Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone on the ‘grand betrayal’ in Killers of the Flower Moon

The two stars break down their ‘twisted, bizarre love story’ — and the ‘almost telepathic shorthand’ between Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone wanted to root Killers of the Flower Moon in real history.

The two actors star in Martin Scorsese’s sprawling crime drama, about how a group of white settlers in 1920s Oklahoma murdered countless members of the Osage Nation, in a concerted effort to steal their wealth.

Two of the key players were Osage woman Mollie Burkhart (played by Gladstone) and her white husband Ernest (DiCaprio), who conspired with his powerful uncle William “King” Hale (Robert De Niro) to actively plot against Mollie and their family.

When Scorsese and co-writer Eric Roth first sat down to adapt David Grann’s best-selling book, they initially structured Killers of the Flower Moon as a murder mystery, focusing primarily on the FBI investigation.


At the time, DiCaprio was attached to play FBI lawman Tom White (the role that later went to Jesse Plemons).

But as Scorsese met and spoke with members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, he decided to completely rethink the film, shifting the focus to Mollie and Ernest’s complicated relationship.

The end result unfolds as part brutal crime epic, part twisted marital drama, following Ernest and Mollie from their early courtship to his eventual betrayal and arrest.

Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio talk ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’.


Here, Gladstone and DiCaprio tell EW about bringing Mollie and Ernest’s relationship to the screen. (You can also listen to the full conversation on the latest episode of EW’s Awardist podcast.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I wanted to start by asking about that early scene where Mollie and Ernest meet for the first time, when she hires him as her chauffeur. What do you both remember most about filming that scene?

LEONARDO DICAPRIO: You’re always taking an outside perspective of what you want the audience to be in on.

This was the solidification of what we felt, which was that as twisted as the love story was, there’s a genuine connection that both of these people had.

We knew if the connection wasn’t there, you weren’t going to be able to withstand an audience sitting there for the entire length of this movie and go along with us on this journey.


We were hyper-focused on how to tell this love story. And that doesn’t mean we had all the answers right away.

That didn’t mean that we understood the inter dynamics of the lying and deceit, and what she was in on and what she was not in on.

But it became this hyper-focused journey, and we wanted to connect these two characters in a real way.

After talking to much of the Osage community, the one thing they were very insistent on, as bizarre as it may have seemed, was that this relationship worked. It did.

There was a love that they had for each other. Obviously, Ernest did deplorable things, but they kept insisting that this was the truth. That was what was most fascinating to me.


When we had the first initial read-through, I was like, Can you believe that this love story actually happened? They really did have that connection. It was shocking, to say the least.

LILY GLADSTONE:And I thank him a lot because transitioning between scenes, he didn’t drop Ernest.

He maybe dropped Ernest back a step, but he stayed in character and brought all of his charm to that.

So, as Mollie, it helped me see somebody that she would be interested in. I really appreciated that.

When we were working, we worked together very easily. When we were volleying things back and forth, there was a natural cadence that developed.

He also wanted to learn how Ernest would help Mollie put her blanket on or take it off.

So, we developed this actors’ language for these two characters that ends up being very seamless. And it all goes to serve that grand betrayal.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Lily Gladstone in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’.APPLE TV+

I know you did a little bit of improvisation in some of those scenes, right?

GLADSTONE: I think the one you’re referring to is what we were just talking about. Marty remembers it slightly different than it happened but it’s the “handsome devil” line.

DICAPRIO:He basically suggested that line to me, and then I said it.

GLADSTONE:That came out of just plainly trying to find a way of translating an old line that didn’t translate into Osage.

But we wanted the concept to remain, the idea of this handsome devil or these devilish blue eyes.

That was the initial line. But one thing I learned from [Leo] that I’ve used with other actors is that when it’s your coverage, he starts improvising.

So, the reactions you get from his improvisations can be very authentic. It’s take six or so, and I’m laughing at this joke, but the laughter needs to be refreshed. So, he’ll throw something out of left field.

Leo, you mentioned this, but Lily, I’m curious how you wanted to approach the relationship between Mollie and Ernest. I spoke to the book author, David Grann, and he said the same thing about how this was a relationship with real love, but also unbelievable betrayal. How do you wrap your head around that contradiction?

GLADSTONE: It’s kind of set up in that same scene were just talking about. Ernest was not the first white man that Mollie courted.

This system was in place where Osages who were declared incompetent had to have a white person, mostly a white male, handling their finances and granting them access to their money.

So, for a lot of Osage women particularly, it was way more convenient to have your guardian be your spouse and in your household, so you didn’t have to drive into town to talk to this stuffy old man about giving you enough money so you can go get your medicine to manage your diabetes.

You could just say to your husband, “We’re having a fete, so I need the check for this many pounds of meat.” There was an element where this was a kind of mutual beneficial relationship.

That’s why I think we were able to have a little bit of fun in that first scene with Ernest and Mollie. Mollie’s able to call him out for wanting money, but she admits to her sisters, “Of course he wants money, but he’s also kind of dumb, and he looks good, and he wants to be settled.”

We wanted a modern audience to be invested. When we look at love stories from that era, they were different back then.

So, it was kind of a balancing act, like how much do we bring in to honor the true history and set up these characters?

