In 2014, Ridley Scott directed Exodus:Gods and Kings. In 2017, Scott showed Hollywood and the world just how much of a God and King he is. You all know the story of how he rescued his latest film from near certain oblivion. Some wondered if he could do it, but he’s exceeded all expectations. If ever there’s any doubt in your mind, head to the cinema this weekend, see All The Money in the World, and you’ll witness for yourself just what a god-damned genius Scott is.
All The Money in the World tells the story of the 1973 kidnapping of J. Paul Getty’s grandson, and tragic result of the billionaire’s refusal to pay the ransom. With an all-star cast that includes Michelle Williams and Mark Walhberg, Scott called on Christopher Plummer to replace Kevin Spacey in the role of Getty and the rest, as they say, is history.
The performances are excellent, the film is riveting, and its message is profound. I had the chance to sit down with Sir Ridley last weekend. We talked about how to order the perfect cup of tea in L.A., but Scott opted to order a cappuccino instead.
He told me what it took to pull off what he did and deliver his film on time. He talked about the opening and offered his reflection on isolation and wealth. We ended our chat with a word association game.
Have a read:
I grew up in London and have a vague recollection of hearing about an ear being cut off, but I didn’t know much more about the story behind J. Paul Getty and the kidnapping of his grandson.
You were a twinkle. I knew about it because I lived through the ’60s and ’70s. I hadn’t planned to do it. I was doing something else and it was not landing. I always have different things in development and this came out of the blue.
The script was hanging around and I read it and thought, “Holy Shit.” I went from that to meeting the owner of the material, Dan Friedkin. We got on very well and I said, “I may have something going down, if it goes down I will do this if you like.” And that was it, we started really late probably in June. We delivered it a month ago and then found out that we had a problem.
In a day, I said I couldn’t sit on this as it would infect our film. I said, “We have to kill it. Let’s recast right now and let’s get on to Chris Plummer.” He was also on my list. Once I had that, I had to look at whether the locations were available and ask if the people involved in the scenes available. And we put it together. We knew within a week what we were doing and how much it would cost. I leapt straight into London and then Italy.
All of which were available?
Yes. We checked them out and they were there.
What was that stress like for you to wrap, and then wake up to find that story?
I get used to stress. I don’t get stressed. I get stressed by not working. When this happens, I say, “Right.” [Jolly Green Giant voice]. I do love challenges and so it’s how fast can I get this down. Can I do it? Absolutely. You never consider failure. Failure is not an option.
You did the greatest thing and you pulled it off.
OK, so let’s talk about the opening, with John Paul Getty III walking down the street. How you set him up walking through the streets of Rome.
Have you seen La Dolce Vita?
It’s one of my favorites and I wondered if that opening was an homage to it.
I tried to reset that street with the Eurotrash and paparazzi on the Via Veneto. I couldn’t shoot there because it’s too built up and there’s too much traffic. I took the square and tried to set up the same thing.
What did you want people to understand about that opening?
I wanted people to settle into a period film with a kid who could be in a rock n’ roll band who actually was used to the street. You get a sense he knows the streets. People call out to him and he says hi. He knows the street. He crosses the street to a Fellini square with the prostitutes. They are there for business. When a car comes by they go off and come back, this is their beat. That was all Fellini. In La Dolce Vita, that would be Anita Ekberg. I tried to get into it that way because it’s one of my favorite films. It is one of the most sophisticated films ever made. We’re entering an era that we’re looking into, coming in from the entrance where you end on the prevalence and evolution of homosexuality. It’s touching everything sociologically and politically. It’s all out there.
Talk about the way you lit Getty.
Darius Wolski is the most fun to work with. When you say “six cameras,” he can cope with everything.He has a great eye and a beautiful sense of light because that’s where I come from. I was very successful in commercials because of my lighting and the way my commercials looked. I know what to do and how to look for it. but that said, I need the best because I test the ground.
It’s the same as the wardrobe, it’s very hard to do the ’70s without it being in your face with silly curly hair and silly bellbottoms and stuff like that.
Janty Yates did American Gangster, Gladiator, and she did this. She does everything. It’s always discreet but totally ’70s. It was fantastic.
They were trying to tell me what it was like in Harlem when I did American Gangster. I told them, “Dude, I was in Harlem shooting dead bodies in the street in 1959, don’t tell me about Harlem.”
I think we got the look very well. I think now you can make digital look like film.
Getty is such a complex character with his own unique standards. What do you want us to take from him?
The one thing I have to ask is, did you learn something?
Yes, I learned about his isolation. I wanted to go away and read more about their story and certainly his. I was fascinated.
They’ve become philanthropists in a big way. Getty, when he’s talking about beautiful objects rather than people, he does that when he’s cleaning the guns. I thought that was a good insight into John Paul Getty who was amassing so much art and wealth. Partly because it was based on him avoiding tax.
Taylor Swift wrote a poem in Vogue and it was so interesting because she wrote about feeling isolated by being so successful. It’s about isolation from success and she doesn’t sound like a happy girl. You can say, she’s gotta be happy because she’s so successful but not necessarily. You become more and more isolated. I think you isolate yourself with wealth. And then, you feel envy around you. You feel people don’t really like it. Envy is a horrible thing and it’s a destructive thing. Getty would talk about feeling isolated because of his wealth. He talks about the abyss that ruins the family and most of all children.
I know a lot of very wealthy people. I’m always impressed when people I know who come from enormous wealth are completely normal people and that means the parents have done the right thing and brought them up properly and someone has paid attention in there.
I think with the Getty thing, I think maybe there was a lack of attention. I can’t criticize that because it’s not like I’m criticizing Gail. I think she was a terrific mother who gave her son enough leeway at 17 to have his own freedom. It’s like giving kids freedom today and they go to a rave and they end up dead. You can’t stop your kid from going to a rave. You’ve got to allow them to let their hair down.
You’ve got to be an idiot to take a pill. There’s a pill now with a street value of $50 million that will kill you in a heartbeat and it’s 50 times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine and that’s one of the movies I’m working on next, about that and the cartel.
The biggest consumer of this is the USA and the manufacturers are pharmaceutical companies.
There’s a huge opiate problem here in the USA. I know, I was trying to get Norco for a root canal and it was impossible to find. I had to go to a smaller pharmacy.
I’ve barely taken a joint. I’ve had one sniff of cocaine in my entire life.
Everyone in LA is on something or another.
That’s one thing I love about LA, LA can kill you or make you blossom.
You made Alien in 1979 and were way ahead of the game by casting women in the lead roles. At the time, did you face any problems when getting them made?
No. I did five films with Alan Ladd Jr. I did Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise. He once said to me, “What happens if Ripley’s a woman?” I said, “Good idea,” and that’s what happened. I didn’t realize what it meant. I never thought about it. I always cast strong women in everything.
I did Someone to Watch Over Me and that had a very strong woman in that. Mimi Rogers. Thelma & Louise was obvious. G.I Jane. I couldn’t think of another woman who could do that. Those one arm pushes were real. No tricks. Demi was really tough.
Let’s do a quick one-word association game.
TV Show [Laughs] *Gladiator was TV show in the UK*
Thelma & Louise
Sushi. [laughs] I loved it. The police in Tokyo didn’t help me at all. I called the mayor of Osaka and said, I was shooting in Osaka. It’s a good film and we’re now doing it as a TV show.
All The Money in The World is out today