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Martin Scorsese talks ‘Silence’, working with De Niro again, what’s next with Leo and why his Sinatra biopic is DOA

By Bruce Kirkland, Special to Postmedia Network

NEW YORK — As he moves into the twilight of his life, and the final chapters of his directing career, 74-year-old Martin Scorsese is busier than ever with a clutch of major film projects in hand and in the planning stages.

But now each one has to count, more than ever. They have to count as deeply as Silence does. This is Scorsese’s new religious-themed epic about Jesuit priests trying to convert peasants to Christ in feudal Japan in the 1600s. It opens in select cities on Friday, Dec. 23, with Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson and Japanese star Issey Ogata on the marquee.

Silence, Scorsese says, is the culmination of 27 years of meditating, musing and working out the way he could film Japanese author Shusaku Endo’s acclaimed 1966 novel, which he read in 1989. This came after bitter controversy erupted over the content of Scorsese’s 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ, obscuring his original purpose in exploring the life of Jesus.

“But I found that when I read this book Silence, and I found it just a year later, I discovered that it would take me deeper in — and that it was worth pursuing for so many years.”

Scorsese’s future projects also have to count deeply. He cites the example of his next collaboration with actor Leonardo DiCaprio, a creepy thriller called The Devil in the White City. Still in the development stages, it will be based on the novel by Erik Larson, who based his tale on the chilling true-life story of a Chicago serial killer operating at the time of the 1893 World’s Fair.

Speaking of DiCaprio, but illustrating his resolve in general, Scorsese told Sun Media in a Canadian-exclusive one-on-one interview: “If we can find material that we can both agree upon, and it’s a worthwhile experience, then we will do it.”

To punctuate the thought, Scorsese adds expansively: “Especially now that the ‘while’ is getting smaller and smaller as I get older. Or shorter and short, I should say. Nobody younger understands that when you say: ‘I don’t want to spend two years of my life doing ‘this’ (if his heart is not in it).’ They don’t get it … and I didn’t get it either until I got to this point.”

So Scorsese will film The Devil in the White City with DiCaprio after he shoots The Irishman with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. That is another passion project, not least because he will be collaborating again with De Niro, a close friend since Taxi Driver 40 years ago.

Meanwhile, Scorsese is developing a biopic of George Washington called The General, with DiCaprio slated to play Washington when he leads the Americans in the War of Independence against the British. “I am fascinated by that. I don’t know, but you could spend the rest of your life doing something like that!”

Scorsese also is excited about a biopic of boxer Mike Tyson — with Jamie Foxx as Tyson — although Scorsese will now produce and not direct that one, despite earlier reports. Yet he will entertain the notion of directing the film version of American author Marilynne Robinson’s novel Home, one third of her midwest trilogy about a family in the late 1950s and early 1960s. “It is quite interesting. It is a simpler production. I read the book when we were shooting this movie (Silence).”

Quite simply, Scorsese cannot stop himself: “No! And I don’t want to!” Reminded that legendary Hollywood director John Huston made the James Joyce-inspired drama The Dead (1987) at the age of 81, Scorsese glows and pays tribute: “And that was one of his masterpieces!”

So age is no impediment to greatness. Nor to determining that it is time to change his filmmaking style, when the occasion calls for it.

“I’m trying to strip down the style,” Scorsese explains. In Silence — which he filmed in 2015 in Taiwan before spending 2016 with his long-time film editor, Thelma Schoonmaker — the visuals speak for themselves. Many sequences move slowly, showcasing horizons or lonely figures set against a harsh if beautiful landscape.

“I enjoy the filmmaking of a Wolf or a Departed,” Scorsese says, referring to the operatic nature of The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) or the high-style of his crime and corruption thriller The Departed (2006). “I enjoy the actual putting together of the shot with my editor Thelma. But there is a different way and another part of me, too (as a filmmaker). I don’t know if you can say: ‘Oh, he’s just getting older.’ But it’s not easy to know when to stop directing the shot.”

