P.J. Byrne never liked making cold calls. While majoring in finance at Boston College in the early 1990s, he took a summer internship selling AAA-rated municipal bonds over the phone. At the time, he’d planned to be an investment banker on Wall Street, but after two weeks on the job, he realized dialing numbers wasn’t the path for him. “I was like, this just feels car salesman–y to me,” he says. “I wanted nothing to do with that.”
About 15 years later, after pivoting to drama school and pursuing an acting career, Byrne gave cold-calling a second chance. In a taped audition for The Wolf of Wall Street, the actor leaned into his brief boiler room experience, took a gamble, and improvised an outrageous sales call monologue in which he pretended to scam a former client’s widow out of $100,000. In a devastated voice, he built a sob story around her husband’s financial intentions. “I started pilfering information from this woman,” Byrne says. “But on the other side of the phone, she can’t see that I’m humping the desk and having a blast.” Without realizing it, Byrne had channeled Jordan Belfort—the movie’s craven, money-hungry, criminal protagonist—to a T.
It wasn’t long before he got a callback to go to New York—along with several other green actors, including Brian Sacca, Henry Zebrowski, and Kenneth Choi—to convene inside a suite at Le Meridien Hotel, where they would perform the same monologues in front of Martin Scorsese and casting director Ellen Lewis. The group was, understandably, nervous as hell. “I thought it was going to be a serious audition,” Byrne says. After a few minutes, however, everyone quickly realized the director wanted them to channel the absurdity of their original auditions, use prop desks and phones, and take advantage of the unusual group setting. “And then,” Byrne adds, “you heard him cackling.”
“We were doing it almost like a scene,” Sacca says. “At one point, I said something on the phone: ‘If you buy these stocks, I will let you snort coke off of my tits.’ That got a big laugh from Marty and the other guys.”
Though The Wolf of Wall Street mostly chronicles Jordan Belfort’s real-life rise and fall as a corrupt CEO (dynamically portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio), the movie’s hedonistic heart belongs to his unquestioning, cultlike worshippers, tracing their evolution from blue-collar schemers to suit-and-tie heathens eager to debase themselves in the name of money and power. The “merry band of brokers,” as Forbes nicknamed them—Nicky, Robbie, Chester, Alden, and Toby (Ethan Suplee)—might not be in charge, but they double down on their penny-stock-peddling debauchery. “Those are the types of people you’re looking to recruit,” Wolf writer Terence Winter says. “A guy who is morally malleable and hungry and has half a brain.”
The three-hour comedy, released 10 years ago this week, ultimately becomes an American tragedy of unchecked testosterone, spiraling greed, and blind idolization. To pull off the corporate circus, everyone in the group—much like the characters they played—embraced excess and chased their id. Guided by Scorsese’s kinetic camera and Winter’s loyal adaptation of Belfort’s autobiography, the cast practiced slimy sales techniques, improvised office high jinks, snorted fake cocaine, simulated orgies, and lost their voices screaming at clients over the phone. Making it was a marathon of endurance, frat-like behavior, and pinch-me moments.
“I was astutely aware,” Sacca says, “that the things that were happening were the stories I was going to be telling forever.”
In 2007, when Winter first pored through Belfort’s The Wolf of Wall Street, he couldn’t wait to turn it into a Hollywood script. Belfort’s first-person account had plenty of cinematic moments—office sex parties, a quaalude trip, a sunken yacht—and followed a classic rise-and-fall narrative, but Winter mostly related to its ambitious protagonist. The pair were around the same age, had grown up in New York’s outer boroughs, and both dreamed of moving to Manhattan and becoming rich. In 1987, around the same time Belfort began his financial career at L.F. Rothschild, Winter had started as a legal assistant at Merrill Lynch. “I was literally working a quarter of a mile away from where Jordan was working on Wall Street,” Winter says.
