x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

On the money: Oliver Stone talks about Gordon Gekko's return to Wall Street

"It comes down to love and greed, and Gekko emphasises it on a micro level, but on a macro level the banks are doing the same thing. Are they going to work for society or for themselves?"

Oliver Stone, centre, gives directions to Michael Douglas, right, and Shia LaBeouf on the set of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
Oliver Stone, centre, gives directions to Michael Douglas, right, and Shia LaBeouf on the set of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

In 1987, Wall Street gave the world Gordon Gekko, one of the most memorable and quotable characters in cinema history. Gekko's popularity was such that it almost obscured the fact that the point of the film was to show the corrupt heart of modern banking. The credit crunch afforded the polemical filmmaker Oliver Stone the opportunity to redress the balance and make a sequel. "The crash, it was like a triple heart-bypass operation, that makes you wake up to the system and I think people got wise."

Stone would like to see banking return to a time when it seemed like an honest business. Given how much he helped to make banking look exciting and cut-throat, it's strange to hear him say: "When you think back to your youth, if you remember back then, that the banks were boring, and investment banks were there to manage money for clients, to build bonds and trusts and help society, but that society role was abandoned somewhere along the way. I think it was Reagan and Thatcher in England perhaps who led to this attitude that government was bad and it led to 30 years of deregulation in these countries."

Michael Douglas, who so memorably played Gekko, understands the appeal of the character, but admits to being puzzled at the way certain sections of the finance community seemed to take him to heart. "I mean, who knew? Oliver and I talk about it all the time, that we can't quite understand how all these people, especially the masters, the business guys, went for this. It's a little bizarre," he says. (The film was one of the last Douglas completed before his diagnosis with throat cancer).

It demonstrates how much we love a villain in that Douglas, who only appeared in 25 minutes of the original, reprises his role, while Charlie Sheen's Bud Fox is relegated to a cameo. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps starts with Gekko alone and coming out of jail, ostracised by his daughter, played by Carey Mulligan. Shia LaBeouf plays Jacob Moore, the young buck taken in by the Gekko legend, trying to make his way to the top of the banking world. But it's Gekko's story that's the heart of the sequel.

Stone argues that this decision to focus on Gekko was the easiest way to make an analogy to the current banking situation. "Look, I think it comes down to love and greed, and Gekko emphasises it when he comes out of prison," says Stone, now 63. "He's broke, he's got no love and at his age that becomes an issue. He's old, he makes his money back very cleverly, but his daughter doesn't want him, so it becomes about a choice, is it going to be about my greed or is it going to be about love, and I think he makes his choice. It's corny, but I think he makes the right choice. That's on a micro level, but on a macro level the banks are doing the same thing. Are they going to work for society or are they going to make money for themselves?"

It's a transformation that Stone, born in New York, admits he had to go through himself: "I did believe in Reagan in 1980. I was tired of the old socialist drift of America and I thought it was a good thing to have a new dawn. Then I went to Central America and I saw what was happening in Nicaragua, Salvador, and I woke up pretty fast. It was horrible what happened under Reagan." Yet it's the youth of America that he is now trying to convince, rather than himself. Stone says: "I'm always arguing with Shia because he's got right-wing philosophy, a bit. I'm always trying to argue with him because I'm trying to make him wake up."

LaBeouf, who is 24, says: "Stone's funny. He likes to paint me as a redneck." Yet when pressed on his politics, Labeouf, who made his name as the star of the film Transformers, says: "I'm not going to go into it." LaBeouf eventually concedes: "I think we do see eye-to-eye, he was just being silly. It's hard not to see eye-to-eye with Oliver, especially when you're working with him, it's sort of a job requirement. I wanted to do this film because I was terrified. I was scared of the idea of it. I'd already been involved in another film where I felt I'd dropped the ball on a legacy [Indiana Jones] and now you drop yourself into another situation with an equally large legacy, if you drop the ball, it's over for you."

Labeouf says that Stone was a great rock upon which he could lean on for advice, and this apprentice-master relationship can also be seen between LaBeouf's character and Gekko in the sequel. Stoene admits that his own personality is sometimes blurred with that of his characters: "I swallow my characters, that's drama. When you make a movie, it's puppets, and I control the puppets, so I was a bit of Gekko for sure and people like to confuse him with me, but that's just me playing. People thought I was Nixon, they thought I was Jim Morrison, but that's just the game."

As with most of Stone's work, he portrays a macho world. As such the leading actress, the British actress Carey Mulligan, who plays an Upper East Side New Yorker, knew that she would have to work to fit in. She says: "I didn't feel like a girl, because I had so many people warning me about Oliver. I said right, I have to go in there with all guns blazing and be like a bloke. I wasn't at all vulnerable with him until a month into the shoot because I didn't want him to pick up on my vulnerability."

Mulligan fits in seamlessly. It's Gekko who eventually seems vulnerable. Stone believes that this is where the story must end, and doesn't envisage turning Wall Street into a money spinning franchise. "I'm too old to make another Wall Street," Stone says. "This was a bookend. There are always shades of grey with these things, it's never black and white, but Gekko made a choice from the heart. He has a heart. That's a pretty big thing isn't it."

? Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is out today at cinemas across the UAE