EXCLUSIVE: Ridley Scott doesn’t mess around. It was only a couple weeks ago that he committed to do a movie on the Getty kidnapping drama — in May. According to sources, he has Michelle Williams circling the role of Gail Harris, Kevin Spacey circling the role of J Paul Getty, and Mark Wahlberg circling another major role in All The Money In The World, the David Scarpa-scripted Black List thriller about the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his mother Gail Harris to get the boy’s grandfather to pay the ransom.
This is a strong character piece, combined with a ticking clock thriller of a race to save a kidnap victim being mistreated by his mob-tied captors. There is the back and forth between a desperate mother trying to recover the heir son she raised alone, and the boy’s grandfather, oilman John Paul Getty Sr. Despite being the world’s richest man, he would not initially pay up. That led to the boy’s severed ear showing up in a mailed envelope. The film is fast coming together for a May start in Italy, and it’s being produced and financed by Imperative Entertainment, and distributed by Sony Pictures after studio chief Tom Rothman locked down worldwide distribution rights several weeks ago.
Williams is coming off a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her stellar role in Manchester By The Sea and she seems a strong match for Spacey, the two-time Oscar-winning House Of Cards star.
Scott pushed back The Cartel, the adaptation of the Don Winslow bestseller about the drug war that had been in active pre-production for Fox, to do this film. He is expected to return to it. He has slipped in intriguing, character-based dramas between blockbusters before, with The Counselor the most recent example. He is coming off a huge film in Alien: Covenant, which Fox opens May 19. Imperative’s Dan Friedkin and Bradley Thomas are producing with Scott, and Mark Huffam and Kevin Walsh of Scott Free. Quentin Curtis and Chris Clark will also produce. David Beaubaire is overseeing for Sony.
All The Money In The World tells a harrowing Italian-set drama, a parable about how wealth can be a curse. Paul Getty was the grandson of J. Paul Getty, a magnate who didn’t think much of his own pampered, underachieving son. The grandson seemed likely to follow in those dubious footsteps. Raised in boarding schools, the teen frequented nightclubs, led a bohemian life and attended left-wing demonstrations. One night in 1973, he didn’t return home, and soon a ransom calling for $17 million was sent to the family. The initial suspicion was that the rebellious teen might have staged his own kidnapping, but it soon became clear that this was legitimate, might well have been perpetrated by mob-tied culprits, and that the teen was in grave danger: The kidnappers sent a lock of hair, and the teen’s severed right ear, in an envelope.
Harris had a complicated relationship with her ex-father-in-law. When she told the elder Getty she was divorcing his son, she refused his offer for millions of dollars and raised her children on her own. So when she came back to Getty for ransom money, he turned a cold shoulder. Some of his reasons were understandable: He believed that if he paid a ransom for one, he was placing a bounty on all 14 of his grandchildren. But he also was tight-fisted. Eventually, she and the boy’s father reportedly were able to convince him to pay $2.2 million (the highest amount that could be claimed as a tax deduction); Getty lent his son another $700,000 — to be repaid with interest — and the $2.9 million eventually freed the boy.
Getty, who was chained to a stake in a cave in Italy throughout this six-month ordeal, never recovered. He lived a tragic life that included a drug overdose that left him with a stroke and kidney failure, and a quadriplegic. He died at 54 in 2011.