Oliver Stone Roundtable Interview for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

On how and why he came to direct Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

In 2006 I said yes lets try something, Stephen Shiff wrote a good script but it was celebrating the hedge fund culture, you know there was Russian hedge funders in Monaco and there was a scene with a guy who had a submarine in the harbour of New York. It was James Bond stuff and it was just rich people, no point.
2008 gave it definition, a sense of karma, that there had been some reckoning in this system. Crime and punishment. After that Allan Loeb had a script although I wasn’t involved. in 2009 I read it, I liked it. It had a hook, it had a good idea but it was still based on hedge funders and we changed it to bankers. We changed a lot of the plot over the course of our research. The movie is about banks, it’s an amazing story compared to the ’87 story because it really is about the failure of banks in the United States to maintain the system. They were no longer the institutional foundation and they had to be bailed out. It’s an enormous story really, historically important. If we ever have a history left.

Getting Michael Douglas back as Gekko

He wanted me to do it. It was a lifetime marker for him and he actually wanted to make the movie so he approached me in 2006 with Ed Pressman, the associate producer, and it fits him, it’s like an old shoe. I loved him in the role. It’s natural to him, I’m not saying he’s Gordon Gekko though. He’s certainly much more devoted to family than Gordon Gekko. He’s certainly had those issues though between money and time, you feel like Michael on a certain level, in the eighties, he was much that style and he changed over time.
How Gekko was perhaps misunderstood as a heroic figure in the first Wall Street film.

Didn’t Godard say every popular film is a result of a misunderstanding between the filmmaker and the public.

In the original I think Gekko was a one note villain, he was pure villain to me because he was a an aggressive, shallow, money seeking person. I think people liked him, they found him exciting. The people who actually went to work on the Street went with the idea of being legitimate not going to jail. Put it this way, money was sexy and to make money was acceptable in the Reagan world. That’s changed. People are idealistic now. Shia LaBeouf plays a young trader who basically is trying to capitalise in an alternate energy company, that’s important. There’s going to be a new bubble soon with alternate energy. I hope so, I’d love that, that would be a good bubble. Something good might come out of that bubble as opposed to the real estate market.

How the financial story works in the film.

It’s a background only to me though. We made it about six people in the foreground. These are a mother and her son, a father and his daughter, three financial predators (Josh Brolin and Frank Langella included) trying to trap Shia LaBeouf in their shenanigans. To me that’s what the story is about, people. I’m a dramatist and those people who want outrage from the movie, Oliver Stone the David throwing rocks at the financial institution may not find that. It’s about humanity.

The movie to me is about trust. At a macro level it is the banks and society and the concept of a civilisation going on with a foundation and you cannot put money in a bank in America. The concept of banking has lost its meaning. On a micro level these six people do betray each other at various points in the movie. It’s very important, there’s love and there’s trust but there’s also greed and betrayal. Everybody fucks everybody.

The banking story is great but it’s a documentary. There’s much more coverage of the financial story than there ever was. The investigation was quick. We heard about the Goldman scam before it was in the press because we talked to Eliot Spitzer who was Governor of New York and had investigated Wall Street and made many enemies. He had investigated AIG and Goldman and he told me, you know Goldman is hedging this whole market, they played the securities both ways, long and short. That struck me as a great idea for a movie because that would be the concept of the bookie playing both sides. We pushed that point in the movie.

Excess, the world of privilege and what excess he has seen in his life.

I’ve seen so much excess, it’s unbelievable. I’d say marketing campaigns on movies. I saw something at Cannes that is unbelievable, the red carpet is endless, the food is endless. The New York premiere was excessive but of course you can always say that is the movie business going back to the thirties. When you see it at every party you go to, groaning with food. I do think the world’s richness, the concentration of wealth in the nineties and two-thousands jumped. China is the biggest story of economic prosperity in the history of the world, India, Russia. The whole middle class system, the concept of reality television, that everyone is a princess, that you can have a home for free without earning any money is so Robin Hood distorted that it’s really fucked up. It’s crazy that you buy a house for nothing and not have anything, no collateral, that’s true excess. Where does it end.

The subject matter of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and its audience.

It’s not easy to make these kind of movies. Its a tough subject, arcane, not enough violence, people don’thurt each other in that way. It’s a throwback in a way to a more adult drama and you have limitations. Some young people will not see a movie with a young man in a suit, they just don’t understand it, why is he not in a baseball cap with a fucking basketball t-shirt on. Can’t get through, there’s a visual wall. I think so. The movie always tracked older, we noticed that from day one.

This interview was originally posted at HeyUGuys.