How much of classic cinema do we infuse to make this the piece of art that it is? And mostly, we wanted to rightfully restore Native women in these leading roles, in a space and a film history that we’ve been excluded from. The love story proved to be a very good fertile ground to have a lot of those conversations.

Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’. APPLE TV+

I know you both got to meet and speak with Margie Burkhart, who’s Mollie’s real-life granddaughter. What did you take away from your conversations with her?

GLADSTONE: I think Margie was still very puzzled about how it was possible. She knew there was love there.

Ernest declared until his dying day that he loved Mollie. One of the biggest confirmations of that is that Ernest learned Osage fluently.

In the screenplay, Mollie is depicted differently in her handle of language, but in any case, he took the time to learn. And Osage, we can both say that it’s not an easy language to learn.

DICAPRIO:No.

GLADSTONE:We spoke it as well as we could for the film, but for Ernest to do that, it showed a level of intelligence that he had that I think a lot of people may have missed — and his level of commitment to his wife.

But after all of it, Margie said it was really something to see how this love could have existed [on screen]. She said it felt like maybe that’s how it would have played out.

That was definitely one thing that we were most concerned about, and we were very pleased when we both saw the film that we had somehow done it.

Leo, you’ve obviously worked with Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro before. What was it like working with them on this? I read that interview with Scorsese, where he said something along the lines of, “Leo likes to talk a lot, and De Niro is a little more quiet.”  

DICAPRIO:I wouldn’t categorize it as quiet or talking more. Look, those are two of my creative heroes in this industry.

I’ve looked up to them ever since I was 13 years old, and they have this amazing, almost telepathic shorthand with each other.

They almost communicate through their minds. It’s amazing to watch the two of them because they’re whispering to each other, and sometimes it’s a complete adjustment to take a scene in a different direction. It just takes a look from Marty to Bob and a nod from Bob, and all of a sudden, you’re off to the races.

For me during the development of this story, [Marty and I] were both obsessed with telling the truth about the Osage Reign of Terror.

It was a great gift for us to be able to try to depict the story in the right way.

Marty and I’s relationship was a lot of conversations about the development of the screenplay and shifting the entire story from being a whodunnit with Tom White to this very twisted, bizarre love story between Ernest and Mollie.

As far as the De Niro aspect goes, it changed my life when I was 15 years old to be able to work with Robert De Niro.

Eventually, he kind of referred me to Mr. Scorsese, and here we are 30 years later in this amazing concentric circle of getting to work together.

It’s not only a film that I’m incredibly proud of, but to be able to simultaneously work with my two father figures in this industry, who’ve taught me everything, was a huge honor.

Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’. APPLE ORIGINAL FILMS

I’m fascinated by the relationship between Ernest and Hale. It has this twisted, paternalistic vibe to it, and the spanking scene in particular is so interesting. What do you remember most about filming that sequence with De Niro?

DICAPRIO: Well, in a lot of ways, my first film [with De Niro] This Boy’s Life was about a young man abused by his stepfather.

And Hale in a lot of ways is an abusive uncle. He’s mentally abusive to Ernest, who is also complicit in all of these horrific acts.

But Hale has a sort of mental lock on him that he can’t break free of. We had so many different conversations about the dynamics of what that relationship would be.

I think for a month straight, we spent every weekend talking about the final scene between those two characters and how it all culminates in a confrontation.

The more we talked about it, the more it became that less is more. It’s not a big attack on one another.

It’s betrayal of a father and a son and how you would react to realizing that your father figure isn’t who you thought they were.

There were just some incredibly powerful creative moments that in a lot of ways, we didn’t need to overthink.

As I said, my first film was a similar dynamic between De Niro and myself, so it felt natural to fit back into the shoes of those two characters, almost 30 years later.

I know you actually filmed in Fairfax and Pawhuska, Oklahoma. What was it like to actually film in the location where these events happened?

GLADSTONE: I think it was essential. Being in the actual Shoun brothers’ office, where Mollie would have sat, made that scene feel enormously creepy.

The Masonic lodge that you were just talking about, we shot on location in the Masons’ hall where it would have happened.

You feel it in the land and in the place, but mostly you feel it in the people. It was such a gift to be able to be within the Osage community.

I had a number of Osage friends that I got to connect with before the film, and I still go back all the time.

Some of my closest friendships were molded during this period of time. For me, I think it’s so important when you’re telling a story like this to maintain community accountability. Maintaining these friendships that I made, it’s keeping that going on my part.

There was one night in particular I remember: The night that Anna Brown was murdered, what we were shooting was the scene where Anna leaves the house.

So, it would have been on that night. I was standing there watching Cara Jade Myers climb in next to Scott Shepherd as Byron, watching them drive off together under a full flower moon, a super moon.

It was doing the same thing it was doing a hundred years prior in 1921, because we were filming in 2021. Even before we got to production, I was offered this role on Mollie Burkhart’s birthday, unbeknownst to me. It felt like….

I don’t like saying the word supernatural because it’s almost the most natural thing in the world that all of these things lined up the way they did. But it shows you that it was impactful. The land remembers, the people remember, and because of projects like this, it’s not going to be lost in time.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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