Revealed The Revenant: what was real and what was fake
Did DiCaprio really get inside a horse? How were his wounds created? And what about that fish?
Published 20/01/2016 | 22:40
Warning:Contains some spoilers for The Revenant
For a self-declared vegetarian, Leonardo DiCaprio gets through a fair few animals in his Oscar-nominated survival epic The Revenant.
There’s that infamous bear, for one – while the not-so-friendly fuzzy gets to do a spot of mauling (strictly nothing else), she definitely comes off the worse in her tussle with Leo’s resilient fur trapper, Hugh Glass.
Later on in the film, the enthusiastically carnivorous Glass guzzles a live fish, and tucks into a freshly killed bison, thereby depriving a hungry wolf pack of a well-earned meal.
Let’s also not forget that rather lovely-looking spotted brown-and-white horse. Just imagine how the poor creature felt when it read the script: the valiant steed gets galloped across a stunning frozen landscape (so far, so traditional movie horse), ridden off a cliff, and turned into a one-man tent. Unlike Leo, it didn’t even get a Golden Globe, let alone an Oscar nomination.
Given the overwhelming emphasis that has been placed on the film’s authenticity – the cast and crew went through five months of “hell” to make it, director Alejandro Iñárritu only shot in natural light, several runners had to be eaten – it’s difficult not to turn into post-torture version of Peeta from The Hunger Games, and repeatedly ask “real or not real?” when confronted with some of The Revenant’s more horrific excesses.
We all know that during the scene in which his character eats a liver, DiCaprio opted for the genuine article – but did he really also climb inside a real dead horse? Eat a real raw fish?
To coincide with the release of several behind-the-scenes featurettes on the film (some of which are shown below), here’s our definitive guide to what happened during The Revenant shoot – and what didn’t.
The bear skin: real
Costume designer Jacqueline West told Vanity Fair that the fur, which Leo wears throughout most of the film, was sourced from a park department in Canada. (She didn’t specify exactly how it was sourced but, while grizzly-hunting still takes place in Canada, it’s forbidden in National Parks. So we’re sure the bear in question met a natural end.)
“It’s real and very heavy,” she said. “When it was wet, it weighed over 100 pounds. Leo was carrying that around…Only someone of his stature could have handled that.”
Elsewhere, she explained how the costume is symbolic of Glass’s struggle to survive.
“The animal that almost kills him is the animal that, in many ways, saves his life,” she said.
The bear grease: not real
West also told Vanity Fair that she was determined to keep the film’s costumes as authentic as possible, and in line with the 19th century setting. But while real-life native Americans and trappers used rancid bear grease on their furs, to insulate themselves, repel moisture and help the materials withstand the bitter weather, the filmmakers decided to employ a slightly less stinky wax alternative.
There was even a specially-designated “wax applier” on set: a lucky woman named Karen Durrant.
“Whenever anything needed more layers, more patina of the bear grease, she would put it on right there on the set,” West revealed. “In fact, “When we went to the South Pole, we actually gave her a Native name – ‘Walks with Black Wax.’”
Leo’s wounds: not real
There’s only so far you can go with method acting – and, despite sporting some frankly quite horrific injuries throughout most of the film,, DiCaprio wasn’t actually mauled by a bear on the Revenant set (most likely because, as we’ve explained above, there was no bear).
Instead, as the featurette below shows, Leo’s impressive wounds – which had to be created anew and differently on each day of filming, to reflect the healing process – were designed by makeup artist Siân Grigg, and prosthetics expert Duncan Jarman (both of whom received Oscar nominations for their efforts).
The make up is so important, because you have to show the stages of recovery,” Grigg says in the video. “You can see the journey in his face.”
Last month, Grigg told the website local706.org that director Iñárritu had insisted that all of Glass’s wounds needed to be visible.
“The wounds needed to be able to bleed as well as be stitched closed with a needle and thread and all of this would potentially happen in one continuous shot,” she said. “Up until the point of rehearsal, which was months away, it was impossible to know which wounds would be seen in shots. We therefore realised that we were going to have to build a lot of appliances.”
