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Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – Director Oliver Stone on coming back to Gordon Gekko 23 years later

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Director Oliver Stone
Director Oliver Stone © 2010 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Oliver Stone has directed a slew of controversial movies including W, Nixon, Natural Born Killers, Salvador and Born on the Four of July. In 1987, he made Wall Street, introducing us to Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), a Wall Street trader whose mantra was ‘Greed is Good.’

It’s taken 23 years for Stone to come out with a sequel, but on September 24th Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps premieres to a new generation of movie-goers.

It’s 2010, and Gordon Gekko has served his prison term for securities fraud, money laundering and racketeering, and is now promoting his new book, Is Greed Good?, doing a series of lectures where he describes how greed is no longer just good – it’s legal now.


What was it that intrigued you about coming back and doing a sequel to Wall Street?

I think this film is a hell of an entertaining tale. I don’t think I would have enjoyed working on Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps if it hadn’t been a wholly original story. Twenty-three years later makes a huge difference. It was fresh to me.

What was it about Michael Douglas that made you cast him in the original film as Gordon Gekko?

Shia LaBeouf, director Oliver, Michael Douglas
Shia LaBeouf, director Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas © 2010 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Michael had never done a Gekko-type role at that time. He had played mostly romantic or comedic leads, and in Wall Street he was interpreting a character that was frankly, downright nasty.

The movie obviously reflects America back at itself, both from two years ago, in 2008, and from today. What does it say about New York, both for what we value and the way we live now?

I don’t know the answer to that. We made the film consciously with the idea that we were doing a story about people and those verities about that relationships of love and trust, greed and betrayal, they go on, they are equivalent to the 80s, and they are equivalent now.

There was so much written about 2008, so many books, documentaries, we would have been stuck in a time warp if we had been primarily focused on that. I think it was a backdrop and that is why it was effective. Whether New York changes, whether there is a lesson to be learned, I could no more give you an answer than I could in 1987, when I thought greed was outrageous.

Shia LaBeouf, Josh Brolin and Michael Douglas
Jake (Shia LaBeouf), Bretton James (Josh Brolin), and Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) © 2010 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

I think we got a significant heart attack back in 2008, and I think the signs are very clear that America is living beyond its means. Whether Americans pay attention, who knows? I heard New York is booming again or doing very well. If the bankers go back to their habits, we’re junkies and will keep borrowing money. I think China is going to reach a limit, is there a new customer around? Is there a new country, is there a new sucker?

We were hearing that you made some tweaks on this movie after you premiered in at the Cannes Film Festival, can you talk about that and why?

The movie at Cannes was very well received and we were very happy with it. For me personally it was the highlight of my film life. I’ve never seen a red carpet like that in my life, coming in and going out. I’m glad we didn’t come out in April, I’m really happy to be here in September, because April didn’t feel right. We were rushing, we finished the movie on December10th; it was just too rushed. I was okay with the film, but I bought an extra three weeks work time in the editing room with that delay for Cannes, and we fixed some things before.

When we went there I thought it was solid, but there were some things in the third act that I thought could be better, more realistic. So we went back and we did a little work this summer. I think we took advantage of that platform and I’m happier with the film now.

How do you respond to people who won’t see your movies because they personally don’t like you?

I think you look at it like a farmer, you don’t sell all your crops to everybody, you just farm them. You do the best you can every day, and people have misperceptions and misjudgments and sometimes they don’t know the whole message. But I think the crop is good, the yield is good and a lot of people can eat off this movie.

Were you surprised how Wall Street became such an iconic movie?

Shia LaBeouf, director Oliver Stone
Shia LaBeouf, director Oliver Stone and Carey Mulligan © 2010 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

The film’s popularity grew over the years. I made Wall Street as a morality tale, and I think it was misunderstood by many. It’s still amazing the number of people who have come up to me over the years and said, ‘I took on a career on Wall Street because of your movie.’ Many of them are now in their 30s, 40s and are doing quite well on the Street – as honest traders, I should add.

By 2008, no more Gordon Gekkos were possible. That character, that kind of buccaneer, was now gone, replaced by institutions that had once formerly been regulated. In the past, a bank was a bank, and an insurance company was an insurance company. In 2008, that all changed. The firewalls between these functions were destroyed by the deregulation of the 1980s and ’90s.