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Why Leonardo DiCaprio Was Recast in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

Why Leonardo DiCaprio Was Recast in Killers of the Flower Moon 333
Leonardo DiCaprio Samir Hussein/WireImage

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Ernest Burkhart in the upcoming crime drama Killers of the Flower Moon, but he was originally supposed to portray a different role in the film.

DiCaprio, 48, was initially cast to play Bureau of Investigation agent Tom White in an earlier version of the movie, which was more focused on the crime plot line. His previous role still appears in the film — played by Jesse Plemons — but DiCaprio and director Martin Scorsese realized that the project needed to bring Lily Gladstone’s character, Ernest’s wife, Mollie Burkhart, to the forefront instead.

“It just didn’t feel like it got to the heart of it,” DiCaprio said during a joint interview with Gladstone, 37, for British Vogue published on Tuesday, September 19. The actor explained that the early version of the film was missing the Osage perspective despite telling the true story of the murder of 60 or more Osage Native Americans that took place in Osage County, Oklahoma, between 1918 and 1931.

DiCaprio continued: “We weren’t immersed in the Osage story. There was this tiny, small scene between Mollie [who is Osage] and Ernest that provoked such emotion in us at the reading, and we just started to penetrate into what that relationship was, because it was so twisted and bizarre and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.”


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In Killers of the Flower Moon, DiCaprio and Gladstone play married couple Ernest and Mollie. Ernest marries Mollie at his uncle Bill Hale’s (Robert De Niro) suggestion. Ernest and Bill then plan the systematic murder of Mollie’s family to obtain their “headrights,” which provided them with annual royalties for the oil-rich land they owned.

Why Leonardo DiCaprio Was Recast in Killers of the Flower Moon 334
Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio. Melinda Sue Gordon/Apple TV+

DiCaprio called the harrowing tale “a completely forgotten part of American history and an open wound that still festers.” Gladstone, who is a direct descendant of the Blackfeet Chief Red Crow, pointed out that the events that inspired the film occurred “not that long ago.”

She added: “I don’t want to label this a western. I’m happy that it’s being labeled a tragedy.”

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DiCaprio sang his costar’s praises during the interview, recalling how Scorsese, 80, knew he wanted to cast Gladstone after meeting her via Zoom.

“There was no reading. … Marty just instinctively knew Lily was the one,” the Oscar winner said, noting that there was a “truthfulness in [Lily’s] eyes” that came through “even over a computer scene.” (Though Gladstone was cast without reading with DiCaprio, the actress read and auditioned for the role.)

DiCaprio also gushed about Gladstone’s “absolutely astonishing” performance in the film. “She carries the entire film and the story,” he said.

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In addition to centering an Osage character’s perspective in the film, the Killers of the Flower Moon team wanted to collaborate with the real-world Osage community. Geoffrey Standing Bear, the Principal Chief of the Osage Nation, has fully endorsed the project.

“All these people worked so hard with our people. … It was just amazing to see,” Chief Standing Bear told British Vogue. “I just did a groundbreaking [a traditional ceremony celebrating the first day of construction] for some elderly housing this morning. I used some Osage words and I said, ‘Now I want us all to try to speak as good Osage as Robert De Niro.’”

Killers of the Flower Moon hits theaters on October 20, 2023.

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