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Scenes That Martin Scorsese Actors Were Uncomfortable Filming

There's not much room for debate when mentioning Martin Scorsese as one of the great film directors of all time. With nearly 30 feature films under his belt and more on the way, Scorsese is swimming in awards and accolades, including an Oscar, Grammys, Emmys, and an American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. With an impressive total of five movies inducted into the National Film Registry, the director has put an impressive stamp on American cinema.

Some of the biggest screen talents of recent generations have clamored to be in Scorsese films. The filmmaker has loyally befriended stars such as Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio collaborating on some 14 movies between the two — and both are attached to Scorsese's upcoming "Killers of the Flower Moon." 

Still, even one of the world's greatest filmmakers can't make every moment on set completely smooth, especially given the way his projects dive deep on themes such as sex, crime, and violence. There are examples from nearly every Scorsese feature that pushed the boundaries of where his cast members would be comfortable going. Below are 12 of the most unsettling moments in Scorsese films, ones that performers sweated their way through for the sake of Scorsese's art.

The airplane orgy (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Filming in the nude, or working on any intimate sex scene, is enough to make many actors blush. Plenty of performers have described the uncomfortable and unsettling reality of being onscreen in their birthday suits. Here's an example that takes a notorious hanky-panky scene to a new level, literally.

"The Wolf of Wall Street" is one of Martin Scorsese's more memorable recent outings. Based on a true story, the film centers on Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Jordan Belfort, who rises through the ranks of the financially-driven, drug-infused business of the stock markets. It gave audiences access to a world where millions of dollars pass through people's hands multiple times a day, and much of the depiction involved plenty of drugs and sex.

With the Belfort character seemingly spending enough money on sex workers to fund the $100 million movie a few times over, many details have come out about the film's sex scenes. Actress-model Maria Di Angelis detailed the experience in her essay published in the New York Post. She included moments ranging from sending nude photos as part of the casting to the jealousy that arose among the naked extras who weren't paired off with the movie's A-listers. Subsequently, she admitted, "The trickiest thing about the scene was the plane hitting turbulence."

An underage Jodi Foster (Taxi Driver)

Some film historians might say there's a case to be made for including Jodie Foster among the greatest actresses of all time. Foster began modeling and acting as a toddler, and now has more than 80 acting credits to her name. But her early collaboration with Martin Scorsese in "Taxi Driver" put her on the Hollywood map of stars, earning an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress at age 13. But that was the second time Foster worked for the director — she appeared in "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" two years prior.

During the filming of "Taxi Driver," the adolescent Foster was able to surprise Scorsese, if not make him squirm. Playing the role of Iris, a teenage sex worker, Foster was required to film many sexually frank scenes. But it wasn't the actress who was unnerved by the portrayal, but rather the director and her castmates. Describing the breakout role on "Conan," Foster detailed how Scorsese and leading man Robert De Niro would awkwardly giggle, "especially when I had to unzip his fly and things like that." But, she added, "I had made a lot of movies at that point, probably more movies than De Niro and Scorsese."

Funny how? (GoodFellas)

The 1990 gangster film "GoodFellas" is widely considered a high point in Martin Scorsese's career. Often ranked among the greatest American films, it collected dozens of awards. Based on the book "Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family," by Nicholas Pileggi, "GoodFellas" focuses on the true story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), who is deeply ingrained in the New York Mafia scene. But according to the cast, the majority of the dialogue came a result of ad-libbing. Scorsese would allow the actors to improvise the scenes as they wished during rehearsal, with many of their revised lines incorporated into the script. One particular scene, the day it was shot, truly jolted some of the actors.

According to Business Insider, the tense moment when Joe Pesci's character, Tommy DeVito, confronts Henry Hill over calling him funny was based on a true event from Pesci's life. Serving as a waiter, a young Pesci was treated to a similar reaction by a real-world mobster. Sharing the story at rehearsal, Scorsese opted to include the moment in the scene, set at the Bamboo Lounge. But the director decided to withhold the script change from everyone aside from Pesci and Liotta. As explained in the film's behind-the-scenes documentary, the "Am I a clown? Do I amuse you?" bit became a famous (and infamous) scene from the movie — the actors' uncomfortable reactions are completely genuine.

The baby's room (The Wolf of Wall Street)

Margot Robbie has become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, thanks to her portrayals of, among others, Tonya Harding and DC's Harley Quinn. But she can attribute much of her fame to an unforgettable role in Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" in which she played Naomi Lapaglia, the wife of Leonardo DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort, as an intrinsically complex, boldly sexual character.

