “Daisy is trapped in a cage from the previous century (19th) but there were all these (rebellious) flapper girls (in the 1920’s) running around. There were mothers who took their daughters to court because of the short length of their dresses.” Yikes! Good thing we live in 2013!