In other words, he knew this guy. He knew what drove him. But perhaps more importantly, he knew exactly how Belfort built and scammed his way to the top with a bunch of low-level nobodies. “They reminded me of my own friends,” Winter laughs. “These are guys who don’t have the strongest moral compass. They’re not necessarily college educated. These aren’t guys who would go the more traditional route to work for a legitimate Wall Street firm.” Effectively, they were door-to-door salesmen ready to make a quick buck who would pledge loyalty to anyone who could make them money. “As long as Jordan looked like the pillar of success, that’s all he really needed,” Winter says. “If you’re rich, they don’t care how you got there.”
After securing an initial option deal and commitments from Scorsese and DiCaprio, Winter began investigating more about Belfort’s life. He met with Belfort’s parents, his ex-wife, and his financial victims. He drove to Long Island, toured Belfort’s home, and visited his country club. Most shrewdly, Winter convinced Belfort to reenact one of his daily pump-up speeches at CAA’s headquarters, where Winter taped his old sales presentation for reference. Soon after, Winter structured his screenplay with voiceover narration, changing key names and crafting composite characters—like Jonah Hill’s Donnie Azoff, Stratton’s second-in-command—for legal reasons. But he never strayed from the real-life insanity of Belfort’s cult creation. “I wrote the whole script in 17 days,” Winter says. “It was maybe the most fun I’ve ever had writing a script.”
About five years later, the movie went into production, and the recently cast Belfort boys began their preparation with a sales crash course from the wolf himself, which clarified and informed the entire shoot. “It gave you a little glimpse,” Choi says. “When you have that killer shark energy, everybody else around you has to become a killer shark, or you get swallowed up and eaten.”
Henry Zebrowski (Alden “Sea Otter” Kupferberg): When we first came together, we went to Leo’s apartment. He had Jordan come in and give an example of his ramp-up training speech.
Kenneth Choi (Chester Ming): Sort of a mini sales pitch tutorial.
Zebrowski: We were talking with [Belfort], and he said, “Have you guys ever seen $25,000?” And he pulled out a bunch of money and threw it on the table, which he probably had to scoop up and put back into his pockets. Then they popped a bunch of bottles.
Terence Winter (writer): It’s really fascinating when you see somebody who understands the psychology behind how to set you up. It’s a whole series of questions and answers to the customer. It’s like a good cross-examination. I am going to move you into a corner where your only response can be the one I want.
Choi: He would say, “If you ever get lost, follow the script. The script is your bible. The script is gold. Memorize the script.” Even in that little training session, you could kind of see him step back in time. He got swept up in it.
Zebrowski: Jordan would say, “I just had this piece of paper come across my desk.” He was like, “You wave your hand across. I know it’s dumb, but this is how I talked to the dumb shits I worked with back in the day.”
P.J. Byrne (Nicky “Rugrat” Koskoff): I was like, this guy is a fucking con artist. Holy shit. This scared the fuck out of me.
Choi: I think it was valuable not just to hear how he would do it, but to see his energy and really feel it right in front of you. He was constantly teaching you how to divide and conquer.
Winter: He basically applied high-level skills to a low-level sales force, taking the skills of a Jedi and bringing them into a shitty boxing gym. The idea that this is a legitimate, Wall Street–trained broker and using the spiel you would get from L.F. Rothschild or Goldman Sachs on a mailman. … It was like taking candy from a baby.
Ethan Suplee (Toby Welch): We are playing blue-collar guys who couldn’t cut it as blue-collar guys. We suck at this. You’re not going to find a whole lot of legitimate guys who are willing to do that because there’s risk. You’re doing something completely immoral and unethical, but also illegal.
Zebrowski: The direction for my character was like, this is kind of a revenge against society. Because everybody always told me I was fat and dumb and I was never going to be a millionaire and I was never going to make it. Now, here I am. Jordan believes in me. He saw something in me. I’m just like him.
Suplee: Jordan was like the pied piper. He is the messiah of this industry of ripping people off.
Zebrowski: Intelligent, self-conscious people get pulled into cults all the time. It’s because there’s extreme comfort in letting someone else take the wheel.