Robbie's graphic moments throughout filming included one of the film's most notorious shots, which brought out her bashfulness behind the scenes. In an interview with Indiewire, Robbie admitted that the baby-nursery scene brought out much worry. "I was secretly dreading that scene," said Robbie. "That was going to be more uncomfortable to watch than the sex scene at the end. It was going to be really awkward."

But much of the explicit scene was edited out in the final cut of the film. Still, one of her biggest concerns was the internet: "If I do this, there will forever be YouTube clips of this, there will be slow-motion versions," she said. "It's not just something that affects me, it affects everyone around me. So it's not something to be taken lightly." Robbie was eventually comforted by Scorsese's overall approach to the film, and it didn't hurt that "everyone gets naked in the movie."

Tom Cruise gets rough (The Color of Money)

Tom Cruise enjoys going all out in his roles, such as performing his own stunts in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise. It's surprising, then, to hear that the actor was timid while collaborating with Martin Scorsese. Cruise was already on his way to becoming an A-list actor when Scorsese recruited the "Top Gun" hero for the 1986 film "The Color of Money." The film features Cruise as a budding pool hustler under the mentorship of Paul Newman's Fast Eddie Felson, a character Newman was revisiting from 1961's "The Hustler." 

According to Cruise, he was a real-life student when it came to serving under Scorsese and Newman, just as his character was under the guidance of Fast Eddie — especially in intense moments like a scene where he had to get violent with his onscreen girlfriend. 

"He'd come up to me and be like, 'Hey, kid ...,' " Cruise remembered when speaking about the director to Harper's Bazaar. "Newman and Scorsese were like, 'Kid, kid, get over here! Kid, listen, in this scene with Mary Elizabeth [Mastrantonio], you gotta smack her around a little more, okay?" Reluctant in harming his co-star, Cruise recalled laughing nervously through the moment.

Al Pacino's ice cream (The Irishman)

Even the most seasoned actors can be caught off guard on the day of filming, and that was certainly the case for Al Pacino when making Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman." Very surprisingly, the two had never collaborated before the 2019 film. "I'd been wanting to work with Al for years," Scorsese revealed during an AFI tribute. "Francis Coppola introduced me to him in 1970. Then he's in 'Godfather' one and two, and he's in the stratosphere. For me, Al was always something unreachable."

It made sense that Pacino, who played famed labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, wouldn't be as prepared for the improvisation regularly happening on the sets of Scorsese's films. Cast member Stephen Graham revealed that he was star-struck to be in the film with famed gangster actors like Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci. Still, as the new kid on the block, Graham was able to give Pacino quite a shock. "I slapped an ice cream out of Al Pacino's hand, which he wasn't expecting," Graham told The Guardian. It was a stunning moment for Pacino, who joked that the chance to eat the treat every day was a factor for him in deciding to take the role (per USA Today).

The kitchen scene (Raging Bull)

Much in the same way that Scorsese loyally reunites with actors like De Niro and DiCaprio on project after project, the director has collaborated with one film editor for most of his career: Thelma Schoonmaker. Working with Scorsese on his debut feature "Who's That Knocking at My Door," she has been involved in nearly every one of the director's movies since 1980, earning her a record three Academy Awards for best film editing along the way.

In 2014, at the Tribeca Film Festival, Schoonmaker reminisced about her contributions to Scorsese's "Raging Bull." The editor broke down many behind-the-scenes secrets about the boxing drama — and she detailed one scene that was especially difficult for the actors to film, and how magic emerged from the moment. Shooting in a kitchen, the scene included Joe Pesci, De Niro, and their onscreen partners squeezed in with a camera, a crying baby, lights, and crew. During the hot and uncomfortable day, Pesci's famous line "who asked you?" which was directed at Theresa Saldana's character, was an improvisation fueled by fatigue and irritability.

The thumb (Cape Fear)

Scorsese's "Cape Fear" remake from 1991 might be one of his darkest features. Starring De Niro, Jessica Lange and Nick Nolte, the flick focuses on a convicted rapist named Max Cady, who seeks revenge on the attorney whose courtroom maneuvers put him away. Recently released from prison, Cady follows and attacks the lawyer's family, including teenage daughter Danny, played by Juliette Lewis. The role was a significant step for the budding actress, who had broken into Hollywood in the comedies "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and "My Stepmother Is an Alien." Thankfully, the then-teenage Lewis was mature enough for the heavy role, but one scene pushed her discomfort to the brink.

