All the Money in the World Christopher Plummer

When Ridley Scott decided to replace Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World, it wasn’t simply a matter of hiring Christopher Plummer. Actors had to return for quick reshoots, and screenwriter David Scarpa had to make sure the script pages were ready for Plummer.

Plummer now assumes the role of J. Paul Getty. When his grandson (Charlie Plummer) is kidnapped, Getty refuses to pay the ransom. His daughter-in-law Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) can only implore Getty, through his counsel Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to help. Scarpa spoke with /Film about penning the screenplay for the new thriller, the differences between the two versions of the film, and the upcoming adaptation of The Cartel that he’s writing for Ridley Scott.

This was not just reshooting the original pages. You wrote more?

Not much more. We discussed putting in more stuff. Initially when all of this went down, I was kind of summoned to a glass box at [producer] Bradley Thomas’s offices where they said, “None of this can leave this room.” It was all kind of like the Normandie invasion where we’re about to stage this big rescue attempt. We talked a lot about what we might have to do in terms of enticing some of these actors, specifically to get who would eventually be Christopher Plummer. We didn’t know who it was going to be at that point for sure, although Ridley I think had it in mind. Eventually, part of the thing was we had a limitation. A lot of us wanted to open up a can of worms and say we’re going to attack this scene again and we’re going to do this differently. Claire Simpson, our editor, basically said, “You can’t do that or otherwise we’re not going to be able to make our release date. We have to have these scenes in such a fashion that we can pick them up and slap them right into the exact spots where the rest of the movie is.” There wasn’t as much done. I think there were tiny tweaks but not as much.

Did you have to adjust any scenes for Plummer’s take on Getty?

Not really. He basically read it and jumped right in. There wasn’t much of that at all. It’s an unprecedented thing for a filmmaker to be able to say, “Hey, what can we do? How do we want to do it. You get to do it all over again with somebody new. What will that look like? What would we like to get at that we didn’t quite get at with Spacey?” But a lot of that is about nuance I think as much as anything.

Have you seen both the Spacey and Plummer scenes and how did they color the movie differently?

I saw Spacey’s version. I have yet to see Plummer’s version. I’ve been writing something for Ridley and was under a tight deadline so I wasn’t able to go to any of the screenings up until now, so I’ll probably be seeing it at about three o’clock.

What were some Getty scenes you would have liked to add if you’d had unlimited time?

When we first shot the movie, I think the first cut of it came out to two hours and 40 minutes. So it was all about cutting the movie down. We cut a lot out of the script to get there. I think the original version of the script probably would’ve been four hours. Even the first cut, as I said, came to [2:40]. So it’s part of just wanting to push back to get little favorite stuff of yours. Ridley’s obviously very economical and ruthless so he’s always trying to tighten things up and you’re always trying to push things back in.

Did the chance to reshoot scenes allow you to make them a little more concise?

As I said, part of Claire’s edict to us was, “These things have to fit in exactly where they were. Otherwise everything’s going to get thrown off.” So as a result, I don’t think we were trimming them down per se. But again, I think it’s more about Plummer’s performance which is what are we going to try to get out of him that we didn’t get out of Spacey.

What was that you were trying to get out of him?

I wasn’t obviously. That was from Ridley. It was I think a sense of compassion for Getty himself. Although, talking to Plummer, he had his own take on it. I came in and said, “Oh, you’ve played King Lear before and I’ve always seen him as a very King Lear figure.” He said, “I see him more as Timon of Athens.” Very Shakespearean. Basically, he’d thought to the point I thought of and then actually thought a little bit beyond it. I said, “Okay, I’m going to have to check that out.” By his very nature, Plummer I think is going to have his own take. Two different actors are going to have wildly different takes and you’ve just sort of got to go with the way they approach it.

Was it true the kidnappers kept forgetting to keep their masks on?

That actually was a problem. I think one kidnapper was indeed killed for that exact reason, exactly the way it’s shown in the movie. It was sort of a running issue. For four months, mind you it’s really hot. A lot of these guys aren’t that bright, frankly, the lower level kidnappers. They didn’t necessarily want to be seen by this kid. That also adds another level of threat to this which is once they’re seen, there’s one point at which a guy says, “Maybe we should cut the kid’s tongue out or his eyes.” It adds a whole new level of tension for him which is this kid is dependent on these guys being smart enough to keep their masks on.

They’re botching their own operation on a very basic level.

Exactly.

Was it more than the two we see in the film?

No, I think that was basically it. In reality, there was one guy who I think was killed because he forgot to wear his mask. I think he wanted to kill the boy. Instead the guys were like, “We put too much money into this. We’re going to kill you instead.”

Were any of the prostitutes on the streets of Italy able to identify the vehicle, or were they long gone?

That’s an interesting question. I think there was a sighting of the vehicle but I’m not sure if it came from the prostitutes. They did get sightings and it may have come from that. It took place in the Campo de Fiori in Rome, which is very populous with people. Although it was very late at night, I think it was like four o’clock in the morning and it was sort of an off alley. The police did have an eyewitness to it, I believe, but I’m not sure who that would’ve come from.

Is Getty’s quote “If you can count your money, you’re not a billionaire” from his Playboy interview like it’s shown in the movie?

I don’t know if it’s from the Playboy interview but it’s a famous quote of his. I can assure you, he knew at any given moment exactly how much money he had. That’s a quote from him but I can assure you he knew.

I looked up the Playboy interview and found he was a columnist for Playboy for several years.

I think so. I think he had a long running relationship with Playboy. I set it in the Playboy interview because the Playboy interview was such a vestige of that time. If you remember it at all, that was a big respectable [status symbol.] People like Getty would be in the Playboy interview so it was a great period detail, but I don’t think he actually uttered those words in the course of a Playboy interview.

What are some crazy details of this kidnapping that couldn’t fit in the movie?

It’s so much in terms of so many different worlds. It’s not so much crazy. It’s just being able to get into the life of the boy and Getty’s art collecting. I think we hit it. We managed to hit most of it. There’s things I may miss a little bit, but I feel like it’s mostly there. If there was anything really great, I think we would’ve found a way to put it in there.

Of course there’s some dramatization, but did the actual events give you a structure?

They sort of did. It guided the thing in the sense of the way it opened and also moving Getty’s death back a little bit so that laid on top of it. Getty in reality died a year afterwards or something like that. Instead of having it happen after the fact, we have it be sort of contemporaneous as much as anything. The idea is to just set the margins as tight as possible in terms of start with the kidnapping and with the rescue, we’re out.

It shows the extent Getty went to to hold onto every cent, down to manipulating the tax code. Is it apropos that All the Money in the World is coming out right after the new tax bill?

It’s interesting that you say that. I’ve actually thought of that. That’s a very perceptive question because it really is interesting. One of the things that struck me is this idea of we don’t have enough money. We don’t have enough money for the boy. You basically got people saying, “We don’t have enough money for Medicaid. We don’t have enough money for school lunches. We don’t have enough money for food stamps” at the same time as they’re like, “We have to have this huge tax [cut.]” It is very apropos.

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