Byrne: You’ve got to remember, these guys are all narcissists. And they all ruin the people closest to them. No one has a long-term relationship. If you get sucked into their orbit, you’re going to get chewed on and shit out. But while you’re there, it’s a fucking insane ride.
In an early, seminal montage, DiCaprio mimics Belfort’s presentation, teaching his friends how to reel in customers and shake them down with nefarious tactics. Throughout the scene—which functions as a shared monologue—they follow their scripts and reap the rewards, helping turn Stratton Oakmont from a garage facility into a full-blown office. Using variations of their monologue auditions, the group of actors leaned into their comedic roots to make every office call sizzle.
Zebrowski: It was like two weeks of rehearsal. Scorsese loved improv, but you better be very, very good. He doesn’t want time wasted.
Brian Sacca (Robbie “Pinhead” Feinberg): They hired us because we were guys who could improvise, who could be in the moment and come up with some shit. Some of my favorite moments were: “We need you to do something.”
Choi: We sit around a table, we have the script, and you would just throw everything against the wall. You’d react off someone’s bit, and then Leo and Jonah would react off it. I’d improvise one thing and you’d get the script back a couple days later and your stuff would be in there word for word.
Winter: Anything beyond the dialogue is great. And sometimes, that’s where the gold is, especially when you get an actor who’s really good at it.
Sacca: There were like six of us, including Ted Griffin, the on-set writer, finding how the Tetris of this sales monologue through that long montage is going to work up until an hour before we shot that.
Byrne: Marty knew it would get boring. And he’s like, “How do we keep it interesting?”
Sacca: There was one day of rehearsal where we’re all in a room around a table reading that monologue. And a debate happened between Scorsese and Leo: “Do we let the guys go free-form and improvise, or do we keep it contained and to the script? Finally, I just raised my hand: “Guys, you’re going to shoot this on a circle track, right?” And immediately, I’m like, “What the fuck am I saying? Am I going to get fired off this movie?”
Byrne: [Scorcese’s] like, “I was thinking you’re next to Kenny, and I was going to put a [circle] track around both of you, let’s just say this little part of the monologue.” We were only supposed to do a paragraph, and the monologue is like three pages. We kept passing it and passing it. The room’s quiet now and filled with hundreds of extras, but everyone’s now listening. You can feel the energy. I’m in the zone of zones. Kenny’s in the zone. We’re just making this magic.
Zebrowski: Everybody kind of got to just throw in on their character. And it allowed me to feel comfortable with these people. As we became masters of the universe, it was really important to kind of go from our dumb Queens clothes to the suits. You kind of see how that changes everything.
Choi: I specifically was asked to gain 20 pounds. This guy is about excess. He eats everything, he consumes as much cocaine and women and booze as he can. And that’s where some of my little moments like the doughnut scene came from. He’s just a slovenly pig.
Sacca: We all had our specific traits that we liked to play with. But we all had different levels of aggression. That kind of yes-men, doofus quality was a through line between a bunch of us.
Once Stratton Oakmont grew into a Wall Street middleweight, the office became littered with shocking and vulgar HR violations. As chronicled by Belfort, almost anything related to sex, drugs, and alcohol happened within the walls of the brokerage firm, which more often looked like a bacchanalian madhouse. But Winter wasn’t too surprised by the colorful revelations. During his own brief stint in Merrill Lynch’s law department, he’d seen firsthand the kinds of unholy shenanigans taking place at Stratton. “Somebody had a marching band and brought a monkey onto the trading floor,” Winter says. “When the market closed at 4 p.m., everybody went out and just partied all night. And you’d get guys coming in the next morning hungover and just coked out of their minds.”
Of course, the bigger firms couldn’t compete with Stratton’s no-holds-bar approach, something Scorsese and Winter became devoted to portraying and sometimes embellishing. Spitting in the face of discretion, the filmmaking team leaned into the company’s voracious and lustful appetite, depicting everything from stampeding strippers, to thrown-around little people, to impromptu animal stunts. Not to mention Belfort’s motivational speeches, which turned the office into a pep rally every afternoon. “The whole thing is about excess, and when is too much too much?” Winter says. “It just got crazier and bigger and out of control.”
