CinemaCon 2023: Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese talk ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

Scorsese was awarded CinemaCon’s inaugural “Legend of Cinema” award, which will become an annual prize named after its first winner

April 28, 2023 11:16 am | Updated 02:51 pm IST - Las Vegas

Honoree Martin Scorsese, recipient of the Legend of Cinema Award, poses with actor Leonardo DiCaprio at a filmmaker luncheon during CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, in Las Vegas.

Honoree Martin Scorsese, recipient of the Legend of Cinema Award, poses with actor Leonardo DiCaprio at a filmmaker luncheon during CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, in Las Vegas. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Martin Scorsese unveiled the first footage from his film Killers of the Flower Moon on April 27 at CinemaCon, where his lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop superstar Rihanna were among the surprise guests.

Dark Western Killers of the Flower Moon is Scorsese’s sixth movie with DiCaprio, and his tenth with Robert De Niro — but the first time the legendary director has ever brought his go-to A-listers together.

A true story of greed, love and murder set in the 1920s, when members of the newly oil-rich Osage Nation in Oklahoma began dying and disappearing in mysterious circumstances, the twisty crime drama hits theaters in October. Footage played at the movie industry summit in Las Vegas showed DiCaprio's Ernest Burkhart in a romantic relationship with a Native American woman (Lily Gladstone) while seemingly caught in the middle of brutal conflict between the Osage and encircling oil-hungry white capitalists. De Niro plays William Hale, who is seen conspiring with Burkhart, while Jesse Plemons appears as lawman Tom White, sent from the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to investigate the murders.

Originally, DiCaprio was set to play White, but after spending time with the Osage, he and Scorsese decided to make a “big change” to the script, and center the movie less on the FBI and instead on Burkhart.

Scorsese said they were interested in exploring how “some of these people could have done what they did” to the Osage, and how they could rationalize violence — even against those they loved — by simply claiming: “It’s civilization. One group comes in, and another goes out.”

DiCaprio, hosting a Q&A with Scorsese, described the movie’s events as a “forgotten part of our past.”

The film was shot at the true, real-life locations where grisly events took place, and Scorsese said the script was reworked until the last day of shooting, as he spent time with the Osage people and was anxious to “do right by them.” “It was about immersing ourselves in that world,” said the New Yorker, despite the “110-degree heat” and the unsettling presence on the surrounding prairies of coyotes and wild horses.

The film is adapted from David Grann’‘s acclaimed 2017 non-fiction book of the same name and will premiere at next month’s Cannes film festival.

Killers of the Flower Moon will be Apple’s highest profile big-screen release yet, as the tech giant launches the film in theatres — a splashy launch that it hopes can consequently drum up interest in its Apple TV+ streaming platform.

“I’m really thrilled to have a wide theatrical release before it becomes available at home,” said Scorsese, joking that small-screen viewing is only “ok” by comparison. Apple bought the film from Hollywood studio Paramount after the cost of the lavish, nearly three-and-a-half-hour production began to spiral to a reported $200 million, and the two companies struck a deal to distribute the film to theaters.

Scorsese, director of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, was awarded CinemaCon’s inaugural “Legend of Cinema” award, which will become an annual prize named after its first winner.

DiCaprio said Scorsese’s work “will be revered for centuries and generations to come,” and that the 80-year-old director continues to “create vital cinematic experiences that are at the very pinnacle of artistic ambition and achievement.” Scorsese used the occasion to call on owners of multiplexes to play “truly independent films” alongside more mainstream fare.

Earlier Thursday, Paramount presented footage from other upcoming films, including Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One, to a packed audience of movie theater bosses at the final day of CinemaCon.

Rihanna, a cast member in the upcoming film ‘The Smurf Movie’, addresses the audience during the Paramount Pictures presentation at CinemaCon 2023.

Rihanna, a cast member in the upcoming film ‘The Smurf Movie’, addresses the audience during the Paramount Pictures presentation at CinemaCon 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

As well as Scorsese, the show featured a surprise appearance from pop superstar Rihanna, who joked that her newly announced role in The Smurf Movie would earn her “cool points” with her children. The Barbados-born artist will voice the role of Smurfette, as well as write and sing original music and produce the film, out February 2025. “I tried to get the Papa Smurf part but it didn’t work out,” she joked on stage at Caesars Palace.

Animation means “I get to show up in my pyjamas in my third trimester and play a little boo badass,” said Rihanna, who is pregnant with her second child. “I hope this gives me a little bit of cool points with my kids one day. I’m just hoping.”

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