Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
I’ll eat [stress] like ravita.- Ridley Scott
Imagine a huge sex-assault scandal involving a world-renowned star hits the press just weeks before a movie starring that person was slotted to debut. You don’t really need to reach too far into your imagination as you’ll remember that’s really happened in the case of Kevin Spacey and director Ridley Scott’s ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. However, instead of it being the death knell for the movie, the veteran auteur turned it into somewhat of a victory, facing the oncoming stress with gusto, almost as if decrying, “challenge accepted,” to the universe. Scott and his team quickly assembled a historic workaround, hiring Christopher Plummer to replace Spacey and filming re-shoots in record time for the movie to make its Christmas release date.
Based on John Pearson’s book, the film tells the true-life tale of sixteen-year-old J. Paul Getty III’s (Charlie Plummer) kidnapping in Italy in 1973. What the kidnappers hadn’t anticipated was that this kid’s grandfather J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), who was the richest man in the world, would refuse to pay the ransom demands. This launched a battle between the oil tycoon and his ex-daughter-in-law/ the boy’s mother, Gail Getty (Michelle Williams). And what transpires is an intense, thrilling and suspenseful story about this family’s misfortune and the destructive nature of money.
At the film’s recent press conference in Los Angeles, Scott mentioned he was inspired to take the project on after reading David Scarpa’s script.
I was in the middle of something which wasn’t quite landing. I had a call from [producers] Bradley [Thomas] and Dan Friedkin who said they’d like to meet because they’re like to work with me on something. I read everything myself. I never have anyone read for me. It just sat there with me, hit me hard actually and I knew I was midstream on the other one. So I was able to say, “Listen, we’ll put that on hold. We’ll evolve later and I want to jump in and do this.”
After Spacey’s scandal broke, Scott’s revolutionary idea began to form. It started with his phone call to pitch Christopher Plummer his plan. Scott explained,
We met in a terrible room in the Four Seasons in New York. I wanted to keep away from the bar because I didn’t want to have a vodka martini having flown from London, to actually talk about the project. You can do the usual blah blah what I said to Christopher, but he’s such a pro, he gets it and if I’m going to fly all that way to see Christopher, it’s going to be something serious.
Given the urgency of the matter at hand, Christopher Plummer wasn’t able to do much research into his role as the head of the Getty empire. Plummer praised Scarpa’s work.
I must congratulate the writer. I really did rely on him because I didn’t have any preparation at all really. David’s wonderful script, which I relied on thoroughly having made no pretension to the research. 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. There’s an awful lot to evaluate.’
Plummer valued Scott’s supportive guidance through humor.
For years, I’ve been wanting to work with Ridley. I’m not saying that so I can get another job. Really, seriously, because I admire his work tremendously. I would’ve probably done it even if I loathed the script. Ridley’s job seemed to be to make me as confident and as comfortable as possible, which he did miraculously, mostly because of his outrageous sense of humor. That will calm anybody down.
Once the talent agreed, it was then up to producers Friedkin and Thomas to finance the ballsy venture and trying to keep the news under wraps. Thomas stated,
First of all, Dan had to agree to finance it which was a big win for us. Keeping it a secret was very important because the worst thing that could happen is, because we were discussing the idea of doing this even though it seemed insane, but we were scared if it got out that if we didn’t pull it off, then people would be saying, ‘Why didn’t you do it?’ It could hurt us. So I think keeping it a secret was the most important thing.
Scott was quick to point out the quick turnaround.
It’s worth mentioning this happened about three and a half weeks ago. Just to put it in perspective, about a month. Since then, we went to Italy, Rome, and here we are. I think he did pretty good, three and a half weeks from zero to a Golden Globe.
As far as the new stress on top of the existing amount already there, Thomas said,
I just read a quote that said, ‘Ridley eats stress for breakfast.’
I’ll eat it like ravita. Stress for me is not working. I think it goes with you. 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 it. I go, ‘Yippee, here’s stress.’
Plummer said the stress gave them all the added ability to thrive.
If you love your profession, which Ridley obviously does and I certainly do, you welcome challenges and stress more than anything else.
Scott’s strategy to get the best performance out of Plummer was to shield him from what the previous actor had done.
First of all, you’ve got to protect Christopher from ever having seen what Kevin did because it has to be his. Christopher has to own it. So with that, of course I asked, “Did you want to see it?” He said absolutely not so that was the right thing to do.
The other key to success was to not change the geographical parameters of what he had done prior. Scott said,
Part of my problem, in terms of its efficiency, I can turn a nine day shoot into a 22 day shoot if I’m being inefficient. But I think all the scenes worked geographically and choreographically so well, why change that plan? I never discussed that with Chris. I protected him from that but 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. So it was partly driven by practicality but mainly driven by the fact that I liked the scenes.
Remaining as true as possible to the real life account was important to build the relationship with the characters. Scott explained,
Whatever you do, you’ve got to be true to your story, whether it’s fiction or fact. The great thing about fiction is if it feels like fact, it’s stronger. If it’s about fact and it feels like fact, that’s kind of dangerous. You’ve got to communicate.
In terms of his approach to Getty, Plummer found the lack of prosthetics to be an advantage.
I think in 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.
At the end of the day, the pleasure of storytelling qualified as “positive stress” for Scott.
It’s the challenge – the constant challenge. Once you’re into a film, it’s a minute by minute process of things changing all the time, the ground shifting underneath your feet. I like the ship moving all the time. That, to me, that feeds my stress. There’s positive stress and negative stress. Negative stress is doing nothing. That’s the worst stress you can possibly feel, the feeling of unemployed. That’s the worst experience. Feeling overemployed is what I call positive stress.
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD opens on Christmas Day.
Header photo: (l to r) Mark Wahlberg, Director Ridley Scott and Christopher Plummer on the set of TriStar Pictures’ ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD.