10 Things We Learned About ‘All the Money in the World’ from Ridley Scott and Cast
Ridley Scott’s latest All the Money in the World takes a look at how the effect of having great wealth plays on a family.
The film is centered on the true story of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), who, in 1973, was kidnapped in Rome and held captive for five months while his mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), struggled with Getty’s grandfather, the billionaire J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), who refused to pay the ransom. The story made headlines at the time, mostly because part of the teenager’s ear was cut off by the kidnappers and sent as a warning to pay the money. What this film does is also show the family’s inner workings and turmoil and how the elder Getty’s incredible stinginess resulted in his grandson’s mutilation.
All the Money in the World also made its own headlines when the film’s original star Kevin Spacey, as Getty Snr., was replaced by Plummer after sexual misconduct and abuse allegations were levied against Spacey. The film had already been completed, but Scott made the decision to recast the role and was able to pull off a new cut of the film in less than a month. A daunting task, to say the least, but quite a successful one. Plummer is astounding as the elder Getty and really enhances the film in many ways.
At the recent press conference, director Ridley Scott, stars Michelle Williams, Charlie Plummer and Christopher Plummer and screenwriter David Scarpa spoke with us about making this film. Here are 10 things we learned.
On the most exciting thing to explore in putting this story together:
David Scarpa: When we were embarking on this, I was looking for a movie that was about money, and about the power, it has over everyone’s lives. Whether they’d be rich or poor, it drives the choices they make in life. Then one of the producer’s came to me, ran into him by chance and said he’d just picked up a chapter from a book that was about the Getty kidnapping. I was somewhat familiar with it because everyone knows the story about the ear. But there was one point he gave me, which I didn’t really know, and that was Getty was essentially the richest man at the time and when presented with a ransom that would have been easy to pay, refused to do so. And that to me seemed like a very Shakespearean jumping off point for a story about a man who both loved his grandson but was so addicted to money that he was incapable of parting with it. So that was the jumping off point for the entire movie. From there, it became sort of a broader story of how this family was impacted by wealth.
On how director Ridley Scott came on board:
Ridley Scott: I was in the middle of something which wasn’t quite landing. I was mid-stream on a fairly large project and I had a call from [producers] Bradley Thomas and Dan Friedkin, who said they’d like to meet and work with me on something and had this script. I read everything myself, don’t have someone read for me, and it just sat there with me. Hit me hard actually. So I put the other thing on hold and let evolve later, and I want to jump in and do this. I was very unpopular at Fox but they were f**king warned.
On how Ridley asked Christopher Plummer to play J. Paul Getty:
Scott: We met in a terrible conference room in the Four Seasons in New York. I wanted to keep away from a bar or have a vodka martini, having just flown in from London to talk about a goddamned movie.
Plummer: He flew in all the way from London to see me, unbelievable! Even if I didn’t want to do it, I would have done it. For years I’ve been wanting to work with Ridley – and I’m not saying because I want to get another job. Seriously, I’ve admired his work tremendously. So I’ve probably would have done it if I loathed the script. But I must congratulate [David Scarpa] because I really did rely on him. I didn’t have any preparation at all. Ridley’s job seemed to be to make as confident and as comfortable as possible, which he did miraculously. Mostly because of his outrageous sense of humor. That would calm anybody down. David’s wonderful script, which I relied on thoroughly having made no pretenses that I did research. And there were so many lovely colors in the character as written that I thought, “No this is not just a monotonous monologue, page after page.
On the stress level in doing the re-shoots in such a timely manner:
Scott: It’s worth mentioning that this happened about three and a half weeks ago. To put it into perspective… we went to Rome and here we are. I think Chris did very well in that time… from zero to Golden Globe [nomination].
Stress for me is not working. I’ve never considered [not working] a day in my life. My job is my passion, and my life, so I don’t even think about it. Once I start a new film, my job is a minute-by-minute process of things changing all the time and the ground shifting under your feet. Sometimes it’s important and sometimes it’s par for the course. I like it. That feeds my stress. There’s positive stress and negative stress. Negative stress is doing nothing. That’s the worst stress you could possibly feel. Feeling unemployed is the worst possible experience. Feeling over-employed is what I call positive stress.
Plummer: You thrive on it. If you love your profession, which Ridley obviously does and I certainly do, you welcome challenges and stress more than anything else. Why do [actors] wait to play King Lear? Because there’s nothing like it ever written before. It’s not because we think we’re going to be marvelous in it – well, that’s a lie, of course – but that we’re going to feed ourselves with the hungry, searching feelings that we have in this profession. I love the theater because I get a response from the audience. You certainly learn from the audience whether you’re good or not.
