Gray told RogerEbert.com that he believed the Covid shutdowns helped Scorsese and company reshape the script, affording more time for the Osage community to provide input. An early dinner gathering “was an opportunity to exchange ideas of concepts that aren’t in the book, although helpful for him [Scorsese] to incorporate,” he said.
In the land of film discourse, there’s sometimes a perception that a screenplay that is still being worked on until the last minute is a sign of a weak or troubled script. But there’s another way to look at it: the script as living document. At CinemaCon, the director confirmed this, recalling that after a traditional dinner with approximately 200 members of the Osage community, the shooting script became a dynamic text, constantly revised with community input, “line by line. Scene by scene. We kept working and working on the script until the last day of shooting.”
DiCaprio’s heel-turn (a nod to Montgomery Clift)
Leonardo DiCaprio was originally slated to play Tom White, the lead FBI agent on the case during one of the earliest large-scale investigations by the new federal unit (White is now played by Jesse Plemons). But the star was more interested in the role of Ernest Burkhart, which was helpful in pivoting the script away from documenting the investigation and resting it more on how events were instigated.
Burkhart, the nephew of a wealthy cattle rancher, William Hale (De Niro), lived with the Osage and willingly helped his uncle carry out a horrific plan of removing Osage oil heirs, despite his growing personal ties to the community via his marriage to Mollie Kyle, played by Gladstone. (As Knight Adamson notes in her interview piece, Gray’s great-grandfather was close with Burkhart and Kyle.)
Scorsese explained that DiCaprio’s interest in Ernest opened up his adaptation via human contradictions because “as the Osage verified for us, Ernest and Mollie were truly in love with each other. He’s an outsider and she trusts him. Yet, he did terrible, terrible things.” And thus, with DiCaprio shirking the (more “heroic”) investigative role, the story was able to move directly into the community via a complicit and morally corrupted character. This is a storytelling angle that squares up with some of the best films in Scorsese’s oeuvre.