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MOBBED UP BILLYBURG

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Since legendary New York filmmaker Martin Scorsese is a notorious stickler for detail and authenticity, fans may be shocked to hear how much of his new Boston-set drama, "The Departed," was actually staged in Brooklyn.

While most of the gangster flick’s exterior scenes were shot in Beantown and surrounding Braintree, Quincy and Dorchester, many of the interiors were created and lensed on a soundstage at the Marcy Avenue Armory in Williamsburg, after a production design crew was dispatched to Massachusetts to study and copy real apartments, police station offices, and more.

So, why did the "GoodFellas" and "Mean Streets" director decide to shoot his latest mob saga here instead of where the story is set?

For one thing, says producer Graham King, the 64-year-old Scorsese still lives in Manhattan and likes to work close to home when he can. But King admits the city also made the filmmakers an offer they couldn’t refuse: a nice tax incentive if they brought the production to the Big Apple.

"We wanted to shoot somewhere that was more central to Marty," King told GO Brooklyn. "We looked at the old naval base down in Brooklyn, and since it was all in-doors, it just made sense. It was easier to shoot it there. And there was a little bit of a financial advantage - the tax break - as well."

"It was very successful," he said. "The issue being as Marty makes movies, everything is always authentic, whether we’re building inside or outside."

Based on the 2002 Hong Kong thriller, "Infernal Affairs," "The Departed" retains much of the original film’s story, but moves the action to contemporary Boston, where Frank Costello, a crime lord loosely based on real-life Irish-American gangster Whitey Bulger (played by Oscar-winning actor Jack Nicholson) rules the roost.

Meanwhile, Costello’s young protege, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon), is quickly moving up the ranks of the Massachusetts State Police and reporting everything he sees and hears to his mentor, even as he has been charged with bringing Costello down.

At the same time, rookie cop Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) has been sent undercover to work for and help build a case against Costello. As both men suspect there is a traitor in their midst, they race to uncover the other’s identity before his own is revealed.

"[The Departed’ scribe] Bill Monahan put down a way of life, a way of thinking, an attitude, a cultural look at the world, really, a very, very enclosed society, and that’s what I responded to, I think," Scorsese breathlessly told reporters at a recent press conference. "Taking from the Hong Kong trilogy, Wai Keung Lau’s film, you know, that’s the device. And it’s the plot; that idea. The concept of the two informers and being totally - whether I like it or not - drawn to stories that have to do with trust and betrayal. I found that I kept being drawn back to the script and to the project."

While most of the actors in the film devoted countless hours to perfecting the difficult Southie accent, "Good Will Hunting" star and Boston native Matt Damon was able to devote his time to developing his character by hanging out with Boston police officers.

Damon says he was so gung-ho about the part that he even went with police to raid a crack house, although he insists he didn’t do anything heroic during the outing.

"I’m sure I was in no real danger," assured Damon. "They brought twice as many cops as they do on those raids, and I was in the back of the line with my bullet-proof vest on ... and I didn’t go in until they cleared the house, but I got to see them do it.

"Did you ever see ’The Hard Way,’ with Michael J. Fox?" Damon joked, referring to the 1991 comedy, in which Fox played an actor shadowing a real-life officer to prepare for a movie role. "That was me. ’Hey guys, do I get a gun?’ They were like, ’Absolutely not! Shut up!’ "

Meanwhile, it sounds like the most dangerous part of filming "The Departed" for Leonardo DiCaprio was working with eccentric, acclaimed co-star Jack Nicholson.

"As far as Jack was concerned, we kind of expected the unexpected ... For me, there were a number of different scenes where I had no idea what was going to happen," the "Titanic" and "The Aviator" star recalled.

DiCaprio says one of the scariest moments of the shoot was when he heard Nicholson tell Scorsese he thought he should be more intimidating in his scenes with the younger actor.

"I came in the next day and the prop guy told me, ’Well, be careful. He’s got a fire extinguisher, a gun, some matches and a bottle of whiskey,’ " DiCaprio related.

He went on to say he knew Nicholson was a professional actor, but admits his unpredictability helped DiCaprio play a guy who is in "a constant, 24-hour panic attack" about being found out.

"It gives you - I don’t want to say a sense of fear as an actor, but - as a character, a whole new dynamic," he noted. "I think we all knew that if [Nicholson] came on-board that he would have to sort of grab the reins with this character and let him be freeform, and we all were completely sort of ready for that every day that we walked up on the set.

"You know, he had a short run," continued DiCaprio. "He filmed his scenes and then he left, but those were some of the most intense moments of the film, for me, certainly, and, as a human being, as a person, there were some memories that I will never forget."



"The Departed" is now playing at the Pavilion Cinema [188 Prospect Park West at 14th Street in Park Slope, (718) 369-0838]; Cobble Hill Cinemas [265 Court St. at Butler Street in Cobble Hill, (718) 596-4995]; AMC Loews Kings Plaza 6 [5201 Kings Plaza at Flatbush Avenue in Marine Park, (800) 326-3264]; and Linden Boulevard Multiplex Cinemas [2784 Linden Boulevard at Drew Street in East New York, (718) 277-0303].

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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