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The crazy moment Jack Nicholson pulled a real gun on Leonardo DiCaprio during 'The Departed'

Though it has its critics, Martin Scorsese movie The Departed, a remake of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Hong Kong thriller Internal Affairs, is largely recognised as a classic of contemporary cinema, boasting an ensemble cast in their prime. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg, to name just four of the incredible list of actors, each one brings their own unique personality to this intricate game of cat and rat.

The story is a winding one that constantly overlaps and weaves together, following an undercover cop and a mole in the police force, both trying to identify each other whilst infiltrating an Irish gang. It’s an ingenious plot brought to life by the eccentric characters of the main cast, from the raw passion of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Billy, to Mark Wahlberg‘s brash, obnoxious Dignam. The towering acting legend Jack Nicholson plays Irish mob boss Costello, and does so with a villainous smirking charm, making each of his decisions entirely unpredictable. Though, it seems as this erratic nature seeped from his on-screen character, and into the very persona of the actor behind the scenes.

In one particular scene in which Nicholson’s mob boss sits Leonardo DiCaprio’s Billy down for a chat about a “gnawing, teething fucking rat”, Nicholson pulls a real gun on DiCaprio who reacted with genuine fear. It was Nicholson’s desire to make the scene “more intense”, which certainly worked as DiCaprio looks physically stunned by the encounter — one that not even Martin Scorsese knew was going to happen. 

Speaking in a new book entitled Conversations With Scorsese, written by Richard Schickel, the director commented: “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. Continuing, Scorsese noted that, “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.”

It’s simply one of many examples of Martin Scorsese loving the art of spontaneity, evident throughout his filmography from the opening sequence of Mean Streets, to Robert De Niro’s iconic speech in Taxi Driver. The director has previously stated that: “I’m not particularly fond of shooting … a film. It’s not like there is anything especially fresh about a shoot. You come in, day after day and shoot something that you have already planned on paper. Improvising with my actors just adds a bit of interest to something that would otherwise be unbearable.”

Thankfully, such freedoms have made way for some of cinema’s greatest moments.