"You read the screenplay and it's like, 'Hugh Glass fights the bear,' " said DiCaprio, 41, at the SAG-AFTRA Foundation interview alongside director Alejandro G. Iñárritu (skip ahead to 20:20 for that part of the chat). "I was like, 'So what do I do? Do I give him a right hook? How do I fight a bear?' "
But the actor quickly realized it wasn't so much of a fight as it was an attack.
"It's not a fight at all, you're just being mauled and it's like a giant cat throwing around a ball of yarn around the forest," he explained.
In the scene, DiCaprio's 1820's fur trapper gets attacked by a female bear who feels he might be threatening her cubs. The actor revealed that the scene was especially grueling to film – he didn't use a stunt double – and extremely realistic to watch, calling it "almost like virtual reality."
So how did the director pull off such a life-like attack without using a real bear? Turns out, he'll never tell.
"To explain how we did it would ruin the experience," Iñárritu said, adding that "every trick available in cinema was used here."
The director said that his main goal throughout the film was to make it as authentic as possible – and the bear scene was no different. Iñárritu and his team put hours into researching the logistics of the scene, including the motives behind the attack.
"What happened in that scene is very close to what really happens when a bear attacks a man," he explained.
Turns out his efforts paid off.
The Revenant earned both DiCaprio and Iñárritu Golden Globes for their performances as actor and director, along with the award for best motion picture, drama. The film is also being called a top Oscar contender.
The Revenant hits theaters nationwide on Jan. 8, following a limited release on Christmas Day.