In some ways, showing it all became a sort of PSA, especially when things come crashing down in the third hour. “That’s the power of comedy,” Byrne says. “You’re able to turn the mirror on yourself with society and go, this is wrong.” In order to capture the chaos, the production moved from Manhattan into a massive office stage in Westchester, where, for nearly two months, the Belfort boys—alongside hundreds of extras—lived inside an unethical bubble catering to their leader’s absurdist ideas.
Sacca: My voice was gone for a good six weeks because we were screaming so much.
Choi: I wasn’t very talkative because I had to gain so much weight that I always felt like taking a nap.
Sacca: I’ll shout out the AD and second AD, who had to wrangle 500 extras to get all of us to be screaming and then shut the fuck up in between takes. That was hard.
Choi: There’s so much importance put on AI in our SAG contract. There’s a reason for that. When you’re in a real space with 300 human beings who are in the background, the energy just swells and you can feel it. Everybody is going apeshit trying to “sell, sell, sell,” and that informs your performance because you feel that surge of energy come through you as an actor.
Suplee: There’s a lot of shit happening in the background of that movie that’s just as crazy as what’s happening in the foreground.
Zebrowski: It was just us bullshitting for 12 hours being animals. Scorsese used to come by and go, “Yeah, you pigs, you ready to get going, you pigs?” We’re like, “Yeah!”
Choi: There’s a scene where Leo walks through with a chimpanzee for no reason, which scared the shit out of me. The whole time I’m thinking, “This ape is going to fucking pounce on me.” I think I just bent down and did some fake lines of cocaine.
Sacca: We had to snort a lot of cocaine in this movie. At the beginning, it was very finely powdered vitamin B12. And man, did it fucking feel good. It was so nice.
Zebrowski: We could snort B12 forever. And we did. And we took every single opportunity we could because we were in a Scorsese movie, and we were animals.
Sacca: About three months into production, they switched it up—they put some dog shit in there. And we were like, “No, no, no, no. Where’s our B12? Bring back the good shit!” We had to sit down with the props master and be like, “Come on, man, we have to snort this shit all day long.”
Suplee: The other brokers and I were in our cast chairs reading books and playing chess, and they came and dragged me to this private set. Leo helped me get sober many years ago, and he was like, “Do you know how to [blow cocaine up someone’s butt]? I was like, “Yeah, I do know how to do this. Unfortunately, I am your technical drug adviser.” But I was happy to help. It was so funny to see them sitting on this closed set discussing amongst themselves, “How do we do this?”
Choi: The head-shaving scene was a huge fucking deal. I think it was a woman who was somehow friends with Leo, and she offered to do it.
Byrne: When we started shaving her head, it was shocking. I practiced with a razor on a fake scalp a lot because I was like, “I don’t want to ruin this moment for her.”
Choi: You have 350 people yelling at P.J. to shave her head. It was so overwhelming.
Byrne: You’re simultaneously going, “Holy fuck, this is crazy, I can’t believe this.” And then: “There’s the camera. Make sure you’re doing it perfectly for the camera.”
Choi: [P.J.’s] hairpiece should have got its own credit, that’s for sure.
Byrne: I still have the hairpiece. It was a thing having that on.
Sacca: One of the little people we threw was an employee of Stratton Oakmont, and he told stories that were fucked up. These weren’t stories like, “I can’t believe what they did to me.” These were stories of: “Let me tell you what I did.” We were like, “Oh man, don’t share those.”
Suplee: First of all, we couldn’t actually do it. It’s not like throwing a 50-pound weight. The guy weighed 150 pounds. That’s a lot to pick up and throw.
Byrne: [Our characters] are not nice people. When you watch that and you know they’re throwing little people, that’s fucking disturbing. And that’s what these fucking guys did.
Suplee: Terrifically uncomfortable. This is all the behavior of really abhorrent people. But sometimes as actors we have to lean into that discomfort. I also think that it’s important to show that.