Silicone prosthetics were used to create some of the character’s more serious injuries – some of which had to have hairs inserted, to ensure they resembled real skin as closely as possible.
“A large deep cut was made for Leo’s head which meant I had to lay hair over the silicone piece up to the wound in order for us to blend it in to Leo’s own natural hair,” Grigg explained. “A silicone neck appliance was used that could bleed and bubble from several points. Wig lace was laid inside the appliance so it could be stitched together.”
“We created a full overlapping chest and back piece from the life castings; the chest was fully hair punched and the back had several tubes running inside to the exposed rib sections that needed to bleed. A shoulder piece that bled and needed to be stitchable was created along with a right, fully hair punched, forearm appliance and several individual hand prosthetics.”
A total of eight full-body prosthetics sets were used in the film – with Leo sometimes spending up to five hours a day having them fitted.
Leo’s frozen beard: not real
To create the impression that ice had formed on DiCaprio’s beard, Grigg eventually decided to use drops of paraffin wax – a trick she apparently also used in another, long-ago Leo-movie: 1997’s Titanic.
“I had not created a frosting make-up effect since working on Titanic,” she told local706.org. “I tried many materials including Elmer’s Glue and Epsom salts for ice effects. Eventually, I decided on old faithful icing sugar in the eyelashes and paraffin wax in the beard.”
Leo’s teeth: not real
If you’re planning on serving up a big slice of 19th century grit, the last thing you want is a bunch of actors with pearly Hollywood smiles (we’re pretty sure Hugh Glass didn’t floss). Consequently, Iñárritu insisted that DiCaprio get some fake teeth for his role in the film.
“Chris Lyons at Fangs FX made teeth to change the shape of Leo’s mouth,” Griggs revealed in her tell-article (linked above). “The teeth had a crooked appearance appropriate to the period.”
“In some scenes, Leo wore contact lenses and a nose augmenter was used to change the shape of Leo’s face further.”
Leo’s horse tent: not real
Good news for horse fans; bad news for fans of unusual sleeping bags – despite various reports to the contrary, Leo didn’t really climb inside a dead horse while filming The Revenant. (In the film, his character guts the corpse, before using it to keep warm during a storm.)
“I can name 30 or 40 sequences that were some of the most difficult things I've ever had to do,” the actor told Yahoo Movies back in October. “Whether it's going in and out of frozen rivers, or sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on set. [I was] enduring freezing cold and possible hypothermia constantly.”
DiCaprio’s statement gave rise to the rumour that a real dead horse was used on set – but, it transpires, he may have been slightly exaggerating.
During an interview with NBC earlier this month, the actor revealed that “a set piece” was used during the scene
Production designer Jack Fisk has also confirmed that a prop was used.
"The horse was built and the guts inside were created out of latex and hair," he told Business Insider.
He also revealed that no horses were thrown off cliffs during the shoot: a separate prop was used for the scene in which Glass and his steed plummet off a cliff together.
That dead bison: not real
According to Fisk, the scene in which Glass stumbles across a stampeding herd of bison was created using CGI.
And while the bison liver the character later eats is real, Fisk has confirmed that the corpse we see Glass pull it from is a prop.
The snow: real
One thing Iñárritu absolutely wasn't prepared to compromise on was the weather. After crucial scenes for The Revenant were shot in Calgary, Canada, the director found himsself scuppered by an unexpected warm spell. Undeterred (and unwilling to utilise any form of fake freeze), he sent scouts out to source a similarly snowy loaction - which he eventually found in faraway Argentina.
That extreme sushi moment: an eternal mystery
Sorry guys – we’re still not 100% sure on this one. While the scene in which Leo catches and chomps on a raw fish certainly looks pretty real, and has been discussed as if it’s real in reviews of the film, we’ve so far been unable to find any direct confirmation of it from the cast and crew.
That said, in a recent interview with the New York Times, the actor certainly implied that the unlucky animal may have had a date with the Dicaprio digestive system.
“Standing in a freezing river and eating a fish, or climbing a mountain with a wet bear fur on my back – those were some of the most difficult sequences for me,” he told the newspaper.