Leonardo DiCaprio Admitted Jack Nicholson Really Terrified Him While Making ‘The Departed’ — Here’s How

The Departed was a legendary team-up. The stacked cast had Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Farmiga and Jack Nicholson. It was Nicholson’s first and still only movie with director Martin Scorsese. The film ultimately won Scorsese his first Oscar for directing. 

Leonardo DiCaprio with Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg
L-R: Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg and Leonardo DiCaprio | Chance Yeh /Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

It was DiCaprio’s third movie out of five with Scorsese and he was no slouch by 2006. Still, working with Nicholson kept DiCaprio on his toes. At the press conference for The Departed in 2006, DiCaprio shared how Nicholson threw him off guard in their scenes together. 

Leonardo DiCaprio had to keep up with Jack Nicholson in ‘The Departed’

DiCaprio plays a cop undercover with gang leader Nicholson, who has a mole in the Boston Police Department. The pressure builds throughout The Departed, and Nicholson brought some of that pressure to filming. 

Jack Nicholson in The Departed
Jack Nicholson | James Devaney/WireImage

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There were a number of different scenes where I had no idea what was going to happen. One scene in particular,we did the scene one way, and I remember Jack speaking to Marty because he said he didn’t feel that he was intimidating enough. It was one of the table scenes. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life as far as being an actor is concerned. I remember coming into the scene one way and then I came in the next day and the prop guy told me, ‘Well, be careful he’s got a fire extinguisher, a gun, some matches, and a bottle of whiskey.’

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed press conference, 2006

Leonardo DiCaprio experienced a fraction of the fear of his ‘Departed’ character

Okay, so DiCaprio knew Nicholson wasn’t really going to murder him. His character in The Departed had no such guarantees. Still, it was a frightening way for DiCaprio to work, which ultimately energized the scenes. 

Some things are in the film that he did that day and some things aren’t. But, for me as an actor, it wasn’t necessarily [that] I’m afraid. We’re all professional actors and we’re all playing roles, but for me playing this character of this guy that has to relay to the audience this constant 24 hour panic attack that I’m going through for my life, surrounded by people that would literally blow my head off if I gave them any indication of who I was, coupled with the fact that I’m sitting across the table from a homicidal maniac that will maybe light me on fire.

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed press conference, 2006

Jack Nicholson ruled ‘The Departed’

DiCaprio said he followed Nicholson’s lead on The Departed.

The Departed: Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson | James Devaney/WireImage

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“It gives you, I don’t want to say as an actor a sense of fear, but as a character a whole new dynamic,” DiCaprio said. “It completely altered and shifted the scene in a completely different direction. I think we all knew that if he came on board that he would have to sort of grab the reins with this character and let him be freeform and we all were completely sort of ready for that every day that we walked up on the set.”

The ensemble of The Departed was so large that Nicholson could shoot all of his scenes quickly. DiCaprio’s scenes with him were intensely concentrated.

“He had a short run, he filmed his scenes and then he left, but those were some of the most intense moments of the film for me certainly,” DiCaprio sid. “As a human being as a person, there were some memories that I will never forget.”