Director, writer and producer Oliver Stone is the man behind classics like JFK and Natural Born Killers. His latest film, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, is the continuation of his 1987 film Wall Street, with Michael Douglas reprising his role as trader Gordon Gekko. Stone was recently in London, where he caught up with View’s Matthew Turner. Read on to find out his thoughts on financial bubbles, excessive consumption and how the new film compares to the original.
You got involved in the project when there was a script of sorts. Had you ever been looking to do a sequel?
Oliver Stone (OS):
Well, we tried to. In 2006 I said yes, let's try something. We had Stephen Schiff write a good script, but it was celebrating the hedge fund culture, and you know there were Russian hedge funders in Monaco or Monte Carlo and 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. 2008, gave it a definition, a sense of karma, that there had been some reckoning in the system.
Allan Loeb had a script and I was yet not involved but in 2009 I read it, liked it, it had a hook, had a good idea, but it was basically still on hedge funders. And we changed it to bankers and we changed a lot of the plot over the course of our research. Tried to make it really more about the situation about banks. And it's an amazing story, in terms of compared to the ‘87 story, cause it really is about the failure of banks in the United States to maintain the system.
Could you have only made the sequel to Wall Street in this kind of climate?
I figured things would be uncertain for years. We all figured on some form of deflation, call it gridlock, certainly politically and every which way. Nor could we only make the film only about 2008. I mean, it's a background only to me. We made it about six people in the foreground. A mother and her son, a father and his daughter, three financial predators, Josh Brolin, Frank Langella included, trying to trap Shia LaBeouf in their shenanigans. So to me that's what the story is about: people. I'm a dramatist. And those people who want outrage from the movie, a sense of Oliver Stone, the David hurling rocks at the financial institutions, they won't find that. It's about humanity.
And I've been through so much; my father was a broker, I've seen four financial bubbles in my lifetime. And when I say bubble, I use the word the way it's used in financial terms: a bubble is when you have rising expectations, and the hype takes you to another quantum level of society. It happened with Vietnam, we didn't pay for the war, the whole society in the late sixties changed, it changed in the eighties with Reagan, and it changed in the late nineties with the internet, and it changed again in 2008 with this real estate bubble. There's no reason not to believe there won't be a fifth bubble. And people forget, above all they forget. So a lot of the 2008 rage is forgotten, but there's an anger at bankers, there's an anger at Wall Street. And the banks did let us down, the movie to me is a lack of... it's about trust. The concept of banking has lost it's meaning, that's very important for society. These six people do betray each other in various points in the movie. There's love and there's trust, but also greed and betrayal.
Did Michael Douglas take much persuading to revisit Gordon Gekko?
He wanted me to do it because it was a lifetime marker for him and he wanted to make the movie. So he approached me in 2006 with the producer. I loved him in the role. It's natural to him. I'm not saying he's Gordon Gekko, but certainly much more devoted to family than Gordon Gekko. But he certainly had those issues between money and time, and you feel Michael lived on a certain level in the ‘80s, he was much more that style. Then he changed over time. Now he's fighting for his life, so it's weird how life catches up with art sometimes.
I enjoyed your cameo [as an investor] in the film. Why did you decide to appear in a cameo?
I jumped in because I wanted Shia to have some older people who looked like they had some money. It was important to establish the rumour thing, that he have the weight, as a young man, to pass the rumours around. And you know what, with the internet and with the new blogging techniques and Twitter, you can do that. It's amazing, the amount of power of the word and false rumour that now exists.
Another cameo in the film is Charlie Sheen, who starred with Douglas in the original. How did that come about?
I asked Charlie to do it. He was shooting his TV series but managed to get to New York for one day. It was a bit rushed. He was freaked out when we shot because he hadn't been on a movie set for some while, he's used to TV shooting, so he had a hard time with the lines. He blew the lines, it was funny.
Can the new film have as much impact as the original?
Probably not because the time has changed. I’m proud of it, it's more ambitious, more ambiguous too, more characters. There are more platforms now than there was then. The concept of Wall Street was so covered to death in the 20 years since the film came out so people know much more about it. It's so covered I think it loses its novelty. That's okay, you don't always make films for novelty, you make them for the right reasons.
What's been the reaction of bankers?
I don't sense that the banking class has erupted in rage, they feel very flattered that it's accurate. The movie doesn't take a documentary approach, it deals in people. Everyone knows the bankers let us down.
What's the most excessive consumption that you've seen?
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 ‘90s and the ‘00s 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, for zero and not have anything, no collateral, that’s true excess. So where does it end?