Jack White and Larry Fessenden standing next to each other
Jack White and Larry Fessenden play radio actors in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” 

by Jason Guerrasio for INSIDER

Back in 1999, Larry Fessenden was just an unknown actor from New York when he was cast as a cokehead in Martin Scorsese’s gritty drama “Bringing Out the Dead.”

The blink-and-you’d-miss-it part didn’t lead to stardom,  but he had something else to fall back on. His talents as a storyteller gradually made him a legendary figure in the independent-film world, directing horror movies like 2001’s “Wendigo” and 2006’s “The Last Winter” while also helping directors Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy”) and Ti West (“The House of the Devil”) get their own movies off the ground as a producer.

However, during that time, he always hoped to one day work again with Scorsese, who is his “favorite living director,” he told Insider.

After a few failed attempts to get cast in another Scorsese movie over the decades, Fessenden finally landed a role as one of the radio performers in the final scene of the director’s latest movie, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which stars Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Lily Gladstone.

Fessenden plays an actor voicing the roles of the movie’s leads, William Hale (De Niro) and Ernest Burkhart (DiCaprio), in a 1930s episode about the Osage murders on the radio broadcast “The Lucky Strike Hour” (which really happened). He’s perfectly cast, as he was given the opportunity to show off his vocal talents, something he’s mastered over the years doing audio horror plays, called “Tales from Beyond the Pale,” with his filmmaking friend Glenn McQuaid.

In a recent interview with Insider, Fessenden reflected on the making of the scene at Scorsese’s old high school, which included days of rehearsals, and being one of the few people allowed to witness Scorsese filming his own dramatic cameo.

Early in your career, you had a very small part in “Bringing Out the Dead.” Have you been trying since to work with Scorsese again?

Well, the bottom line is in showbiz, if you know the casting agent, you have your foot in the door and Ellen Lewis, who has worked for Scorsese for years, is graceful and steadfast.

She had brought me in for “Wolf of Wall Street,” “Shutter Island,” and she would always say, “We’re always looking for something for you, Larry.”

She’s a great creative collaborator for Marty and she’s also a straight talker. I reached out to her when I heard “The Irishman” was starting up and she said, “We just don’t have anything for you,” and that’s fine. Each project has its vibe.

You also didn’t get cast in “Wolf of Wall Street” or “Shutter Island.” So was it a shock getting the call from her for “Killers of the Flower Moon?”

Yes. And it was a highlight in my life. It’s not just, “Oh, I might get an acting gig.” This is a Scorsese Picture.

Originally, I was supposed to be in the actual production down in Oklahoma. And I even had a death scene so I was excited. But then I read the book and my character had like a one sentence description. [Laughs.]

What was the role you were originally going to play?

His name was John Ramsey. He’s one of the goons. The only fun thing was I was going to have a choking scene. I was going to be poisoned. So I auditioned for that and this was during COVID so we did the audition through Zoom and it all felt like a go, that I had landed the part.

Then one day, I was randomly at the doctor’s and Ellen called — and you always pick up when it’s Ellen — and she said, “Listen, Larry, they cut that role.” The script had undergone a lot of changes. But she said, “We’re going to find you something else.”

The film wrapped in the fall of 2021 and I hadn’t heard from Ellen so I thought maybe it wasn’t going to work out. But eventually, Ellen called and said they were going to shoot the coda to the film in New York.

She described how the scene would be a radio play and I was so tickled. I told her about “Tales” and she sort of took that information and conveyed it to Marty. 

Where did you shoot it?

We shot it at Scorsese’s old high school in the Bronx: Cardinal Hayes High School.


It’s this beautiful Catholic high school. Marty told us that, as a kid, he would take the subway from Little Italy to this school run by men of the cloth. Marty teased me that these guys were really hardcore and said, “Larry, you would have been pilloried! They would have slapped you upside the head with that hair.” He was very lively and engaged through the whole shoot. 

It has this beautiful theater, and that’s why it was chosen for the movie. The funny thing is, it’s not named after him. It’s called the Regis Philbin Auditorium. I think Marty has a closet named after him. [Laughs.] 

Was the scene shot in one day?

No. This is what I want to convey, the care and the detail for what appears on-screen for maybe four minutes was remarkable.

We had two days of rehearsal at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn. That was run by this great AD, Jeremy Marks. He was rehearsing the orchestra, the radio-play actors, integrating with the Foley artists, and everything was taped out on the floor. I was accustomed to all of this having done the “Tales From Beyond the Pale” radio plays. During this time, we are also getting our hair done just right, and measured for our wardrobe.

