Ridley Scott is a very busy man.
But that didn’t stop him from re-shooting almost half of the scenes from the kidnapped Getty-heir drama All the Money in the World in the 11th hour. Out was the film’s anchor, Kevin Spacey, and in was Christopher Plummer, who had just days to prepare and shoot his scenes as J. Paul Getty. For many in the unfortunate situation that Scott found himself in 3 1/2 short weeks ago, it’s likely that no one could have pulled off this feat as seamlessly and controlled as Ridley- the 80-year-old legendary director- has done. As if we needed proof, Scott was recently nominated for his 5th Golden Globe. In our interview with the self-professed “stress lover,” screenwriter David Scarpa, and producer Bradley Thomas, we talk casting Plummer, what he loves the most about stress, and how he uses one simple trick to connect with his actors. We begin:
Ridley left another project mid-stream to work on All the Money in the World.
Ridley Scott, director: I was mid-stream on a fairly large project when I got a call from Bradley [Thomas, producer] who said he would like to meet because [he and co-producer Dan Friedkin] wanted to work with me on something. I read everything myself, I don’t have anyone read for me, [so] when I read the script, it hit me hard. It just sat there with me. I knew I was mid-stream with this other project so I said, ‘Listen, we’ll put that on hold and it will evolve later- I’m going to jump in and do this [All the Money in the World].’
This is the one thing about the Getty kidnapping that shocked the screenwriter.
David Scarpa, screenwriter: When I embarked on this, I was looking for a movie that was about money and the power that it has over everyone’s lives- whether they be rich or poor, it drives the choices they make in life. I was already somewhat familiar with the Getty kidnapping because everybody knows the story of the ear… However, something I didn’t already know was that J. Paul Getty was the richest man in the world at the time and refused to pay the ransom that would’ve been easy for him to pay. To me, that seemed like a Shakespearean jumping-off point for a story about a man who both loved his grandson yet was so addicted to money that he was incapable of parting with it.
Re-shoots started 3 1/2 weeks ago. Yes, you read that correctly: 3 1/2 weeks ago.
Bradley Thomas, producer: Keeping it a secret was very important. We were discussing the idea of doing this [reshoot], even though it seemed insane, but we were scared if it got out and we didn’t pull it off, people would be [critical]. It could’ve hurt us. Keeping it a secret was the most important thing.
Ridley Scott, director: It’s worth mentioning that this happened 3 1/2 weeks ago. Just to put things in perspective. Since then, we went to Italy, Rome… and now here we are. From zero to a Golden Globe.
“From zero to a Golden Globe.”
Ridley Scott and Christopher Plummer. Courtesy of Tom Jamieson for The New York Times
Casting Christopher Plummer was fairly easy.
Ridley Scott, director: I met Christopher at the Four Seasons in New York. He said it sounded good but he needed to read it first. So he read it and the next day he said, ‘Yes, why not?’
“Ridley Scott eats stress for breakfast.”
Bradley Thomas, producer: I just read a quote that ‘Ridley eats stress for breakfast.’
Ridley Scott, director: Haha. Stress, for me, is not working. I’ve never “worked” a day in my life. My job is not work, my job is my passion and my life. So I don’t even think about [obstacles], I go Yipee, here’s stress.
Ridley’s cinematic eye is so perfect because of his gift of “natural geometry.”
Ridley Scott, director: First of all, I had to protect Christopher from ever having seen what Kevin [Spacey] did because it has to be his. Christopher has to own it. Of course, I initially asked him if he wanted to see [the old footage] and he said, ‘Absolutely not.’ And so that was the right thing to do.
I was born with a natural geometry in my head, it’s a gift for me which was polished doing years of commercials. I can shoot anything from any angle and, normally, what lands is- I hate to say perfect- but correct. It’s right, and I wouldn’t re-do it. The problem can be efficacy, I can turn a 9-day shoot into a 22-day shoot if I’m being inefficient, but I feel like all the scenes already worked geographically and choreographically so well. Why change that?
I’ve never “worked” a day in my life. My job is not work, my job is my passion and my life.
Ridley Scott on set of ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings.’ Courtesy of We Geek Girls.
Authenticity is the most important element in any fact or fiction work.
Ridley Scott, director: I did it with Black Hawk Down, which was chaos. It was a pocket edition of the chaotic stupidity of battle. Whether your story is fiction or fact, you have to be true to your story. The great thing about fiction is, if it feels like fact, it’s stronger.
His upbringing as a concrete-layer shaped Ridley’s work ethic.
Ridley Scott, director: The script says it- there’s a great scene with Getty (the gun cleaning scene) where we get inside Getty’s soul and he professes what money can do. He’s seen it destroy men, families, and most importantly it destroys the children. You talk about the abyss of wealth which, in a similar way, is the abyss of poverty, like ‘I’d much rather die in the back of a Rolls Royce than some garbage can somewhere.’ By the way- I grew up as a concrete-layer, I did not come from a wealthy background. But my dad made me work, every Sunday. We worked Christmas, during the summer… I had to have pocket money. What I learned was that there was no way I was going to have that job [for the rest of my life].
The budget for All the Money in the World wasn’t too extravagant… only less than $60 million.
Ridley Scott, director: For the scale of the movie and the scale of the story, this was a slightly expensive movie. Laughter. It wasn’t a low-budget movie… but it was below $60 [million]. But I am very respectful of Dan and Bradley [producer] wanting to keep the budget as tight as possible. I’m very economical, I always end up slightly below budget. It becomes an internal competition for me- ‘Do I need 100 cars? No. Do I need 10 cars? Yes, but 5 will do.’
“I like that unevenness. I like the ship moving all the time.”
Ridley Scott and Mark Wahlberg. Courtesy of Twitter.
Ridley’s powerful secret to connecting with actors is actually, quite simple.
Ridley Scott, director: I came into directing without going through drama school or film school. I was thrown into the deep end after being asked to do a live hour-long drama on TV. The training was, ‘Here’s your script, here’s your office, here’s your P.A., you’re on in three weeks.’ I got beaten up so often by actors- the worst was when they went silent and just rolled their eyes because I didn’t know what to say to them. After a while, I began to design and devise my own method and what I discovered the most powerful thing to do is to make a partnership with the actor you’re working with. Frequently, when I meet with an actor that I haven’t necessarily given the role to, I’ll chat with them about anything other than the film. I’ll talk about bullshit. Suddenly, they’re talking and relaxing and usually they start to leak into the story. Then you enter and from that moment on, you’re their best friend. So my job is to be the actor’s best friend and make them feel absolutely secure.
Ridley Scott thrives on the unknown.
Ridley Scott, director: Doing my job, like most people at this table, is a minute-by-minute process of things changing all the time. Sometimes it’s important, sometimes it’s just par for the course. I like that unevenness, I like the ship moving all the time. That feeds my stress. There is positive stress and negative stress. Negative stress is doing nothing, being unemployed- that’s the worst stress you can possibly feel. Being over-employed is what I call positive stress. [The pleasure of telling stories] is the unknown.
‘All the Money in the World’ opens in theaters on Christmas Day.