Sacca: I think I would have been more uncomfortable if the two guys who were a part of it weren’t as excited. They were both thrilled to be part of it. And they were really cool dudes.
Zebrowski: My guesstimation is that 80 percent of it happened. And then the rest of it was mostly just having money and getting hammered with the same five guys and getting rejected at the club and going home to your wife.
Suplee: If I had gotten rewarded for being at my worst, what would that do to me? It probably wouldn’t have been good for my life. I probably wouldn’t be alive. At my worst, I would be dead for sure, and that was what I was thinking about: Turn the bad behavior up. It’s kind of like frat boy culture. Bad behavior just seems to breed more bad behavior. And I don’t know if it’s that business that attracts and breeds that personality. How much sushi can you stuff down your face? How much can you drink? How much coke can you do? How much money can you make? How many girls can you sleep with? It’s just all part of it.
Arguably the most obscene imagery of the movie comes from Belfort’s bachelor party, when the camera pans down the aisle of a plane that has been turned into a giant orgy. The scene, filmed on a soundstage in Queens for a day, lasts just a few seconds, but it became an instant memory for everyone involved.
Sacca: We’re in a metal tube, there’s some hot-ass lights, and there are 60 naked people at 8:30 in the morning.
Choi: It’s so fucking cramped. Everyone’s sweaty because everyone’s kind of in a rambunctious state. And you’re doing it over and over and over for this poor Steadicam guy who’s trying to get everything.
Zebrowski: It was a long day.
Suplee: This was my first experience with an intimacy coordinator. I suspect they invented that job for Wolf of Wall Street.
Sacca: We had a rehearsal where we met with the choreographer, and we were partnered with people who we were going to be interacting with. It never doesn’t get weird. I couldn’t help but think: My parents are going to see this.
Zebrowski: I was with a couple of Rockettes and a couple of professional dancers. You have a super awkward moment where you’re having fake sex with someone for an entire take and then you realize the camera wasn’t on you.
Byrne: The camera’s tracking. We’re going, boom, boom, boom. Where do I want to be? I know I have one second. What can we do in that one “boom” that no one else is doing?
Choi: In between takes everyone’s real respect, respect, respect. Robes come off. I just kept looking up in the air because you don’t want to be leering. Then you get in the mode of: “This is just about excess.”
Zebrowski: I remember having to psych myself up. I was sitting there in my chair, saying to myself, “You love strippers! You love cocaine! You love going nuts!” And I was like, “This is your favorite day. So you go in there and have your favorite day you’ve ever had.”
Byrne: I had a bachelor party, which was G-rated. But I remember my friends made me walk around in a meat bathing suit with a banana hammock. I’m like, if I’m doing that at mine, what are these despicable, wealthy 10-year-olds doing? At the time, I was walking past the Museum of Sex—like, there’s got to be something that’s going to trigger something disgusting for me. Remember those Pez bracelets that you could eat as a kid? They had that in an underwear version. I was like, that’s what I’m going to wear.
Choi: P.J.’s attitude was, they’re illicit stockbrokers, they do a bunch of drugs, consume all this booze. There is no limit. There is no top. Anything fucking goes.
Byrne: I went to Sandy Powell, the Oscar award–winning costume designer with jet-red hair. I’m like, “This is candy underwear that just covers my dingle-dangle junk.” She looked at me like I was a despicable, disgusting man. She paused for 10 seconds, but it felt like two days. She looks at me. She looks at that. She just goes, “OK.”
Suplee: I’ve lost a lot of weight, I’ve got loose skin. I’ve never once felt proud of my body. I have a lot of body issues. I don’t really ever want to do a sex scene. I have four daughters. And then you’ve got Henry Zebrowski, who has got no body shame and is willing to put himself out there.
Zebrowski: I have done naked improv for a long time. Nudity just becomes the scenery. You’re kind of like, “When’s this going to get over with?”
