Matt Damon has shared some of the disturbing rewrite suggestions that Jack Nicholson came up with on Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. The 2006 crime-thriller was a major hit for Scorsese, accruing enormous acclaim and bringing in 4 Oscars – including Scorsese’s first-ever best director Oscar. With a heavyweight cast that included Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Jack Nicholson, Ray Winstone, Martin Sheen and, of course, Damon, The Departed remains one of the most widely respected crime films of all time.
Based on the 2002 Chinese film, Infernal Affairs (Mou gaan dou), Scorsese had American novelist turned screenwriter, William Monahan, rework the script to feature Boston as the film’s setting. The story focuses on cop Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) who goes undercover within South Boston’s Irish-American organized crime syndicate. At the same time, however, the mafia has sent mole Collin Sullivan (Damon) into the Boston police force’s Special Investigation Unit. As the two operatives struggle to maintain their cover within their respective roles, they become acutely aware of one another’s existence. Both complex and highly engaging, The Departed is a classic Scorsese work that also showcases the iconic director’s shift into a new era of high-caliber filmmaking.
With its impressive cast being just one of the major reasons why The Departed fared so well, there’s undoubtedly plenty of behind the scenes stories that fans would love to hear. It’s been fifteen years since the film was first released and fortunately, at least one of those stories has now been shared by Damon, courtesy of comedian Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. Damon described how Jack Nicholson feels that his extensive success as an actor stems from a belief that he’s “a fucking great writer.” After assessing a scene in which Nicholson’s character performs a seaside execution that was originally only an eighth of a page long, Nicholson approached Damon to reveal his rather disturbing rewrites. Read what Damon said below:
“He goes, ‘We’re gonna keep in this same shot, I’m not gonna add any time or money to the schedule. But 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. 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*ck her again.’ Now that’s a very sinister line. You could end the scene there, but if you keep the camera rolling, Ray gives me a look and after a long pause, I go, ‘Ahhhhh!’ Like I’ve got him. Now, you could keep the camera rolling, Ray says to me, ‘Francis, you really ought to see somebody.'”
As troubling as Nicholson’s suggestions might seem, Scorsese did ultimately incorporate at least a small amount of them. Whereas the original script simply called for Nicholson’s character to execute a man, the final cut of the film shows the character shooting a woman (Nicholson’s idea), accompanied by Winstone and delivering the “She fell funny” line. Winstone can also be seen holding the hatchet that Nicholson mentioned, and he does respond with “Francis, you really should see somebody.”
Of course, while Nicholson’s suggestions do add something to The Departed, it’s a far cry from the grueling (and often under-appreciated) writing that screenwriters can and do impart on a production. Nicholson undeniably has the acting chops and acute sensibilities for what makes a good scene a great one. However, Monahan’s work to make the Oscar-winning script what it was shouldn’t be undersold.
Source: WTF with Marc Maron
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