Martin Scorsese is on the cover of Time magazine ahead of the release of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and he briefly opened up on the film’s extensive rewrites. “Flower Moon” is based on David Grann’s 2017 non-fiction book about the FBI’s investigation into a string of murders among the Osage Nation in the early 1920s. Originally, Scorsese and co-writer Eric Roth centered their film adaptation around this narrative, with Leonardo DiCaprio set to play the head FBI investigator, Tom White.
“After a certain point, I realized I was making a movie about all the white guys,” Scorsese told Time. “Meaning I was taking the approach from the outside in, which concerned me.”
Scorsese and Roth decided to overhaul their entire “Flower Moon” script to change the perspective of the film. DiCaprio would switch roles to play the morally gray Ernest Burkhart, a World War I veteran who gets wrapped up in his uncle’s scheme to steal riches away from the Osage Nation. The new “Flower Moon” script would center on Ernest and his marriage to an Osage woman, Mollie (Lily Gladstone), which becomes complicated amid the murders and the FBI’s arrival to investigate. Jesse Plemons stepped into the role of Tom White, now a supporting character.
Gladstone recently said in Interview magazine that she originally went to audition for the movie with sides from the first iteration of “Flower Moon.” After extensive rewrites, she returned to audition with a completely different script.
“Before the rewrites, I had three pages of some pretty mouthy dialogue,” Gladstone said. “But I was struggling so much with the scenes that when COVID shut everything down and the project went quiet for a minute, I assumed that I’d blown the audition. About a year later, I got a request to Zoom with Martin Scorsese. And then I got new sides sent to me that had beats. Suddenly it was a scene that had minimal dialogue…And I was like, ‘Oh man, I can plug a character in here now. This is amazing.’ Because I’d heard that the rewrites completely did a 180. Leo was supposed to be playing Tom White, Jesse Plemons’s character.”
“The focus would’ve been the FBI, with Mollie and Ernest being part of the supporting storyline, instead of the central one,” Gladstone said about the original “Flower Moon” script. She previously told Vulture that the rewrite meant the film “is not a white-savior story. It’s the Osage saying, ‘Do something. Here’s money. Come help us.’”
Scorsese would seem to agree, as the driving force behind the “Flower Moon” rewrite was his concern that the story was all about the white characters.
Elsewhere in his Time interview, Scorsese opened up about the state of cinema culture.
“It should be one cinematic culture, you know? But right now everything is being fragmented and broken up in a way,” he said, alluding to streaming platforms changing moviegoing habits. He noted that when he was growing up “not everybody liked musicals. Not everybody liked westerns. Not everybody liked gangster films or noirs. But at the time, we just went to the movies, and that’s what was playing.”
“Killers of the Flower Moon” opens in theaters nationwide Oct. 20 from Apple and Paramount.
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