On the set of Silence, he found that way, especially when contemplating the universe from the crests of peaks in Taiwan’s Tsenguanliaw and Jinguashi regions. “On the mountain tops there,” Scorsese says, “I looked out and I saw the images.”

Casting was an interesting exercise, too. Just by coincidence, for his primary Jesuits, he chose three leading men who happened to have superhero or mythic movies on their resumes: Liam Neeson (Clash of the Titans, The Dark Knight Rises), Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man).

“It’s kind of nice,” Scorsese says with a grin. Each actor, he says, is searching, just as he is, for something greater and deeper in their work. “That’s why I think it’s interesting.”

It also meant he could play some games with old pal creator George Lucas. On a recent night in San Francisco, Scorsese got to introduce Driver to Lucas as if the Kylo Ren actor would be a complete stranger to the Star Wars creator. “Hey George, do you know Adam?”

Even a master like Martin Scorsese likes to have fun.

Silence opens across Canada on Jan. 6 and Jan. 13, 2017.

Taking care of business with Bobby De Niro

Citing “unfinished business” that he has with long-time close friend and collaborator Robert De Niro, filmmaker Martin Scorsese is planning to shoot The Irishman with De Niro and Al Pacino in the new year.

Among all his possibilities, “The Irishman is the one for which the script is finished!” Scorsese told Sun Media in an interview for his new film Silence. Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York, Moneyball) has turned in a final version

De Niro has held the project near-and-dear for a decade, having pitched Scorsese soon after he read the 2005 Charles Brandt book, I Heard You Paint Houses. That title is a mob euphemism for making a contract hit. Frank (The Irishman) Sheeran is a real-life hitman who was supposedly responsible for at least 25 mob murders; and Sheeran claimed to be the one who assassinated Jimmy Hoffa.

“You know,” Scorsese said, “De Niro and I have some unfinished business, so it looks like that might be next!”

Told that outsiders also want to see De Niro and Pacino on screen together again in a crime movie, Scorsese laughed and said: “Me too!”

The unfinished business is re-teaming with De Niro. “We’ve been trying for years to do something again, since Casino, but we’ve never got the right story. This seems to be the right one.”

De Niro, said Scorsese, “had tears in his eyes when he described this to me, and I think I know how to do it.”

Rendezvous with Leo

Martin Scorsese’s latest collaboration with producer-actor Leonardo DiCaprio is not ready to shoot yet but they will soon be making progress soon, Scorsese told Sun Media.

“Right now, there is a script being worked on,” Scorsese said of an adaptation of Erik Larson’s book, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. Larson’s tale, based on a true story, entwines the stories of a notorious serial killer and the architect who designed the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

“One of the things that I had to stop for the past six months,” Scorsese said about his final push to complete his new spiritual drama Silence, “was my meetings on that script. They want me to start again in January and see if we can find a way because it’s an extraordinary story.”

DiCaprio purchased the film rights in 2010. Scorsese said he looks forward to working again with DiCaprio, as they have on past films such as Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street. They share a vision on film and on life, he explained. “We’ve become very close and we really love hanging out together.”

Giving up on the Chairman of the Board

Martin Scorsese’s planned biopic of Frank Sinatra (again, with DiCaprio) is now dead-and-buried, the filmmaker revealed to Sun Media.

“We can’t do it!” Scorsese said, with a tinge of sadness, in an interview for his new film Silence. “I think it is finally over. They (remaining members of the Sinatra clan) won’t agree to it. Open it up again and I’m there!”

But the darker, more complicated sides of Frank Sinatra’s life as a singer and actor have stopped the project in its tracks, Scorsese explained of the script development stage. Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams) had been writing the screenplay

“Certain things are very difficult for a family, and I totally understand. But, if they expect me to be doing it, they can’t hold back certain things. The problem is that the man was so complex. Everybody is so complex — but Sinatra in particular.”

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

BKirkland@postmedia.com