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Leonardo DiCaprio Should’ve Played the Cop and Not the ‘Idiot’ in ‘Flower Moon,’ Says Paul Schrader: ‘Three-and-a-Half Hours in the Company of an Idiot Is a Long Time’


Paul Schrader wrote Martin Scorsese‘s “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” and it appears he would’ve handled things differently had he been the one to pen “Killers of the Flower Moon.” In a recent interview with France’s Le Monde, Schrader called “Flower Moon” a “good movie” but one that could’ve been better had DiCaprio been playing the FBI agent investigating the Osage murders.

“Marty compares me to a Flemish miniaturist. He would be more the type who paints Renaissance frescoes,” Schrader said. “Give him $200 million, a good film will inevitably come out of it. That said, I would have preferred Leonardo DiCaprio to play the role of the cop in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ rather than the role of the idiot. Spending three-and-a-half hours in the company of an idiot is a long time.”

Scorsese originally intended for DiCaprio to play FBI agent Tom White in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” The director spent two years working on a “Flower Moon” script from the perspective of White, who took the lead on investigating a string of murders among the Osage Nation in the 1920s. The filmmaker told The Irish Times earlier this year that it was DiCaprio who personally called him requesting a script change. The actor wanted to play Ernest Burkhart instead.

“Myself and [my co-screenwriter] Eric Roth talked about telling the story from the point of view of the bureau agents coming in to investigate,” Scorsese said. “After two years of working on the script, Leo came to me and asked, ‘Where is the heart of this story?’ I had had meetings and dinners with the Osage, and I thought, ‘Well, there’s the story.’ The real story, we felt, was not necessarily coming from the outside, with the bureau, but rather from the inside, from Oklahoma.”

Ernest Burkhart was a World War I veteran who got pulled into his uncle’s greedy plot to rob the Osage Nation of its wealth. Ernest’s loyalty was tested once he married a wealthy Osage woman named Mollie (Lily Gladstone). Jesse Plemons stepped in to play Tom White, now a supporting role, in the new version of “Flower Moon.”

Scorsese told Time magazine in September that while writing the original “Flower Moon” script he realized he was “was making a movie about all the white guys…Meaning I was taking the approach from the outside in, which concerned me.”

“It just didn’t feel like it got to the heart of it,” DiCaprio later told British Vogue about the first script. “We weren’t immersed in the Osage story. There was this tiny, small scene between Mollie and Ernest that provoked such emotion in us at the reading, and we just started to penetrate into what that relationship was, because it was so twisted and bizarre and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.”

Changing the “Flower Moon” script paid off for Scorsese, who has received acclaim and awards attention for the film. The New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review named “Flower Moon” the best movie of the year, although Schrader would appear to prefer Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” instead. He called it “the best, most important film of this century.”

“If you see one film in cinemas this year it should be ‘Oppenheimer,’” Schrader said over the summer. “I’m not a Nolan groupie but this one blows the door off the hinges.”

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is now available to rent or purchase on VOD and digital platforms. It will stream exclusively on Apple TV+ sometime in 2024.