Suplee: I wound up pitching stuff that allowed me to keep my clothes on. What if we’re playing cards? What if I’m asleep? What if I’m playing solitaire?
Sacca: He’s my favorite moment because he’s just sitting there having a conversation with somebody. It made it better.
Suplee: I have not been to an orgy, but I imagine that’s what an orgy smells like. Like every private part coming into contact with a private part.
Zebrowski: It got very human in that room.
Sacca: That day was Scorsese’s 70th birthday. We had cake.
In the midst of shooting, actor and character began to blur. Every day that DiCaprio arrived to set, he greeted hundreds of screaming women and paparazzi, affirming his A-list stature, before going to work, where he’d receive even more admiration on the fake trading floor. It was an eye-opener for Zebrowski and the other young actors, who couldn’t believe the way their leader had to operate—and how that might affect someone’s identity. “It was weird how many mountains had to move for him to move,” Zebrowski says. “I will never say he’s trapped, but he can’t go anywhere.”
Leo’s celebrity—and his connections around the city—further accented Zebrowski’s similarities to his own character. “I’m from a working-class family. This is my first time seeing any of this shit,” he says. “I went to the back door of 1 Oak, and you could see the models register. I’m not supposed to be there.” There was a similar vibe once the cameras began rolling. “All these friends and stockbrokers wanted to do was please Jordan,” Choi says. “Everyone on set, all they wanted to do was please Leo and Marty and Jonah. You would have given everything in the scene to make sure that they got what they needed.”
Unlike Belfort, however, who wanted his employees leveraged and desperate, DiCaprio came to set open-minded and generous, wanting to nail every scene with his collaborators. Ahead of speeches and group scenes, his dedication to preparation became an infectious trait and inspired the cast to deliver unblemished, gonzo performances. “When you have 500 people worshipping this guy, you can feel how energizing and exciting that would be,” Sacca says.
Suplee: When Leo’s giving those speeches, you almost feel like a fistfight could break out. He’s sending people off to war. He’s the general, and we’re going to go die for him.
Zebrowski: Chills still go up my spine when I think about it sometimes.
Sacca: He would come in with these 15-minute monologues, word perfect, accent perfect, still being able to improvise on top of it, coming up with ideas in the moment.
Zebrowski: He could do it one way, they’d give him a note, he’d do it a completely different way. They’d give him a note, he’d go back to the old way, mixed with the second way.
Sacca: I was enthralled with it, but it wasn’t necessarily the personality of Leonardo DiCaprio or Jordan Belfort’s words, it was this fucking performance that was like, “Holy shit, I don’t think I can do that.” I can’t crank out these monologues and do a gazillion takes of them and then be like, “All right, let’s do another one.”
Suplee: I’ve never seen a crack in Leo’s professionalism. They knock on his door to tell him they’re ready on set, and he is exploding from his chair. He is always prepared.
Zebrowski: For a bunch of green dudes who weren’t movie stars, he was extremely generous. That’s where the Belfort comparison doesn’t work, because that dude would have never shown up and done the dirty work himself.
Choi: It’s Hurricane Sandy. Everybody got sick over a three-week period. At some point, Leo got so sick that they shut down shooting for a day. We come back, and it’s the “I’m not leaving” scene.
Winter: I was writing it with Leo in mind. I had taped some of what Jordan said and then added my own embellishment to make it flow a little clearer or better if it needed it. A lot of times, it didn’t. Some of his stuff was just pure gold.
Byrne: We stayed up all night because the days moved. And I was like, “How the fuck is he going to do this?”
Choi: I happened to be outside smoking a cigarette, and I watched him in front of his trailer. I was like, “Oh, this guy’s rehearsing.” He would go through his motions. You’d see him kind of shake his head, turn around, go back to his starting mark in the parking lot, and do it again and again and again. He’s a craftsman. He’s pumped up with meds, he comes in, he does one rehearsal, and I’ll never forget, I could see in his head he missed a line. So he took one step back, remembered the line, and carried through with it. After that, he didn’t flub once, and he did it over and over with so much energy.
