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Feature: The Aviator

High fliers…

Oscar nominee director Martin Scorsese delves into the making of his biopic of the world's richest man, Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes: innovator, industrialist, film director and, principally in his own mind, aviator. He was also an influential figure in modern American history who was afflicted with mental illness, a growing obsessive compulsion for cleanliness that first manifested itself in a repulsion of bathroom door handles and culminated in isolated final years in his own perceived germ-free world.

In The Aviator, Martin Scorsese follows Hughes’s story through the glory years – the two decades that marked his arrival in Hollywood with the self-funded epic Hell’s Angels, his founding of the Hughes Aircraft Company, the takeover of TWA airlines and his attempt to build the largest plane in the world.

Perhaps surprisingly the project originated with Leonardo DiCaprio, who had read a biography of Hughes, and was determined to make a film about his life.

He took the idea to Michael Mann, who ultimately became the producer of the project, approaching John Logan to write the script and Scorsese to direct.

“The approach on this material really, really comes from John Logan,” states the director. “I say that emphatically. I think it’s a wonderful script, even though when I read it, it was 180 pages, which would be a four-hour picture.

“What I liked about this particular version was that I had stayed clear of the Howard Hughes story. I only knew the man as an ‘eccentric’, the guy living at the top of the Desert Inn, a mysterious figure. Major Hollywood film-makers like Warren Beatty and Steven Spielberg had wanted for many years to make a Hughes picture. So I thought it was more or less their territory until I read this script. One of the most fascinating elements of The Aviator is seeing this extra-ordinarily handsome and bright young man, so full of life, become a man who’s tortured by his own shortcomings.”

DiCaprio’s devotion to the project would prove absolute. Determined to be wholly authentic in the title role, the actor immersed himself in Hughes’s life: reading more biographies, listening to recordings of his voice, watching his films and even learning how to fly. Scorsese too would demand historical realism in the picture: production designer Dante Ferretti was charged with recreating Hughes’s physical environment, while cinematographer Robert Richardson would capture the cinematic look of the era. Despite this, The Aviator still takes some dramatic licence with the man’s life.

“I love documentaries,” says Scorsese, “but when you’re dealing with a character like Howard Hughes or other characters in history, I think that to a certain extent one can take a kind of poetic licence. In a way you can fictionalize certain aspects of lives and what happened.

“A lot of it has to do with if you’re truthful to the emotion, if you’re truthful to the very core of the ideas of what happened in his life. There will always be people who disagree with you because it’s based on a real character, but I think that you can deal in that way.

by Harry Thompson

Get the full interview, plus Leonardo DiCaprio, in
Ultimate DVD #68

Image © Visual Imagination Ltd, Photo © Warner Bros
Feature © Visual Imagination 2005. Not for reproduction

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Ultimate DVD #68, see below for ordering options
Ultimate DVD #68
July 2005
ships from Jun 16 2005
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