The True Story Behind ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

The Big Picture

  • The Wolf of Wall Street accurately reflects the true story of Jordan Belfort’s illegal activities and debaucherous lifestyle on Wall Street.
  • The film’s depiction of Jordan Belfort’s drug use, involvement with sex workers, and criminality is mostly accurate, with some embellishments for dramatic effect.
  • Several characters in the film, including Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and Steve Madden (Jake Hoffman), are based on real people who were involved in Belfort’s schemes and faced legal consequences.

Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street is a darkly humorous depiction of unchecked Wall Street indulgence and avarice, which stands out as one of the director’s top works in recent years. Scorsese has a talent for bringing real-life stories to the screen, as evidenced by his latest film, Killers of the Flower Moon. Like all movies based on true events, The Wolf of Wall Street takes some creative liberties with Jordan Belfort’s life and misdeeds, such as using Jonah Hill’s character Donnie Azoff to represent several of Belfort’s real-life associates.

In general, the movie is quite faithful to the actual events and effectively captures the core truths of Belfort’s 2007 memoir, which served as the main inspiration for the film. Despite its three-hour duration, certain details and intriguing subplots didn’t make it into the final version. As we delve into the true-life experiences of some of the movie’s main characters, we’ll uncover where Scorsese’s film deviated from reality, and gain insight into the extra context that adds depth to this extraordinary, amusing, and sorrowful tale.

The Wolf of Wall Street

Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, from his rise to a wealthy stock-broker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.

Release Date December 25, 2013

Director Martin Scorsese

Studio Paramount Pictures

Runtime 179

Who Is the Real Jordan Belfort?

The portrayal of Jordan Belfort (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and his brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont in Scorsese’s film is a reflection of real events. Belfort was constantly breaking numerous laws, mainly involving defrauding shareholders and manipulating the stock of multiple companies. He recruited young, mostly working-class individuals from Long Island and indoctrinated them into what he described as a “cult” in his 2007 memoir. They were taught to prioritize money and deceive clients into investing in worthless stock. Alongside his professional misconduct, Belfort struggled with addictions to various illegal substances, particularly cocaine and Quaaludes. He was unfaithful to his first wife with a woman known as “The Duchess of Bay Ridge,” portrayed by Margot Robbie in the film. After marrying the Duchess, their relationship was tumultuous, marked by deceit and abuse, ultimately leading to divorce. Eventually, Belfort was apprehended by the FBI and served 22 months in federal prison before becoming a writer and motivational speaker. His first memoir, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” was published in 2007.

Belfort’s memoir reveals that much of what is portrayed in the film is actually true, based on his recollection. The excessive drug use, prevalence of sex workers, and widespread criminal behavior are all depicted fairly accurately. Some of the more shocking scenes in the movie, like a female employee getting her head shaved for $10,000, actually happened. While Stratton Oakmont was known for its depravity, much of it was influenced by existing financial institutions, some prestigious and others less so. In essence, Belfort didn’t create the practice of defrauding shareholders while using drugs, but he did participate in these illegal activities more frequently and flamboyantly than most.

Not All of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ Is Accurate, Though

One way the movie effectively captures Belfort’s mindset and viewpoint is through the frequent use of fourth-wall-breaking narrations, where Belfort directly addresses the camera/audience. In his book, Belfort describes feeling like his life was a performance for an imaginary audience, which ultimately turned out to be real. This notion of portraying a character may have influenced Belfort to adopt the title “Wolf of Wall Street.” There is little evidence that anyone actually called him by that name prior to the release of his book. Belfort portrays in his memoir that he was constantly referred to as “The Wolf,” but this seems to be, at most, an exaggerated embellishment.

In an attempt to portray Belfort in a more balanced light, it is important to note that despite the film’s portrayal of his drug habit being linked to “back pain,” Belfort did indeed suffer from ongoing back issues that necessitated multiple surgeries. While he did use his health problems as a partial justification for his substance abuse, the film understates his reliance on pharmaceuticals to manage his chronic pain. Additionally, Belfort was not reckless or foolish enough to try to bribe an FBI agent as depicted in the film. In reality, he never even had any interaction with the FBI agent pursuing him until his arrest.

