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GANGS OF NEW YORK

About The Characters
GANGS OF NEW YORK is populated by an astonishing array of New Yorkers from a time when the city was a wild frontier – a freewheeling, gritty New York filled with pickpockets and ruffians, political bosses and working-class heroes – all brought to life by a diverse cast.

At the heart of the story is the orphan Amsterdam Vallon, an instinctual survivor who discovers his talents for serving as a courageous leader. Nearly consumed by vengeance, Amsterdam at last realizes his true legacy is not to fight for himself but to fight for a place for his people in the future of this New World. When it was suggested that Leonardo DiCaprio play Amsterdam Vallon, Scorsese was especially enthusiastic. "I have great admiration for Leonardo DiCaprio and have followed his work in all his films," he says. "I always thought I'd like to work with an actor who had the instincts he has. He's the kind of actor I'm used to. I think his lineage is that of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman."

DiCaprio was equally excited about the prospect of working with Scorsese. "I first heard about GANGS OF NEW YORK when I was sixteen--the story of a young Irish immigrant in the 1860s who is placed in the center of the biggest urban riot in the new world," he says. "I was so determined to do this project with Marty that I actually changed agencies when I was seventeen in order to be in closer contact."

The actor found himself drawn into his character's journey from anger and an unrelenting urge for vengeance to wanting to recreate his life. "I was influenced by a journal that describes the life of a young man of the time who spent his entire youth in a House of Reform. The journal conveys such extreme desperation that it became the perfect back-story for Amsterdam's obsession with revenge," says DiCaprio. "But when he arrives in the Five Points, Amsterdam must learn to repress his desire for revenge. First, he has to learn the rules and codes of this new and unfamiliar world."

With DiCaprio committed to the project, the script next landed on the desk of Miramax Films co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, who had previously shepherded some of the most acclaimed motion pictures of the 1990's and beyond, including such Oscar winners as "The Piano," "Pulp Fiction," "The English Patient" and "Shakespeare in Love." By the time Weinstein received the script, it had already been rejected by a number of Hollywood studios. But with GANGS OF NEW YORK, Weinstein immediately recognized the opportunity to embark on a dream come true – to work with Martin Scorsese.

With Weinstein and Miramax Films on board, a concerted effort was then made to persuade Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis to play Bill the Butcher, the man who rules the Five Points through a combination of ruthlessness, savvy, intimidation and an unwavering sense of honor. The process by which Day-Lewis approaches his roles, utterly losing himself in the complex personalities of his characters, is widely known and respected. But he hadn't appeared in a film since "The Boxer" in 1997, and seemed to show little interest in returning to the screen. To bring Day-Lewis on board, Scorsese and Weinstein took the actor to dinner at a renowned Harlem restaurant, where they presented him with the project and made their case.

At that very dinner, Day-Lewis agreed to take on the role – confessing that his longtime admiration for Scorsese (with whom he had worked on 1993's"The Age of Innocence") was enticing enough to lure him from semiretirement. "I remember that during the shooting of 'The Age of Innocence' we all felt amazed at our own good fortune at being able to spend time with Marty. It was a wo

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