LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The son of a stockbroker, director Oliver Stone returns to the scene of the financial crimes he first explored in his 1987 “Wall Street” with his new feature, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”
Once again, Michael Douglas plays the iconic financier Gordon Gekko — he won the best actor Oscar for his original performance — as Gekko is released from jail into a new world of complex financial derivatives. The 20th Century Fox film opened September 24.
In a recent interview, Stone spoke about his decision to make a sequel, the ways Wall Street has become even more ruthless since the first film, and whether Gekko is a hero.
THR: What was your first reaction when Michael Douglas and producer Edward Pressman first proposed a sequel in 2006?
Oliver Stone: I was open to it. I didn’t see the need for it. But they commissioned a script from Stephen Schiff. It had many good things in it, including the daughter of Gekko’s character, Winnie. But at that time, it just seemed out of context, a celebration of wealth. So I passed on it. Then around early 2009, Ed and Michael reached out to me with a new script written by Allan Loeb, which was very interesting. It hooked me. It had more elements, but it was still around the hedge fund world. We did a lot of research, and we moved it to the banking world and changed quite a bit over the course of the next eight to nine months, during the shooting and during the editing. The script for me is an ongoing thing. Even after Cannes (where the film debuted in May), we were doing some changes.
THR: How deeply did you research the subject?
Stone: I read William Cohen’s book on Bear Stearns, that was the first big book I read. But the Rolling Stone article that was so famous, by Matt Tai, that came out just as we were going to shoot, but I’d received something similar in terms of information from Eliot Spitzer, the ex-prosecuting attorney who took on a lot of the Wall Street cases, especially AIG. And he said to us, Take a strong look at what Goldman Sachs is doing here. He said Goldman is playing it both ways, they are going long and short. It’s a very interesting concept for a script, because as we say in the movie, it was like a bookie who books bets going in and out. That was quite something. He said look at this nexus of Goldman/AIG as an evil empire.
THR: The first “Wall Street” dealt with insider trading, which was relatively easy to dramatize. The current financial system is so abstract. Did that present problems for you as a dramatist?
Stone: It’s much more complex. Derivatives have blossomed into a new industry, way beyond the bond market. It’s a huge thing. We certainly didn’t push it, but we did cover it. It’s talked about, but it doesn’t have to be known by audience. It’s in there, especially in the Federal Reserve Board meetings — the concept of being too big to fail. What you get from the movie is that the banks are really running the show. They are counterparties to each other. In that Federal Reserve Board scene, you see right at the beginning that Frank Langella’s bank is dependent on all the other banks. In a sense, inside information doesn’t mean anything anymore, because they all know each other’s business and trade with each other. With computers being so high-frequency in the trading, let’s say you go to market with some inside information — well, another computer can pick up that information and beat you out by seconds. It’s what Goldman has been doing. They can beat you by a few seconds and make a few pennies on a trade, and they do so much volume, they will trade for a half-a-penny profit. That would have been inconceivable in the 1980s, or in my father’s era before that.
THR: What else has changed on Wall Street since the first film?
Stone: It’s gotten 10 times bigger, 100 times bigger. No one can control the beast. I think this movie is the opposite of the first movie. The first movie was going into the ‘80s, when that sense of greed was infinite. Then we had deregulation for 30 years with Reagan, Clinton and the two Bushes. But we’re coming to the end of an era. No one can control it, it’s so deregulated. No one knows where it’s going. We don’t know if a market will collapse tomorrow or a currency will collapse. There’s constant insecurity. As a result, our economy is complete uncertainty and on medication.
THR: How did Michael Douglas like slipping back into the role?
Stone: Michael was great in this. I thought he was really comfortable, like an old shoe. He loved it.
THR: Do you have any updates on the state of his health?
Stone: At the premiere, about two weeks ago, he looked great. I know he’s suffering, it’s hard. But he was certainly lifted up by the premiere and the reception to (the film).
THR: How did you decide how Gekko would fare in this new environment?
Stone: We felt our way toward it. The idea was we would go in a complete opposite direction. In the other movie, he was a one-note villain, just interested 24/7 in money, money, money. In this movie, he has no money at the beginning. He’s coming out of prison and no one will talk to him. So the idea is he’s a smart guy and survivor, a sly fox and a bastard, too. So he makes his way back from nothing. He was always a contrarian, so he makes his fortune in a down market. ... At the same time, because he’s an older man, he’s closer to death. Who’s he going to leave his money to? I think some of the critics have gotten it wrong, frankly. They say that he goes soft. Hardly. He’s smart. I think that’s a Gekko trait. I think he wants to be a father and a grandfather, but it’s about his ego, too.
THR: Even though Gekko was the villain in the first film, his greed-is-good speech became a kind of rallying cry for those who admired him. How do you make a film set in a world of wealth and privilege without glamorizing it?
Stone: You know, Gekko was a crook. I don’t think anybody went to Wall Street with the idea that they would go to jail. But I think people related to the fact that he’s successful, he’s smart. They still do. He’s very sly in this new movie — he’s older, he’s more mature, he waits. He’s very passive in the first part of the movie, he’s waiting for his opportunities. At the end of the ball game, he’s pretty sharp. People are against Wall Street now, so it’s easy to be simple and say it’s all black-and-white, but it’s not. This is a gray movie. It’s really about six people in a shark tank. Each one has a different set of values. It’s very hard not to glamorize it. I was criticized for the same thing in the first movie. When I did “World Trade Center,” I was underground, in a hole, in the dark after 9/11. In this movie, you look down on New York from the sky. The intention was the same as the old movie
— it was to make it slick and glossy. We wanted it to look very sexy, because it does to these people. They like this world and its surfaces.
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