As his long-awaited sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps finally makes it to cinemas, Oliver Stone tells us why his reputation as a controversial filmmaker is now as much a hindrance as a help…
Cannes, 2010. When he arrives in a small wooden cabana at the luxurious Hôtel du Cap, Oliver Stone is “still digesting” the reaction to the world premiere of his latest film, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, the long-awaited sequel to the 1987 original, signalling the return of Michael Douglas’ slimy corporate bully-boy Gordon Gekko. Its unveiling remarkably marks the first time Stone has been “officially invited” to the Cannes Film Festival in a career that spans over 30 years, 18 features and 3 Oscars. “The reception was positive,” smiles Stone, “so what can I say?”
This being Stone, a perfectionist by nature, he’s open to subtle changes even at this point—particularly to the end. “I love the ending but who knows? I might want to test it. I could put two versions in the theatre for an American audience and then test them. Maybe that’s the smart thing to do. I don’t know. We have time.” Indeed, when we meet, the original release date of April 2010 has been pushed back to accommodate Cannes, with the film now going on general release in the autumn. “It’s a luxury,” admits Stone, “and it’s the first time I’ve had that luxury, to have a delayed release. I’m always rushing to make release, it seems.”
He may be thinking of his last film, W, which was rush-released two years ago to open alongside the final days in office of its subject, President George W. Bush. Or perhaps World Trade Center, his true tale of two New York firemen in the Twin Towers wreckage, that was released to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. Indeed, for a director who began his career with films largely set in the ’60s and ’70s (The Doors, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and Nixon among others), his recent work has been far more topical, ripped from today’s headlines.
Hence the breakneck production of Money Never Sleeps, which, set in 2008, with the world on the brink of recession, could hardly afford to be slow-moving or else risk the story becoming old news. Written by Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff, and revised by Stone, the film was shot in New York in September and October of 2009 on a budget of $65m. Stone and his crew “didn’t take it easy, by any means”, he says. Using just a tiny soundstage to shoot some interior scenes, they covered 45 locations in 57 days—the same amount of time that the original was made in.
Stone admits his memories of the first Wall Street are still vivid. “It was the first studio film I did. I was coming out of the jungle. I’d done Platoon and Salvador back-to-back, in very rough locations, very low budget. And I had sort of arrived. I had got the Oscar [Best Director, for Platoon]. And I could’ve picked anything I wanted. And it’s ironic that I chose to do a financial movie, because they are hard to do. I knew they weren’t going to ever say ‘yes’ to that kind of movie, because it didn’t have guns in it or action—though there was a lot of machine-gun dialogue!”
Part of his reason for making Wall Street was as a tribute to his recently deceased father, Louis, a stockbroker who spent 50 years of his life working in the financial district. “I think he would’ve been proud of it. Obviously, he would’ve snickered at a few things. But he always said, ‘They don’t make good business movies.’” Yet Stone feels the sequel arrives at a “more complex” time, with terminology like ‘derivatives’ and ‘hedge funds’ liable to befuddle most viewers. Arguably, this is why the recession remains a backdrop; in the foreground, Gekko, after a spell in jail has left him unable to trade, is attempting to make amends with his estranged daughter, Winnie (Carey Mulligan).
While Money Never Sleeps may criticise capitalism (a reversal of the original, which lionised the system), Stone is plainly aware of the irony that the film has been funded by Twentieth Century Fox, the studio that’s a part of media baron Rupert Murdoch’s News International corporation. “You work inside the system that you have,” shrugs Stone. “Every painter, every filmmaker, has always lived inside a strange system. There’s always a patron. And he [Murdoch] let me make the movie and didn’t censor it. In fact, he likes the movie. He entertains the possibility of debate.”
It must be something of a turnaround for the 64-year-old Stone, whose films—from the conspiracy-laden J.F.K. to the ultra-violent media satire Natural Born Killers—have frequently entertained controversy rather than debate. More recently, however, it’s been his documentary work, such as the study of Latin American politics South of the Border, which has drawn criticism. His next project, a 10-part series called Secret History of America—which he says will show “the other side of history that we don’t hear”—has already caused uproar. “I’m not supporting Hitler!” he splutters. “That’s what some people wrote and that’s crazy, because he was a monster.”
Dogged for much of his career by such hysteria, Stone laments the fact he’s been so frequently tarred with this brush. “I tell you, I would not mind not having it. It would make life simpler for me. I could get financed easier and move on. I wish I could remove myself in a sense from the argument. But it’s too late. If I did Bambi, there would be an Oliver Stone ‘approach’ on Bambi. My name has become bigger than my real feelings about myself. I don’t believe my name. I believe myself. I follow my thoughts, feelings, and then higher consciousness I can attain to. But whoever Oliver Stone is in somebody else’s mind, it’s a weird thing floating around out there for me.”
So where next for Stone? Word has it he’s planning a film about the music business entitled Memphis. But even he admits, he dreams of slowing down. “There are so many books I haven’t read. I’d like to have a little free time. I do get sucked into these things, though. Wall Street 2 I didn’t want to do, until I got a script that hooked me.” What about running for office? “Yeah, I would love to run and win and have my way. But I don’t know if I could take it, every day, the battles. It’s so tough. You have to negotiate with people all day long and it’s hard.” Oddly, the way he describes it, it sounds exactly like being a film director.