One particularly intense moment in Scorsese’s wild biopic, which is only partially accurate, occurs when Belfort addresses his employees, announcing his decision to step down as leader and hand over control to Jonah Hill’s character Donnie. However, in the middle of his speech, he changes his mind and shouts, “I’m not leaving!” to a cheering crowd. In reality, Belfort did step down but hinted strongly in his speech that he would still be influencing Stratton from behind the scenes by giving “advice” to Donnie’s real-life counterpart. After Belfort gave up control, Stratton went into a downward spiral from which it never recovered.

Jonah Hill’s Donnie Azoff Is Based on Danny Porush

Donnie Azoff is actually based on a real person named Danny Porush, who was Belfort’s right-hand man at Stratton and reportedly struggled with a serious addiction to Quaaludes. Porush was introduced to Belfort through his wife and did not, as the film portrays, leave his job as a children’s furniture salesman to work for Belfort after seeing one of Belfort’s pay stubs. In an interview with Mother Jones, Porush denied that several events depicted in the film actually took place, including the infamous dwarf-tossing scene (an idea that was apparently rejected by Belfort as too extreme). He also confirmed to Mother Jones that nobody at the firm ever actually referred to Belfort as “The Wolf” or “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

The movie shows Donnie being revived by Belfort after choking on food while on Quaaludes, but in reality, it was a different friend of Belfort’s who Belfort saved with CPR. Porush was not on Belfort’s yacht when it sank during a storm, but a different group of friends were rescued by the Italian Coast Guard. However, Porush did confess to eating an employee’s goldfish as a form of communication. Surprisingly, Porush did marry his first cousin and took Belfort to a crack den. He also served 20 months in prison after the FBI uncovered the schemes at Stratton.

‘The Wolf of Wall Street’s Steve Madden Turned Criminal

Jake Hoffman as Steve Madden in The Wolf of Wall Street
Image via Paramount Pictures

Steve Madden, portrayed by Jake Hoffman, was a close childhood friend of Danny Porush and got involved in his illegal activities, leading to a 41-month prison sentence. Although Madden has a brief appearance in the movie, he played a significant role in Belfort’s memoir. He was actually closer to Belfort personally and professionally than to Porush. According to Belfort, Madden even proposed to co-manage his shoe company, with Madden focusing on design and Belfort on manufacturing and distribution. After leaving Stratton, Belfort worked for Madden until their relationship turned sour, leading to their downfall by the FBI. Madden was ultimately convicted of stock manipulation, money laundering, and securities fraud.

Who Is Chester Ming’s Real-Life Counterpart?

Kenneth Choi sitting at a desk with a headset on in The Wolf of Wall Street
Image via Paramount Pictures

The core staff of Stratton, consisting of a group of misfits and former weed dealers, is largely inspired by real people. However, the film simplifies or leaves out their exact work histories and relationships with Belfort. For instance, the character of Chester Ming (played by Kenneth Choi) is based on a real person named Victor Wang, whose role in Belfort’s memoir was more intriguing than depicted in the film. Victor aspired to start his own firm, which made Belfort suspicious of him. This suspicion was proven right when Victor began spreading rumors about Stratton’s impending collapse shortly after forming his own business. He also poached Stratton stockbrokers who preferred to work at his Manhattan firm rather than Belfort’s Long Island firm. Unbeknownst to Victor, Belfort was secretly waging a war against him, leading to the downfall of Victor’s new firm. It is also true that Victor assaulted Belfort’s butler and dangled him out of a window, resulting in Victor being sentenced to eight years in prison.

Bo Dietl Appears in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ ‘The Irishman,’ & ‘Goodfellas’bo-dietl-martin-scorsese-wolf-of-wall-street-robert-deniro-leonardo-dicaprio

Bo Dietl, a former New York mayoral candidate and private investigator, has a notable presence in Scorsese’s films. He portrayed the detective who arrested Henry Hill in Goodfellas and had a memorable supporting role in The Irishman. Surprisingly, Dietl had a connection with Belfort, reprimanding him for planning to bug the FBI. Additionally, he introduced Belfort to an FBI agent, gathered information about the FBI’s investigation into Stratton Oakmont, and prevented alleged Mob members and troublemakers from causing issues at Belfort’s firm. In The Wolf of Wall Street, Dietl portrayed himself.

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