Viral TikToker Martin Scorsese laughs off internet fame: 'I was tricked'

It’s a rainy day in Los Angeles and Martin Scorsese and I are nearing the end of a long conversation. We’re talking about the future. He’s turning 81 in a couple of days, and I’m curious if he might pivot to a project or two that would take a little less time and effort than his last two full-feast films, “The Irishman” and “Killers of the Flower Moon.” (The answer is yes, and we’ll have more to say on that subject in a few weeks in a Los Angeles Times Envelope magazine cover profile.)

In the meantime, though, I mention the short films (OK, TikToks) shot by his talented daughter Francesca, videos that have the cinematic legend guessing — quite successfully, it should be noted — the meaning of modern slang (GOAT) or bopping through the platform’s movie bracket challenge, ultimately landing on “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“I was tricked into that,” Scorsese tells me, smiling. “That was a trick. I didn’t know those things go viral. They say ‘viral.’ I didn’t know.”

“I’m at home doing things,” he continues, “and she comes up to me and says, ‘Dad, look over here and tell me this.’ So I’m in my pajamas …. ,” Scorsese can’t finish the sentence. He’s laughing so hard.

So she’s not explaining what she’s doing?

“No! She said, ‘Well it’s a thing they’re doing. Who’s ‘they?’” Scorsese says. “She says, ‘Everybody’s doing it. It’s a thing called TikTok.’ ‘All right. All right.’ I mean, the one we did with the dog, that was known.”

He’s talking about the mischievous video he made last month in which he declared that, after a half-century of working with the likes of Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio, he “needed a change,” something he could take further. The video then cut to his miniature schnauzer, Oscar. A new muse.

But that video where he’s tilting his head left or right, choosing between “Wonder Woman” and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Birdman” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”?

“That I didn’t know was going to go up,” Scorsese insists. “I was just doing it in the other room with her. I don’t know what they’re going to do. They always have those iPhone cameras in their hands. You’re not aware. I honestly did not know she was going to post it.” He pauses. “They use the words ‘post it,’ right?”

That’s what I hear. “So I assume you watched it, right?” I ask him. “No.” Do you know you landed on “2001” as the winner? “Yes, we started yelling, ‘Yay. ‘2001!’ Somehow we chose that. Am I choosing the poster or am I choosing the film?”

So you don’t want to be held accountable for your choices, I say. Scorsese raises his hands, indicating “maybe, maybe not.” Looking to give him another out, I wonder if it’s maybe hard to make a choice in a matter of seconds.

“Oh, no, I can do that,” he says, smiling. “And there were a couple of films, honestly, I didn’t know anything about.” (We’ll let you do the guesswork on that.)

OK, but “Birdman” over Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”?

“I prefer ‘Once Upon a Time in the West,’” Scorsese counters, referring to the 1968 Leone classic starring Henry Fonda. ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has great things in it. But I prefer that one.”

“When I first saw ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ in a private screening with a friend of mine, Jay Cocks, Time magazine, we fell asleep,” Scorsese continues. “We disliked it. ‘What are these Italians doing, making westerns? There’s no such thing. It’s [Howard] Hawks and [John] Ford and [Budd] Boetticher and Anthony Mann. This is outrageous!’ A couple of years later, it popped up on television and I kept watching it. And I realized it’s not a western. Ultimately, it’s a grand opera. And the framing and the cutting and the length of time he took with the actors. We became obsessed with the film.”

Like the way a new generation is taken with these TikTok videos he’s in? Scorsese laughs.

“I don’t know anything about that,” he answers. “But I will say that my daughter has a good eye.”

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