The moment involved De Niro forcing his thumb into the mouth of the young woman in a tense, sexually charged moment. "Before we did that scene," Lewis detailed in a Los Angeles Times interview, "[Scorsese] said nonchalantly, 'Bob is going to do something.' But he wouldn't say what. I'm sure they didn't know how I was going to react, if I would stay in the scene or lose it." Still, she was ill-prepared for what came next. "He put his thumb in my mouth all the way, and then he pulled it all the way out," Lewis recalled. "I'll tell you exactly what it felt like, emotionally: like someone walked up, penetrated you, and then walked away."

The plot twists (Shutter Island)

DiCaprio has collaborated with Scorsese on five feature films and one short, "The Audition." Speaking on the relationship with Indiewire in 2014, the actor said, "I am almost about to turn 40, and I am looking back at some of the stuff I've gotten to do, and at the center of it is this amazing accidental collaboration that I've gotten to have with Marty." The bond between the two Hollywood heavyweights has been a great success, but there have been rugged times along the way, including 2010's "Shutter Island," an intense project for the Academy Award-winning actor.

"This is the most challenging one to date for me — physically, yes, but emotionally more so," DiCaprio shared with The Guardian about his experience on "Shutter Island." The movie is entangled in multiple twists, dense plotting, and heavy themes. "It was the nature of the material. It was obviously a complex jigsaw puzzle," said DiCaprio, admitting that navigating the story and the weather-pounded set on Boston's Peddocks Island left him in a "sombre mood going home every day."

Bill the Butcher (Gangs of New York)

"Gangs of New York" is one of Scorsese's more ambitious films, a historical feature that included DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, John C. Reilly, and Jim Broadbent among its stars — and nearly De Niro and Willem Dafoe, who were attached before conflicts excluded them (per The New York Times). The movie is dominated by a notorious antagonist portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, who went above and beyond for his role, building tension on and off the set.

Day-Lewis gave an unforgettable performance as Bill "The Butcher" Cutting in "Gangs of New York." Bill takes DiCaprio's character, Amsterdam Vallon, as his understudy, until the two clash head-to-head in the film's climax. Reportedly, Day-Lewis got so heavily into his character that he would not speak to co-star DiCaprio for nine months of shooting (per Cheat Sheet). He took his role so seriously that he would go out on the streets of Rome, where the film was being shot, and pick fights with strangers. And if keeping people around him on edge wasn't enough, Day-Lewis suffered through pneumonia as a result of stubbornly wearing only period-appropriate clothing.

Sharon Stone's death (Casino)

When Sharon Stone took on the role of Ginger McKenna in Martin Scorsese's 1995 gangster film "Casino," she was already a Hollywood femme fatale, thanks to her career-making performance in "Basic Instinct." But the actress put it all on the line for the Scorsese flick, helping earn her lone Academy Award nomination.

"I nearly actually physically killed myself making 'Casino,'" Stone told Prestige Magazine (via Female First). "We did the death scene on the last day because Scorsese knew I wanted to get just so completely skinny and out of it. In the final week, I didn't eat, I didn't do anything, I just made myself a complete wreck so that I could get skinny, skinny, skinny, skinny and down to nothing. I lost so much weight."

Aside from pushing malnourishment to the edge, the actress recently revealed that the high fashion of "Casino" was equally troublesome. "That dress weighed about 35 pounds," Stone said in reference to one of the movie's more elaborate outfits (via Yahoo!), "and those metal sequins were a nightmare, they were cutting, they cut into my armpits and my neck. That dress was a misery!"

Every scene (The King of Comedy)

Of all the movies in the Scorsese filmography, the director has said that "The King of Comedy" was probably the most difficult for him to pull off. The 1982 black comedy stars Robert De Niro as an aspiring stand-up comedian who loses touch with reality on the precipice of his big break. The film is recognized today as a key inspiration for 2019's "The Joker," starring Joaquin Phoenix. But as Scorsese details in his book "Scorsese on Scorsese," "The King of Comedy" barely made it to the screen, as the director had to push his own filmmaking boundaries.

"By the second week of shooting I was begging them not to let me go on," Scorsese says in the book (via The Guardian). "I was coughing on the floor and sounding like a character from the Magic Mountain." With a potential directors' strike looming, Scorsese and crew were required to begin filming the movie before they were ready and to cram as much into each day as possible. "I shouldn't have done it and it soon became clear that I wasn't up to it," the director writes. Regardless, Scorsese admits that most of the difficulties fell on his shoulders as the actors onscreen exceeded his expectations.