Ridley Scott interview on All the Money in the World, Kevin Spacey and Christopher Plummer

The film director saved his latest film after its star, Spacey, was accused of sexual assault

Kaleem Aftab
Monday 08 January 2018 13:07
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‘I’m fast and I thought that I have to do something right now’
‘I’m fast and I thought that I have to do something right now’

The impression one gets chatting to director Ridley Scott is that he’s a man who is not lacking in confidence or self-belief. Perhaps that is what comes from being a director with so many classics under your belt: Thelma & Louise, Blade Runner, Alien, and Gladiator. It’s also a personality trait that enabled him to act decisively and quickly when his latest film, the J Paul Getty biopic, All the Money in the World, found itself embroiled in the sexual allegations made against its star Kevin Spacey.

Spacey had been touted as an awards contender playing the billionaire who refused to pay Italian kidnappers a random fee for his 16-year-old grandson in 1973. Then came the allegation made by actor Anthony Rapp that Spacey had made untoward sexual advances towards him at a party when he was just 14 years old. This accusation opened the floodgates and soon a number of sexual misconduct allegations were made against the former Old Vic artistic director and both Netflix, who were in the midst of shooting the sixth season of House of Cards and Scott decided that they needed to jettison the actor from their projects.

All the Money in the World was pulled from the prestigious AFI Fest in a move seen as a precursor to the movie being withdrawn, or postponed from cinemas, but Scott had other ideas. The British director was adamant that he didn’t want the release date of his film moved. He knew that Danny Boyle had been shooting Trust, an eight-part television series on the kidnapping that is at the centre of All the Money in the World and with that series due to air in the spring he made the decision to quickly order reshoots with Christopher Plummer replacing Spacey in the Getty role.

Plummer was originally in the running to play J Paul Getty

“I’m fast and I thought that I have to do something right now,” says Scott. “So already at that moment, I was discussing with my partner who had paid for the film, [billionaire] Dan Friedkin, if I can get Christopher Plummer, we can be off and running and I’ll be shooting it in nine days.”

Friedkin stumped up $10m to fund the reshoots. If it had not been such a major story it would be impossible to know that Plummer hadn’t been involved all along. Scott says that when Spacey was in the role it was a much colder version of Getty, but now, “Christopher is both sympathetic and cruel sometimes”.

The choice of Plummer came easily as he was being considered when Spacey was originally cast. “It was a toss up between the two,” says Scott. The advantage of Plummer was that he is an octogenarian as is the character depicted in the film, but it made business sense at the time to give Spacey prosthetics and age him up. “Kevin had a big profile with the success of House of Cards and he was useful on a commercial level.”

Mark Wahlberg, Scott and Plummer on the set of ‘All the Money in the World’

It says much about the casting process of Hollywood and the value of “celebrity” that the final choice was not down to who was most right for the role, but who would put bums on seats. As soon as the audience turned, so did Scott. It’s a move that is as ruthless as Commodus, the emperor portrayed in Gladiator.

What’s good for business has always been a motivating factor for Scott. He was born in November 1937 in South Shields, County Durham. His father was in the Royal Engineers and largely absent from most of his early life with the Second World War raging. Scott’s earliest memories are of hiding under the staircase as the Germans attacked and of a barrage balloon used to defend against aircraft attack bursting and covering his house that made him confuse day for night.

It’s his housewife mother that he praises for bringing up three boys. His elder brother Frank was a sailor, whilst his now deceased younger brother Tony was also an esteemed movie director who made True Romance. “My mum she should have been a business woman,” he says when talking about her zest for life.

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The film needed $10m to fund reshoots after the allegations surfaced against Spacey

He struggled at school before going to West Hartlepool Art College where he finally felt at home. He then went to the Royal College of Art in London, which he calls a life-changing experience that led to a spell at the BBC and then a successful career in advertising. From the age of 30 he wanted to make a movie, but the opportunity never arose. He was 40 when he made The Duelists about warring Napoleonic officers that won a prize at Cannes for Best First Film in 1977.

It was watching Star Wars that pushed him to making sci-fi films set in space. Alien pushed his own career to intergalactic proportions and given his admiration for his mother it’s perhaps unsurprising that he saw Ripley as a heroine rather than hero. He would go on to make Thelma & Louise which decades after it was made remains the great female buddy movie.

“A lot of my films don’t tend to age,” he says showing that brash self-confidence again. “They stand up. I’m very aware of that and I’m very competitive. These films are always still playing and so are often in need of technical rejuvenation and so I’ve just done Gladiator again for the sixth time as it’s going out again in 4K.”

Charlie Plummer as Getty’s grandson in Scott’s new movie

All the Money in the World is an unusual project for Scott because he didn’t originate the project himself. The script landed on his desk and he was attracted to it because, “I thought it was very valid because of what is going on today with super wealth and the way the world is going.”

He thinks people have got too wealthy, but then also asks, “What is wealthy? When you hear people say that they are giving away 10 billion but they are worth 200 billion, it’s lunch money.”

He’s not sure taxation is the answer as many billionaires are entrepreneurs who create wealth and pay taxes. “What is the balance of payments?” he wonders. It’s a question that he ponders in his new film where Plummer’s Getty is treating the kidnapping as a business transaction, waiting to see who will drop their guard first. In the end it’s hard to tell what is right and what is the wrong way to do things.

He will be returning to his youth as he plans to make a Battle of Britain film, “There is a lot of competition with films that have come out, such as Dunkirk, but that won’t stop us. It’s difficult because you’re into all kinds of real flying and digital flying and now you can get it almost perfect, but the most important thing is the characters, I always invest in characters.”

And at 80, Scott remains one of the great characters of British film.

‘All the Money in the World’ is out now

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