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Ridley Scott thrives on stress of making 'All the Money in the World'

Ridley Scott and Giannina Facio arrive at the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

JAY L. CLENDENIN/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS

By RICK BENTLEY | Tribune News Service | Published: December 22, 2017

Initially, Ridley Scott had little interest in directing “All the Money in the World,” the story of the 1973 kidnapping of J. Paul Getty’s grandson. It wasn’t that the man behind such movies as “Alien,” “Blade Runner” and “The Martian” was opposed to making a movie based on a true story. He did that with “Black Hawk Down” and it won two Oscars and earned himself a nomination as best director.

What had so little appeal to him was doing a story about a kidnapping and the subsequent events. Then Scott took a closer look at the script by David Scarpa (“The Last Castle”) and became intrigued as he saw the way “All the Money in the World” looked heavily at Getty’s surprising reaction to the money demands. Despite being the richest man on the planet at the time, Getty refused to pay even a dome of ransom.

“I read the script and it hit me hard,” Scott says.

It’s interesting that the part of the story that eventually attracted Scott to the project would also become one the biggest headaches of his long career. In an 11th hour decision, Scott decided to cut out all of the scenes featuring Kevin Spacey as Getty after allegations of sexual harassment were aimed at Spacey.

Making the decision to reshoot a large part of a movie featuring one of the major players with so little time is the kind of move that can cause extreme stress. Some directors would have folded. But not Ridley, because he got his start working in British television, where he learned that a difficult task only makes him work harder.

“Stress for me is not working,” Scott says. “My job is my passion, my life. When you do a film it’s a minute-by-minute process of things changing all the time, the ground shifting under your feet. And, that feeds my stress.

“There is positive stress and negative stress. Negative stress is doing nothing. It’s the worst possible experience. Feeling over employed is the best positive stress.”

“All the Money in the World” gave him plenty of places to be stressed. Four weeks before the movie was to open, Scott had to reshoot all the Getty scenes with Christopher Plummer in the role. Scott traveled to New York to meet with Plummer to discuss his playing Getty.

“He flew in all the way from London. Even if I didn’t want to do it, I would have done it,” Plummer says. “For years I had wanted to work with Ridley because I admire his work. I would have done it even if I had loathed the script.”

Plummer’s reaction to the script was the opposite of loathing. Because he was thrown into the production with no time to prepare, the script became even more important to Plummer. What he found in the writing was a character that had a variety of colors and levels, elements he used to create the performance that has already earned him a Golden Globe nomination.

The discussion by Plummer of taking on the role comes just days before the movie opening. At a screening for the press, Scott reveals some of his frustration over how the recasting had become a bigger story than the movie.

“There’s been enough press about it. Now it’s time to see the (expletive deleted) movie,” Scott says.

The movie to be seen is based on actual events, but changes were made to the story, including ramping up the role of Getty’s daughter-in-law, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), in the negotiations and struggles to secure the release of her son. Williams was attracted to the project because the character was written as a woman who refused to let herself fall apart because that would not help her get her son back.

Williams found actual interviews with Harris to be a touchstone for creating her performance. Much of that work was perfecting the right vocal rhythms for the role. She spent a lot of time with a dialect coach breaking down the vowel sounds and understanding the origin of the speech pattern for Harris.

After a weekend away from filming, Williams would look at the clips to remind herself of how Harris moved, spoke and carried herself to get back into character. The one thing the clips could not prepare her for were the numerous scenes where Harris is almost drown by a sea of paparazzi. Williams went through her own encounters with the press after the 2008 death of Heath Ledger, the father of her daughter.

Williams was able to deal with those scenes by focusing on the work and putting all of her energy into playing Harris as true as possible. She lost herself so deeply in the character, the reaction to the press was more how Harris would respond and not her own reactions.

As for making changes for the script to what really transpired, Scott takes the same approach to making a movie whether it is based on actual events or completely fictionalized.

“Whatever you do, you have to be true to the story,” Scott says. “You have to communicate.”

And now, Scott wants to communicate that it’s time move past the process of making “All the Money in the World” and focus on the finished project.

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