Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer star in HBO Films’ movie about crooked financier Bernie Madoff. Directed by Barry Levinson, The Wizard Of Lies looks at Madoff’s (De Niro) massive Ponzi scheme, how it was perpetrated on the public and the trail of destruction left in its wake, for the victims and Madoff’s family.
HBO, Levinson said, is willing “to take a certain risk” to “get inside of the story, so it’s not simply the bells and whistles of it but looks into character behavior.”
“Theatrically, I don’t know if we could do this,” Levinson said, adding, that “HBO at forefront of a “promising time in filmmaking.”
EP Jane Rosenthal said producers did, in fact, consider going theatrical before arriving at HBO, but “no studio wanted to make it.” She said even going the “independent film route” would have been a struggle with a much smaller potential audience.
De Niro said he did not meet Madoff while researching the role, and suspects Madoff’s wife and children did not know the details of the crimes but probably felt something was not quite right. Likewise some of the more financially astute investors who got taken in by Madoff’s ponzi scheme. “I think some of them suspected but never would look because they were getting a certain return,” De Niro said.
The New York Times reporter Diana Henriques, who wrote the book The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff And The Death Of Trust, said there is a tendency to blame victims of Ponzi schemes, cautioning that “all of us trust people in our lives and only someone you trust can truly betray you.”
Madoff was her source on business news for years, she said, and his legitimate business concerns were a huge success. “You put all that together and it isn’t crazy to trust Bernie Madoff,” she said. “It wasn’t a leap of faith, it wasn’t an act of greed by any means.”
In the movie, Henriques plays herself, and she described De Niro’s process: “Bob is a vacuum cleaner.” She said participating with De Niro in an improvised interview scene was surreal. “Bob is having to answer those questions extemporaneously, out of Bernie Madoff’s brain.”
De Niro was asked whether we’re likely to see more movies like Wizard of Lies and The Big Short during Donald Trump’s term. (De Niro was among the celebrities praising Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech about Trump.) “We’ll see where that goes,” De Niro said. “It’s going to happen, I’m sure.”