As always, it starts with the writing. So let’s take a look at the scene from Terence Winter’s brilliant screenplay as it appears in its original written form.
INT. WINDOWS ON THE WORLD – DAY (MAY ‘87)
CLOSE ON a COKE SPOON whose contents disappear up a nostril. PULL BACK TO REVEAL…
The lunchtime power spot with panoramic views of the city. At a corner table, a paranoid Jordan looks around as Hanna does another bump of coke. None of the other DINERS seem to notice or care.
(offering the spoon)
Got enough for one more? Tootski?
No. Thanks though.
Hanna slips the vial into his pocket as HECTOR, the tuxedoed Maitre’D, approaches.
Mr. Hanna, what can I bring for you on this glorious afternoon?
Hanna surreptitiously palms Hector a $100; Jordan notices.
Here’s the game plan, Hector. Bring us two Absolut Martinis straight up. Precisely seven and a half minutes after you deliver those you’ll bring two more, then two more every five minutes until one of us passes out.
An excellent strategy, sir.
Actually, I’m good with 7-Up.
Jordan might as well have farted at the table.
First day on Wall Street, Hector. Give him time.
(Hector offers menus)
No thanks, I’m not eating.
Hector heads off.
You can get high during the day and still function?
High is the only way to do this fucking job. Guy who coined the term “three-martini lunch” was a woman. Cocaine and hookers, my friend, the keys to success.
Jordan smiles, not sure if Hanna is kidding.
I gotta say, I’m really excited about being part of your team. I wanna do all I can for our clients and —
MARK HANNA (reciting an ad)
“Here at L.F. Rothschild, our clients aren’t just important, they’re family.” Just as long as we get our taste first. Remember something, Jordan, your top priority in this job: make us money. If the clients get rich along the way, bully for them. Got a girlfriend?
Wife. She cuts hair.
Mark swallows a comment about that. Gets to business.
OK, first rule of Wall Street. Nobody — and I don’t care if you’re
Warren Buffet or Jimmy Buffet — nobody knows if a stock’s going up,
down or fucking sideways, least of all stock brokers. But we have to pretend
we know. Make sure you stay relaxed. Nobody wants to buy
something from someone who sounds like they haven’t gotten laid in a month.
Take breaks when you feel stressed, jerk off if you can. You like jerking off, right?
Good, jerking off is key. And I highly recommend cocaine, which will make you dial faster,
which is good for me. Churn ‘em and burn ‘em, baby.
A BUSBOY stops by with a fresh napkin for Mark who thanks him. Then, discreetly as possible, Mark removes a fresh vial of cocaine tucked within and takes a quick snort. Jordan realizes: that’s why he palmed the maitre d’ $100.
For the next six months I learned the ways of Wall Street.
Great scene. Now let’s look at the scene in its final form in the movie… (Although it was not shot handheld iPhone like this!)
Now play it again while listening to just the sound and reading the script to see what is – but mostly what is not – on the page including two huge, brilliant monologues.
So how did this extremely well written scene become absolute genius? Well, you’ve got Scorsese directing, first and foremost. And then you’ve got two of our best actors at the top of their game. But in particular you’ve got Mathew McConaughey who reveals the extensive prep work (and actual writing) he did for the scene in this video:
What McConaughey did, I think, is an amazing gift to the film and the audience. But ultimately I credit the writer who launched him in that direction and the director who cast him and who had the vision to go with what the actor brought to the written scene.
When I saw Scorsese speak at the Directors Guild a few weeks ago at the “Meet the Nominees”event, he told a story about how McConaughey was humming as a warm up for his voice before the scene and he liked it and told him to use it. That’s beautiful directing. Especially because the humming becomes the company fight song and war cry later in the film.
Also, last but not least, DiCaprio in this scene hits just the right note of innocence with slight New Jersey accent which only makes his downfall and debauchery all the more emotional later. The subdued way he answers the question of how many times her jerks off a week is hilarious. Also, it was DeCaprio’s idea to reprise the chest beating “war cry” later in the movie. Check out this interview where he tells the story of how it all went down…
But the main thing I love about this scene is how it nails the whole Wall Street casino insanity so perfectly. As Scorsese said at the Director’s Guild – Nothing has changed on Wall Street. It’s just something we allow to go on for some reason.
But he seems to have answered the reason which is summed up in the final shot of the movie, looking out at all the hopeful faces, all dying to be the next Wolf. Or at least a Cub.
For my money, this scene is why McConaughey deserves the Academy Award almost as much as his stunning performance in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. Never count anyone out in Hollywood. McConaughey is doing things few suspected he could just a few years ago. Bravo to him and all involved with my favorite movie of the year.