According to Scorsese, he never had any intention of directing a film based on Hughes, however John Logan's script was so captivating he overcame his reluctance and dived into the project. In this interview, Scorsese discusses bringing Hughes' story to the screen and how, as a director, he balances historical fact with fiction:
INTERVIEW WITH MARTIN SCORSESE:
Do you see any parallel between Howard Hughes obsessions and yours?
Thats not for me to say, I think. I have [had], over the years, some close friends (laughs) and acquaintances who have said, who have described me at one point, Dont go in the room. Hes got the tissue boxes on his feet. Dont go in there right now. Its not a good time. That kind of thing. That has happened many many times, but basically I couldnt presume to say Ive been like Howard Hughes. Howard Hughes was this visionary, was obsessed with speed and flying like a god above everyone else, [and] was as rich as one of the Greek mythical kings, King Croesus. But ultimately having to pay that price, too. I loved [Hughes] idea of what filmmaking was. He became the outlaw of Hollywood in a way.
I dont really go and out and see many people. Once or twice, Terry Malick came over for dinner a while back. Paul Schrader, you know, thats about it. Im just trying to stay and do my work, so I dont really see anyone. I usually like to lock myself in the screening room and just screen. Thats maybe the only similarity I see. I venture to say the man is a genius and extraordinary. This whole idea of The Aviator itself, the word aviator isnt a word used any more. Theres no such thing as the romantic aviator now, the scarf blowing in the wind. Now I guess it would be astronauts, right? I mean, he would be up there now, maybe spinning around, probably on Mars. Hed be there. These guys, they had guts. Im terrified of flying.
Are there very specific ways you approach biographical material, or is different for each one?
Its very different for each one, and I must say now that the approach on this material really, really comes from John Logan, the writer. I say that emphatically. I think it was a wonderful script, even though when I read it, it was 180 pages, which would be a four-hour picture. Why I say that is that Ive approached biographical material over the years. We hit it one way with Raging Bull. At first with Raging Bull, myself and the writer and Bob De Niro were going from the beginning of Jakes life to the end, and it was very conventional, and we just sort of got stuck. So asked Paul Schrader to come in and Paul is a very, very disciplined writer and cut right to the middle of the story, the heart of the story, and what the guy wanted and what he couldnt get, which was a shot at the title and the title belt. That sort of thing. So that taught us a lot about dealing with continuity in bio pics, so to speak. Its not always the best thing.
Henry Hill in Goodfellas, I approached a whole other way. Basically its one long monologue, street corner monologue, a comedy routine really. And then ultimately in this, what I liked about this particular version was that I had stayed clear of the Howard Hughes story for two reasons. 1) I was interested in the sense that I only knew him as an eccentric guy living at the top of the Desert Inn. A very mysterious figure, watching movies in the middle of the night. It turns out that a lot of the films he watched I actually know exactly what they are I had not really understood what the aviators were doing in the Twenties and Thirties, I really didnt. But I also knew that major Hollywood filmmakers like Warren Beatty and Stephen Spielberg had wanted for many years to make a Hughes picture. And they said, Yeah, we did all this. He did all this and then he was building of the Hercules, and then he started to lose his mind with obsessive disorder. He was involved with Watergate.