Gordon Gekko Returns This Spring
NEW YORK - Gordon Gekko, that cutthroat swashbuckler of a corporate raider who once sneered "Lunch is for wimps," is holding sway over a table at a jammed Manhattan restaurant.
No, it's not an '80s flashback but a scene being shot for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, a sequel to the 1987 original due this spring that takes place more than 20 years later.
Instead of the ambition-served-raw atmosphere of the 21 Club depicted in the first film, the locale is Shun Lee, an Upper West Side institution where decorative demon-eyed monkeys dangle above the bar like mute witnesses. And rather than coercing a would-be high-stakes player into doing his shady bidding, Gekko is focused on reconnecting with Winnie, his estranged daughter whom he hardly knows after serving a hefty 14-year jail sentence for insider trading.
Just as he's about to seal the deal emotionally, he spies a familiar figure heading his way: Graydon Carter, the woolly-haired gatekeeper of Vanity Fair. He gets up and greets the editor: "It's Gordon. Gordon Gekko. Congratulations. Love the work you're doing."
Carter, clearly not recognizing the onetime Fortune cover boy, mutters, "Oh, thanks very much," before continuing to the door. Following right behind: Gekko's fed-up daughter.
On the surface, times have indeed changed since the first movie introduced this slick, suspender-sporting embodiment of Reagan-era capitalism. Anyone who has seen the film recently can't help but be taken aback by the now-ridiculous brick-size cellphone Gekko so proudly totes around. (That retro piece of tech as well as Charlie Sheen's Bud Fox earn cameos in the second Wall Street.)
But there was a recession then. There's a recession now. And greed, which Michael Douglas as Gekko so memorably declared as being good in the role that won him an Oscar, hasn't just survived. It has thrived amid easy credit, subprime mortgages and a nation that ignored the signs of a coming market collapse.
Which is the main reason why director Oliver Stone, who has made a good living out of documenting crucial moments in America's recent past with such movies as Born on the Fourth of July, JFK and World Trade Center, deigned to do his first sequel.
"In my father's world, making a million was a ton," says Stone, the son of a stockbroker. "I come back to Wall Street now, and it's not a million dollars. It's a billion dollars. And a billion is nothing. They don't even consider that the beginning of a hedge fund. That is what is amazing about the '90s and 2000s - how rich people got. But it is a weird kind of rich. Maybe a superficial rich."
He passed on the initial script for a follow-up. But then Douglas and returning producer Edward R. Pressman brought him a new draft, and he finally bit. "I guess the crash, which happened in the meantime, made it more interesting. But I didn't want to do anything to glorify the pigs. Because they were pigs, and we know that."
It was the personal relationships between the characters that most attracted him. "We have three generations, and they are all vying for power."
Besides an older and bitter Gekko, there is Shia LaBeouf's Jacob Moore, a 20-ish hedge-fund trader who just happens to be engaged to Winnie (Carey Mulligan of An Education) and strikes a secret alliance with his future father-in-law. Plus, Josh Brolin is the new-style Gekko, a cold-blooded fortysomething investment banker named Bretton James who becomes Jacob's boss after his former mentor, played by Frank Langella, dies.
1987 was a very big year
For Douglas, 65, revisiting the white-collar icon - who rivals Hannibal Lecter in popularity when it comes to movie villains - is a pleasure, especially since he hasn't had a film with much cultural influence since he played a drug czar in 2000's Traffic.
Recalling 1987, he says, "It was sort of my year as an actor that really changed everything." Not only did he win an Academy Award as Gekko, but he also starred in the erotic box-office sensation Fatal Attraction. His biggest previous success was as a producer on the 1975 best-picture winner One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Before Wall Street, "People would say to me, 'Why do you want to act? Why don't you just produce?' "
He also welcomed the chance to reunite with Stone, who was on his own career high after 1986's Platoon won best picture and director. "He always creates a slamdance - it's in your face," Douglas says. "His style is halfway between a docudrama and opera. He threatened me the first time around. I mean that in the best sense. He tests you. He's a Vietnam vet. You are either in the trenches with him or you're not."
Gladly taking the leap into those trenches is LaBeouf, eager to show he can do more than skedaddle away from computer-generated metal giants in the Transformers blockbusters.
"It was a nice opportunity for me as an actor," he says. "I'm an Oliver Stone fan, the script was really good, and I knew it would be a really top-notch cast."
He impressed those around him by enthusiastically researching the heady world of proprietary trading, arriving in Manhattan 2 months early to learn the ropes. And the attitude.
"It is a live-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality," he says. "I talked to a lot of Goldman Sachs people, and one of the requirements of getting a job takes place in the first five minutes of an interview. They take you out to eat. The minute the menu hits the table, if you can't order within 30 seconds, you don't have the job."
Being in the new Wall Street had some side benefits, such as when he put his newfound trading skills to work. "I opened up an account when I first met Oliver," LaBeouf says. "It was $20,000. This morning, it was $297,000."
Another plus: He and Mulligan, the 24-year-old British breakout star who probably will be in the Oscar race this year, became a couple off-screen, too.
"They are an item, and there you go," Douglas says. "I warned them, 'Don't ever do that.' But they are having a great time."
For those who think Gekko is reformed after being behind bars or undergoes redemption in the sequel, Stone assures that this is one creature who still has some tricks up his well-pressed sleeves. "He might have the charm of a Michael Douglas, but he is a reptile at heart."