It’s deja vu all over again as Ridley Scott redirects the J. Paul Getty scenes, this time with Christopher Plummer in the role.
Last week saw a pilgrimage (by me) to Los Angeles to cover the press conference for one of the most controversial pictures of the season, Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World.
All the Money in the World **
The most sensational celebrity kidnapping this side of Patty Hearst become this year’s most controversial movie. J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) was the richest man that ever lived. What shocked the world more than the actual kidnapping and subsequent unharboring of his grandson’s (Charlie Plummer) ear was gramp’s famously unfavorable response to the ransom demand of $17 million. Even with Christopher Plummer’s superb job of bottom-of-the-ninth, out-of-the-park pinch-hitting as John Paul Getty, Ridley Scott needed more than just a Kevin Spacey substitute to keep it from drifting off into the land of poor relations. As Fletcher Chance, the ex-CIA operative-turned-paid-fixer who had Getty’s ear, Mark Wahlberg’s performance is a wooden diving board off which Michelle Williams and Plummer execute faultless gainers. What it packs in performances it lacks in vision. After about an hour, the film begins its flagrant fictionalization of facts for dramatic purposes followed by a slow and steady deceleration into formula and all the money in the world can’t save it.
For those living in a cave, six weeks before the film’s scheduled opening came news that one of its stars, Kevin Spacey, was hit with a slew of sexual harassment allegations.
Having been tried and found guilty by the media, the producers thought it smart to reshoot Spacey’s scenes and insert Christopher Plummer in his place. It turned out to be a wise call. Had we not known of the last-minute switcheroo, it would be impossible to tell that anyone but Plummer had ever appeared in the role.
At the press conference were director Scott, three of his stars (Christopher and Charlie Plummer and Michelle Williams), screenwriter David Scarpa, and producer Bradley Thomas. The film opens Christmas Day. Direct from the Orchid Room at the Four Seasons Hotel come these few choice moments from the discussion.
Charlie and Christopher Plummer are not related. Was Christopher Plummer aware of the young actor who bore his same last name?
“No, I wasn’t aware…and how dare there be! (Laughter.) Particularly with the name Charlie. What I’ve seen of his work is super. (Gritting teeth.) Although I hate to say it.”
On the first time the director and his replacement star met:
Ridley Scott: “We met at the Four Seasons in New York.”
All the Money in the World trailer
Christopher Plummer: “He flew all the way from London to meet with me. Even if I didn’t want to do it, I would have done it.”
RS: “He said, ‘Sounds good, but let me read it first.’ He did and the next day said yes. He can do do the usual ‘blah-blah,’ but Christopher is such a pro. He gets it. And if I was going to fly all that way to see him, he knew it was something serious.”
CP: “For years I had been wanting to work with Ridley, and I’m not saying that just so I can get another job. I probably would have done it even if I had loathed the script. I did really rely on the writer because I didn’t have any preparation at all. Ridley’s job seemed to be as confident and comfortable as possible, which he did miraculously through his remarkable sense of humor. That will calm anybody down. And there were so many colors in the character as written. This was not just a monotonous monologue, page after page. There’s an awful lot of value in it.”
What was producer Bradley Thomas’ top priority when the decision was made to swap stars?
“Keeping it a secret was very important. We were discussing the idea of doing this — even though it sounded insane. We were scared if it got out and we didn’t pull it off, people would be saying, ‘Why did you do that?’ It could have hurt us. Keeping it a secret was the most important thing.”
Ridley Scott on offering Christopher Plummer a chance to screen the footage of Spacey’s performance:
“You’ve got to protect Christopher from ever having seen what Kevin did. It has to be his. Christopher has to own it. Of course I asked if he wanted to see it and he said absolutely not. That was the right thing to do. All of the scenes worked geographically and choreographically so well, why change that plan? But I never discussed that with Chris. I protected him from it. I wanted to slide in what we already had to minimize the extent of what we’d have to do if I started all over again. It was driven in part by practicality, but mainly driven by the fact I liked the scenes.”
Michelle Williams on her approach to playing Gail Harris:
“The way that the script was conceived was that of a woman who refuses to let herself fall apart. A woman who takes great effort to keep herself together because falling apart won’t bring her any closer to the ultimate goal which is to have her son back. That was at times one of the hardest things to do. To keep your wits about you, to stay as strong and as steely as possible when confronted with these circumstances that are so wrenching. That scene where she goes to the newspaper to look at the ear…there are these kind of out-of-body experiences.
“As an actor and as this woman, to keep her intact was one of the biggest challenges. Falling apart isn’t going to get her any closer to having her son back. That was one of my main goals. She has to go through so much in this movie. So much that’s unfair, so much that’s undue, so much that just shouldn’t have been. And she’s doing it essentially alone. She and Chase [Mark Wahlberg] form a kind of partnership at a certain point, but she’s essentially taking all these hurdles by herself. She’s in a man’s world where she has to unfortunately play one of the boys.”
Christopher Plummer on playing real-life characters:
“When playing real people, you have to be as subtle as possible. If you try to make an imitation out of it you might as well wear a mask. So you have to save something from inside you as a person that can be revealed through the character that you’re playing. Otherwise it is a cheap imitation.”
Ridley Scott on making friends with his cast:
“The most powerful thing to do is make a partnership with the actor you’re working with. Frequently when I meet with an actor who I haven’t necessarily given the role to, I’ll chat with them about anything but the film. I’ll talk about bullshit…how’s the family? What did you do this morning? Suddenly they’re talking. They’re relaxing. My job is to be their best friend. My job is to make them feel absolutely secure on the floor in front of a piece of glass.”
Michelle Williams on having limited resources with which to research her character:
“There are only a couple of clips online, and they really became my touchstones. I spent a lot of time working on them with a dialect coach and breaking apart the vowel sounds and understanding specifically where that kind of speech pattern comes from. You have a weekend off and to be able to come back to one of those clips just sort of put me right back into the mood of how she carried herself, how she spoke, how she moved her mouth, how intelligent she was…they meant a great deal to me.”