“One difference I feel now as a stockbroker’s son is that when I wake up in the morning I don’t know what’s going to happen,” says director Oliver Stone.
“There’s a sense of volatility and uncertainty that’s deeper than it’s ever been for me in my life.”
The recent financial crisis provides the background to “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” the sequel to his 1987 film about the business of getting rich.
Stone and I spoke at Bloomberg’s New York world headquarters.
Lundborg: Is speculation the mother of all evil, as your film states?
Stone: That was a line given to me by Olaf Rogge, a brilliant hedge funder in London, who read the script for me.
He was nailing the banks, and at that point in time he said their speculation fever was destroying the world.
Lundborg: Many of your films mix fact and fiction. How does that work in “Money Never Sleeps?”
Stone: It’s not a documentary, but the crash happened in that time period. We tracked it. It allows Gekko to get back in at a very low price and I made sure my capital accumulations in the film are correct.
Stone: Of course not, though Bretton James is based a bit on Robert Rubin, who’s really enriched himself. I think he’s the richest ex-Secretary of the Treasury ever.
Lundborg: Blankfein! He’s doing “God’s work.”
Stone: He’s a missionary!
Lundborg: What’s changed between “Wall Street” one and two, beyond the number of zeroes?
Stone: In the first one, the kid played by Charlie Sheen did not have a sense of moral integrity. He sold out his father, and the labor union, for his own profit and for Gekko’s profit.
Gekko was more of a one-note character in the sense that he was ruthless, but shallow.
Lundborg: You’ve made him more complex?
Stone: In this film, Gekko has a heart. He’s torn between truly wanting his daughter and a sense of family back in his old age -- and his desire for money and power.
Lundborg: A lot of people, including Gekko, say it’s not about the money, but the game. Do you believe that?
Stone: At the higher levels, yes. In this arena, money is fungible. Ego and envy are often involved, as well as greed.
Lundborg: One of the older guys says the game is no fun anymore. Is it still fun for the young Turks?
Stone: I talked to a lot of young kids about Shia LaBeouf’s age and they said it was shocking. They’d just gotten out of business school, and three years later they’re sitting in the middle of the biggest crash in our history.
For them, it was like a wake-up call, like a baptism by fire in Vietnam. And they could see that older captains of industry had no idea what to do.
Lundborg: Were you surprised when after the first film Gordon Gekko took on iconic significance?
Stone: I was. But remember, there had been no good business movies since the fifties. There was “Executive Suite” with William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck and Fredric March -- I love that movie!
My father used to say they didn’t make movies about people who work.
Lundborg: So what inspired you to take it on?
Stone: I was coming off “Platoon” and I could pretty much do what I wanted, so I said I want to make a business movie.
People told me it’s not a moneymaker to talk about money because there’s no action, you don’t kill people. What kind of suspense is there in a deal?
Lundborg: That’s certainly changed.
Stone: This movie was even more difficult because it’s more complicated now.
I had scenes with an AIG character because we tried to deal with the credit swap insurance business. We tried to do the link between Josh Brolin and AIG, but it was a wrinkle too much.
Lundborg: “Greed is good” came out of your first film. What will the mantra be from this one?
Stone: That was just a throwaway line. I don’t know: “Greed is now legal?” or maybe “More!” That’s Josh Brolin’s answer to the question “How much money do you need?”
There’s also, “Money is a bitch that never sleeps.”
Lundborg: Why is money female?
Stone: Gekko is saying to the kid, either you have a woman and a love life, or you have money. If you’re going to be with my daughter and be a good guy, forget about making money.
Lundborg: Is “Wall St. 2” that rarity -- a cynical film with a happy ending?
Stone: The ending is nuanced, real-to-life, I think, but I see it with whimsy.
How can you mourn over Wall Street?
“Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” opens nationwide on Friday, Sept. 24.
(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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