- Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio worked with Jack Nicholson on The Departed.
- Nicholson caught Leo off guard by pulling a gun in one scene.
- The Good Will Hunting star admits that he had “no idea” what Nicholson was going to do from scene to scene.
Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio were part of a star-studded cast in Martin Scorsese’s crime drama The Departed. The pair of Oscar winners weren’t even the biggest names in the film — that honor goes to Jack Nicholson. According to Damon, Nicholson was so unpredictable that he and DiCaprio were like a “deer in the headlights” while working with the megastar.
Jack Nicholson surprised Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese when he pulled a gun
A famous scene from The Departed featured Nicholson’s mob boss Frank Costello and DiCaprio’s Billy Costigan chatting about a “gnawing, teething f***ing rat.” During the encounter, DiCaprio looks genuinely stunned. And there is a good reason why.
In the book Conversations With Scorsese by Richard Schnickel, the director revealed that Nicholson decided to make the scene “more intense” without his knowledge.
“The first thing Jack did was sniff the glass and say, ‘I smell a rat’…And then he pulled a gun on him,” Scorsese recalled. “He didn’t tell me he had a gun. It was great…we took a lot out, but Leo’s reaction is real-time…I still get chills…It’s so real to me.”
Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio were like a ‘deer in the headlights’ working with Jack Nicholson
Looking back on The Departed, Damon says that both he and DiCaprio struggled to keep up with the acting legend. According to Closer Weekly, Damon says Nicholson was so unpredictable that oftentime he and DiCaprio weren’t sure how to react to him in a scene.
“Leo and I are like a deer in the headlights in a lot of those scenes with him, because we have no idea what this guy’s gonna do,” Damon revealed.
Matt Damon dishes on Jack Nicholson’s rewrite of a scene from ‘The Departed’
During an early scene in The Departed, Nicholson’s Costello is lecturing Damon’s Colin Sullivan when the film cuts to one of Costello’s murders. Viewers see Costello on a beach, shooting a woman from behind. Then Costello tells his partner — played by Ray Winstone — “She fell funny.”
The line was twisted, for sure. But according to Damon, Nicholson’s rewrite left him nearly speechless. He explained on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast that the scene was one-eight of a page, and it simply said “Costello executes a man kneeling in the marsh.”
“That’s all it said,” Damon explained. “Jack was so excited and said [to me], ‘Wait until you hear what I did.’ He goes, ‘Well, it was an eighth of a page,’ and he goes, ‘I’ve seen that before, so what I did is I made it a woman…and I put Ray [Winstone] in the scene with me.’”
Jack Nicholson wanted Martin Scorsese to keep the camera rolling
Damon continued with his story, saying that Nicholson wanted to extend the scene to show how sinister his character was. Damon admits he was so shocked by what his co-star was telling him that his only reaction was “Jesus!”
“[Nicholson] goes…I shoot her in the back of the head, and she falls over. Now, you could end the scene there, but if you keep the camera rolling, I turn to Ray and I say, “Geez, she fell funny.” Now, that’s a very sinister line. It suggests that I’ve done this before. There’s a way that people fall,” Damon recalled.
Matt Damon says Jack Nicholson had more ideas for the scene
“Now you could end the scene there, but if you keep the camera rolling, Ray reveals an axe that he’s holding behind his back. He’s gonna chop her up. So Ray starts to step forward…Now you could end the scene there, but if you leave the camera rolling, I say, “Wait, I think I wanna f*** her again.” Now that’s a very sinister line.’”
But Nicholson wasn’t done. He told Damon that if they kept the camera rolling, Ray could give Frank a look. And after a long pause the character goes “Ahhhh!” like he’s got him. Nicholson’s final idea for the scene was for Ray to tell Frank: “Francis, you really ought to see somebody.”
The Departed is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video and YouTube.