Not even Chuck Norris could have endured the kinds of horrors frontiersman Hugh Glass survived. In 1823, Glass was mauled by a grizzly bear but managed to crawl 200 miles — with a broken leg and gangrenous wounds — to exact revenge on the men who took his weapons and left him for dead. He ate berries to stay alive and used maggots to treat the deep gashes on his back. That’s some pretty extreme Eagle Scouting.
The whole harrowing ordeal is the subject of Alejandro Inarritu’s Golden Globe nominee and likely Oscar contender The Revenant. And that means that the director (who won some Academy Awards earlier this year for Birdman) is reacquainting the masses with a folk hero whose name used to be synonymous with feats of impossible outlandishness.
But Glass isn’t the only legendary character to emerge from the movie. The other is Leonardo DiCaprio, the Oscarless actor who plays Glass. With each interview, some new tidbit seems to emerge about the extent of the torturousness of making The Revenant. It just keeps getting worse and worse.
How bad was it? Let’s take a look at eight of the trials (in order of least to most taxing) that DiCaprio had to survive in order to make the movie and maybe — finally — score that Oscar.
He lived with a bedraggled beard for a year-and-a-half
So this isn’t particularly difficult, though it probably got a bit itchy. But like all great legends, the Tale of the Beard took on a life of its own. DiCaprio’s unruly facial hair was pretty gross, so it was only a matter of time before the National Enquirer published gossip about fleas forming a community inside of Leo’s hair nest. (And poor New Regency actually had to field questions about and dispute the absurd claim.)
The actor told Variety that his beard became “like a spouse,” which ... what? Because it was always around? Because it was a deterrent to finding female companionship? Because it gave him the silent treatment? Who knows? But getting rid of the thing was like “shaving off dreads,” according to the actor.
He had to travel for hours to remote locations for bite-sized shoots
Inarritu isn’t one to do anything halfway. He wasn’t going to use a soundstage or greenscreen, and he wanted to convey the awesome power of nature by filming in relatively untouched places, which meant - for the most part - Alberta, Canada. (“If we ended up [using] green screen with coffee and everybody having a good time,” the director told The Hollywood Reporter, “everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of [expletive].”
The cast and crew stayed in a hotel that was about a two-hour drive on unpaved roads from the shooting location, according to Men’s Journal. And once there, time was limited because cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki shot using only natural light. So if any of the highly-choreographed scenes didn’t go according to plan, there wasn’t always time for a reshoot, and that day basically ended up being a big, freezing cold waste of time.
“The sun hits only where you need it to be for about 20 minutes a day,” DiCaprio’s costar Domhnall Gleeson told the magazine. (This is possibly a bit of hyperbole, as other interviews peg the amount of time to more like 90 minutes, which is still a tiny window.) “If you don’t get the shot during that 20 minutes, then you’re back the next day. We had one absolutely nutty scene that involved running in and out of water and getting onto a boat, and a lot of guys on horses coming toward us, and arrows and guns going off. That was all in one shot. Your nerves are absolutely shredded.”
He routinely had to be up before sunrise
Given that DiCaprio had to look like a man recovering (barely) from a grizzly attack while also weathering extreme elements, he had to wear a lot of makeup. In fact, he donned 47 different prosthetics over the course of the shoot. And in order to be ready for the perfect window of natural light, DiCaprio had to be up by 3am some days to sit through four or five hours of makeup application, according to makeup artist Sian Grigg.
He was covered with (imported) ants
Inarritu told Variety that he really, really wanted to show DiCaprio with ants all over him. But, insects being scarce on location, the director had to fly them in from British Columbia on two different planes. (The first group of tiny travellers didn’t fare so well.)
While being covered in creepy crawlies sounds unsavoury, this bit of misery is especially sad; neither I nor my movie companion could even recall seeing the ants, so it clearly didn’t make an impact worth all the trouble.
He worked through sick days
DiCaprio says he came down with the flu a few times while filming, which is no surprise given the subzero temperatures (but more on that in a bit). On the plus side, he got to take his method acting to the next level by using his sickness to make his performance seem more authentic. The awful cough you hear coming from DiCaprio when he’s being carried on a stretcher post-bear attack wasn’t just inserted to legitimize the character’s misery. That was DiCaprio’s actual, phlegmy misery.
He had to simulate getting attacked by a bear
After a recent screening, DiCaprio’s co-star Will Poulter said that many viewers ask if the bear attacking DiCaprio was real. Nope, although it certainly looks terrifyingly true to life. The bear itself is the product of CGI, but all the moments in which DiCaprio gets thrown, dragged, stomped and smooshed? Those really happened and it’s probably safe to say that none of it was very pleasant.
He ate a raw bison liver
DiCaprio is reportedly a vegetarian, so when his character bites into a raw bison liver, you would think the actor would go with what the prop department gives him — some jelly-like replica of an organ. But DiCaprio didn’t think it looked authentic enough, so he decided to go with the real thing.
“The bad part is the membrane around it,” DiCaprio explained to Variety. “It’s like a balloon. When you bite into it, it bursts in your mouth.”
Now that is disgusting.
He risked hypothermia on a regular basis
Spending ample time out in the freezing cold elements is dangerous, but not as scary as jumping into freezing cold rivers.
“I had elk skin on and a bear fur that weighed about 100 pounds when it got wet,” DiCaprio told Wired. (He also told Men’s Journal the fur weighed 50 pounds, so who knows what his next interview will say.) “And every day it was a challenge not to get hypothermia.”
The good news is there were EMTs around, plus a giant heated dryer to thaw the actor’s fingers and toes.
The actor told Men’s Journal that the temperature got as low as 40 below zero. “At that point we couldn’t really open our eyes,” he said. “And our fingers locked together and the camera gear locked together, and I just looked at Alejandro and said, ‘I’m all for enduring realism, but there comes a point when nothing is operable.’”