Sacca: It’s like a preacher, like Jim Jones speaking into a microphone to his disciples.
Choi: He was walking down the aisle bashing this microphone on his head. The prop guy came and showed us. It was caved in because he was smashing it on his skull.
Byrne: He’s a baller, dude. And honestly, that’s the world that I like to work in and live in. All day we’re here to kill. When we’re on set, we’re not coming back here again. Let’s make sure we fucking get it.
Zebrowski: [In that moment], Jordan’s not a bad guy. He’s not a fucking criminal. He’s helping all of us. You just don’t understand that what he’s doing is including you in his crime.
Byrne: When you see me get crazy at the end, it’s like, I don’t want my “god” to leave. I don’t want this meal ticket to end.
Choi: In the wedding scene where we’re all dancing and stuff, [Leo] had this huge case of 5-Hour Energy drinks. He came in right before like, “Everyone take one! Everyone take one!” And then we slammed it, and then we went into the scene.
Zebrowski: They’re putting us all in a circle, and they just have the music going.
Choi: We actually were talking about the Kid ’n Play dance. I go out there and do my dance move, and I knew to throw it right to him so he’d come out pop-locking. I was shocked that he was so fucking good with the pop-locking.
Zebrowski: I guess he’d been doing it for forever on his own.
Byrne: How fucking insane a dancer is Kenny? And then Leo saw that. He’s like, let’s fucking go. And then everybody had their moment to be who they were.
Choi: He looked at me and went, “Come here, come here, come here,” so that we could do the Kid ’n Play dance. That’s why he’s amazing. There’s some actors out there who don’t want you to steal the light.
When The Wolf of Wall Street premiered on Christmas Day, many critics lauded Scorsese’s return to bombastic filmmaking and comedic storytelling. But a vocal contingent couldn’t get past the movie’s inflated running time and excessive antics, believing they celebrated Belfort’s unethical behavior. As David Edelstein argued in his Vulture review, the movie is “three hours of horrible people doing horrible things and admitting to being horrible,” later calling it “thumpingly insipid.” Later, in an open letter to LA Weekly, a woman connected to Belfort accused the movie’s characters of “exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior.”
The critique resembled the conversations surrounding Goodfellas, despite the fact that both movies highlight their protagonists’ calamitous, unglamorous falls. “When you see Ray Liotta getting chased by helicopters and he’s fucking high out of his mind on cocaine, at no point do you look at that and say, ‘God, being a gangster is pretty cool,’” Suplee says. Wolf’s length and its punishing scenes of depravity, he adds, only helped illustrate the fatiguing and ruinous state that Belfort inspired and embodied. “It was the same experience I had with drugs, which is: You get high, and then you’re just chasing that experience over and over again and you never get it. You always get some muted version of it.”
Ten years removed, it’s perhaps easier to see the movie as a warning signal, an example of how scammy, magnanimous figures can organize a cultlike following and engender loyal defenders based on flashy facades and mostly empty promises. The examples of the last decade—the fanaticism around Donald Trump and Elon Musk, and so many more—feel akin to Belfort’s own crew hyping up their public con man. “It’s all about selling dreams,” Byrne says. “They are so good at selling you to make you buy in on believing it. And they create this world around them that you’ve now been absorbed into.”
Byrne, of course, might as well have been referencing the movie’s own world. For each of the Belfort boys, The Wolf of Wall Street remains the most memorable experience of their careers, a testament to the camaraderie they found together and Scorsese’s commitment to capturing everything as it looked. “Not just because it’s Martin, not just because it’s Leo,” Choi says. “It was the scope of it. You have everything there for you. And the more stuff you have that’s real, the more it informs the performance.” It made them itch to go deeper and wilder.
As Sacca notes, “I couldn’t wait to get off set and call my wife and say, ‘Let me tell you what fucking happened today.’”
Jake Kring-Schreifels is a sports and entertainment writer based in New York. His work has also appeared in Esquire.com, GQ.com, and The New York Times.