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Movie Fact #133 - January 4th, 2021


2004's The Aviator was an impressive film all around. However, perhaps the most impressive amount of work in the film was that of lead star Leonardo DiCaprio's role as historical figure Howard Hughes. Hughes was noted for suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), most notably an obsession with germs and cleanliness with DiCaprio, and by extension director Martin Scorsese, took great pains to capture this. Both worked closely with Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD of UCLA, to portray the most accurate depiction of OCD, particulary of the time period the film takes place in where, when Hughes was suffering from the disorder, there was no psychiatric definition for what ailed him. Because of this, the filmmakers had to focus both on previous accounts of Hughes’ behaviors as well as the time period, meaning since Hughes didn't receive proper treatment, he was forced to hide his stigmatized compulsions and his disorder began to conflict with everyday functioning.

For preparation for the role, DiCaprio dedicated hundreds of hours of work to portray Hughes' unique case of OCD on-screen, doing his research on Hughes as well as meeting with people suffering from OCD. He particularly focused on the way some individuals would compulsively and repeatedly wash their hands. This particular symptom would later inspire the scene in which Hughes' hand starts to bleed as he scrubs it in the bathroom. This process allowed the character's arc in the film to be a drastic one as the film shows Hughes going from the height of his career to the appearance of his compulsions, and eventually, to him sitting naked in a screening room, refusing to leave, and later repeating the phrase "the way of the future." In short, it was a film that showed what has become DiCaprio's signature style...pushing himself to the brink to make a character come to life. Stay tuned!

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