Then the man comes, Scorsese. It’s this great flourish of activity. Then it’s very hush-hush. He sits in this white chair, the same one he’s sitting in if you saw the photo of him shooting in the subway car with Timothée Chalamet.

Martin Scorsese’s white chair, which goes everywhere with the director. 


Marty always sits in that chair, I’ve learned. That chair must be carried around the country!

Marty goes [Speaks in high-pitched Scorsese voice], “Okay, so let me see what you got!” And we do the whole thing and we’re quite proud of ourselves and he starts breaking everything down, even something small like, “That’s supposed to be a car horn? That doesn’t sound like a car horn at all.”

He was very engaged with every detail and each individual person, the musicians, the Foley artists. After that, we took a week off, and then we shot it at the school. The shoot was three days, I think.

Were there any notes Scorsese gave you?

He was concerned with the level of the accent. Was it too cheesy? Remember, I’m supposed to play an actor in a radio play.

It was fun because I’m the actor voicing both the William Hale and Ernest Burkhart characters, so I’m playing De Niro and DiCaprio. The irony is I could have done a spot on De Niro imitation. [Laughs.] I may have played around with that a few times with Marty, but that wasn’t going to be the move.  

What was the actual shoot like?

We arrive in the Bronx. There’s a huge crane in the auditorium, the set is beautiful. All the extras are there. Everyone is being safe between the shots and wearing masks because this was during COVID, still.

Marty would come in the second half of the day after we rehearsed. Everything was refined. Then, we shot it. We go through close-ups and Marty makes adjustments. It was a very collaborative process. He is guiding and exploring with you to find what he thinks is right. And I had great fun with Jack White.

Did you know Jack was also going to be in the scene?

Well, Ellen Lewis is holding your hand through the whole process, so she had informed me on what to expect.

Jack got us all tickets to see him perform a month or so later. I gave him my son’s record and his son was getting into watching movies on VHS so I sent him a copy of my old movie “Wendigo” on VHS. It’s fun to imagine Jack White and his kid watching “Wendigo” on some old tube TV or something.

Welker White, J.C. MacKenzie, Fessenden

Did you know Scorsese at some point was going to have his own cameo in the scene?

My understanding is that Ellen Lewis had suggested this to him before rehearsals started. She said, “Marty, you have to play that part.” That’s the power of the collaborations he has. We know of Robbie Robertson, Thelma Schoonmaker, but Ellen is also essential. She thought he should do it. 

So on the day of shooting, they cleared the room, and the whole audience left. But we, the actors on stage, were allowed to sit in and watch.

I had tears in my eyes. I could see this was so seminal to the whole project, Marty’s career, even without seeing the movie yet. I just sensed there was genuine anger and a mea culpa about violence. It was profound.

He did it several times and directed himself. We all felt quite privileged to watch it happen. 

When did you see the movie for the first time?

I went to the premiere with my wife. Because of the strike, it was slightly crushing because Leo and Bob and Lily weren’t there. That would have been the cherry on top — not so much walking the carpet with them, but just being in the room with them. But Marty and Ellen and Thelma and Rodrigo were all there. 

What was it like to see your scene?

I was so excited to see the movie that I often forgot that I would show up at the end. When it happened, it went by very quickly.

But in advance of that, I had bought a ticket to see the movie on its opening day. So I went to a theater and watched it alone and it was a much better experience. You’re not sitting there in Lincoln Center all nervous. They cut some of our stuff out of the radio play, but the cuts made sense.

Seeing you are such a fan of Scorsese’s work, can you rank where this scene stands among all the memorable ones from his filmography before it?

I felt it had a profound and deep sadness, a sense of resignation and outrage. I feel that is present in all of his work. I don’t like to rank — it’s a specific movie and I feel it has the weight of our times in it.

I like to joke it’s Marty’s “woke” film, but that’s condescending because that was the mission. A lot has been said about how they veered from making a white-man savior FBI movie and it’s a profoundly better film because it’s not a procedural, it’s a portrait of the cancer inside our industrial civilization; where everything is used and exploited for money. And the complete contradiction is I do believe Leo’s character loved his wife. That disconnect is the core of the film.

The weight of it all is on-screen. This is what makes cinema lasting, it is a recording of all the elements, contributions, and care curated by the singular vision of the director. That’s what makes a masterwork.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity by INSIDER / and here by Glass Eye Pix