On any changes or differences in the re-shoots:
Scott: First of all, you have to protect Christopher from seeing what Kevin [Spacey] did because it has to be his. Christopher has to own it. I asked him if he wanted to see [some of Spacey’s work] and he said, “Absolutely not.” So, that was the right thing to do. Off that, I was born with a natural geometry in my head. It’s a gift for me having done years of commercials. I can literally shoot anything from any angle. Normally what lands – I hate to say – is “perfect,” but rather “correct.” It’s right, and I wouldn’t redo it. In terms of efficiency, I can turn a nine-day shoot into a 22-day shoot, if I’m being inefficient. But, I figured with this, all the scenes worked geographically and choreographically so well, why change that plan? I never discussed that with Chris; I protected him from that. I just wanted to slide in what we already had to minimize the extent of what we’d have to do if I start all over again. So, it was partly driven by practicality but also mainly driven by the fact that I liked the scenes.
On how Ridley works seamlessly with his actors:
Scott: You learn your own root along the way. I came into directing without going through drama school or film school or anything. I was a good designer. I was thrown into the deep end when I was asked to do live TV – and the training was this: There’s your script, there’s your office, there’s your PA, you’re on in three weeks. I had to go, in those days, into conventional ways of doing it, which is church halls or women’s institutes, with sets laid out and tape on the ground, and tables and cups all around. PA’s running around with stopwatches, saying “Cue darling.” And I’d get beaten up so often by actors, like just silence and rolling their eyes because I didn’t know what to say to them.
After a while, you learn to design your own methodology. And what I discovered, the best and most strategic and most powerful thing to do is make a partnership with your actor. Because it is a partnership. Frequently when I meet with an actor I haven’t necessarily given the role too, I’ll chat about anything with them except the film. I’ll talk about bullshit, their families – and suddenly they are talking and relaxing. Then usually they start to leak into the story, and from that moment on, you’re their best friend. My job is to be the actor’s best friend and to make them feel absolutely secure on the floor in front of a piece of glass, to do what I could never do.
On relating to the character of John Paul Getty III:
Charlie Plummer: I think that he does have an interesting life. I think from a young age, he was surrounded by adults and around a lot of adult matters. And I think that is something I can relate to. I’ve been acting since I was 12, so I’ve had a lot of conversations with adults. But I do think he had an extraordinary life. Everyone can relate to that in some respect. I also think the relationship with his mother was another thing I could relate to, in some aspect. Maybe not that directly.
On finding footage of Gail Harris and utilizing it for the character:
Michelle Williams: There’s only a couple of clips of her online, two or three, and they really became my touchstones. I spent a lot of time working with a dialect coach and breaking apart the sounds and understanding where that particular speech pattern comes from. We’d have a weekend off and listening to one of those clips put me right back in the pocket of how she carried herself and how she spoke, how she moved her mouth. How specific she was and how intelligent she was. They meant a great deal to me.
On playing a woman fighting her father-in-law but dependent on him:
Williams: The way that the script was conceived was that she was a woman who refused to let herself fall apart. A woman who takes great effort to keep herself together because falling apart won’t get her any closer to her goal, which is getting her son back. And that at times was one of the hardest things to do. To keep your wits about you and to stay as strong and steely as possible when confronted with these circumstances that are so wrenching… to keep her intact was one of the biggest challenges.
She has to go through so much in this movie. So much that’s unfair and undue that just shouldn’t have been. And she’s doing essentially alone. She and Chase [played by Mark Wahlberg] a sort of partnership and then a kind of friendship at a certain point. But she is essentially taking all of these hurdles by herself. And has to prove herself to be steely to be taken seriously. She is in a man’s world and has to play like one of the boys in order to have any kind of authority in these really tough rooms.
On why rich people like Getty value money over their loved ones:
Scott: There’s a scene with Getty, the gun cleaning scene, and we get inside his soul and his disappointment. He knows what money can do. He’s seen it destroy men. It destroys families. But most of all, it destroys the children. He talks about the abyss of wealth, which is also the abyss of poverty. I’d much rather die in the back of a Rolls-Royce than in the back of a garbage can somewhere, but when you’re approaching that point, it’s all the same. You’re in so much disarray and distortion that either one is a tragedy… By the way, I used to work at an ammonia plant and laid runways. I was a concreter and I didn’t come from a wealthy background. I learned that because my dad made me work. Christmas, through the summer for pocket money. To earn it and he was right because I said to myself, “There’s no way I’m going to end up doing this job.”
All the Money in the World is now playing in theaters everywhere!