Barely a day seems to have passed recently without yet another Hollywood sexual harassment scandal coming to light. The list of films and TV shows affected by the constant revelations grows weekly – House of Cards rewritten and cancelled, Louis C K's I Love You, Daddy dropped by its distributor, and now sold back to C K for purposes as yet unknown, Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! dropped by YouTube Red – the list goes on.
Ridley Scott's latest film, All the Money in the World, the story of the 1973 kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III, grandson of one of the richest men in the world, oil tycoon J Paul Getty, was not exempt from the growing scandal.
On October 30, 2017, in an interview with BuzzFeed News, actor Anthony Rapp, now 46, claimed Kevin Spacey made a sexual advance towards him when he was 14. Rapp claimed Spacey laid on top of him in 1986 and tried to “seduce” him. At this point, Spacey was set to star as Getty III’s billionaire grandfather, in a film that had already been shot and was scheduled for release in just seven weeks’ time, on Christmas Day. Scott had a dilemma.
The director was in no doubt that Spacey would play no further part in his film, but his solution surprised many – he decided to completely reshoot all of Spacey’s scenes, recasting Christopher Plummer in the role, while sticking to the December 25 release date. “It was pretty straightforward,” Scott insists. “The biggest thing was when the [news] landed, I knew this was going to really affect the film. And so, the first thing I did was call my partner, [producer] Dan Friedkin. I said to him, ‘We’ve got to deal with this. We’ve got to replace him.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Yes, replace, reshoot.’ ‘How many scenes?’ ‘I don’t know. But let’s jump into it, now’.”
Scott received widespread acclaim for the decision, although it was later revealed that Mark Wahlberg received US$1.5m (Dh5.5m) for reshooting, while co-star Michelle Williams was paid just $1,500, despite sharing the same agent. Wahlberg and agency WME ultimately announced they would donate their earnings from the reshoots to the Time’s Up Legal Defence Fund, which finances harassment claims in the entertainment industry. About the reshoot, Scott says he reassembled his team for an emergency planning session and moved swiftly. “The big question is, can I get the right person? I flew that night to New York and met with Christopher Plummer, and that was it.”
It was a bold decision, but producer Friedkin admits there was no other option: “There was no way that we would move forward with the film as it was originally shot,” he explains. “When Ridley and I made the decision to recast with Christopher Plummer, our entire cast and crew could not have been more supportive, and we can’t thank them enough for their unfailing commitment throughout this entire process.”
The decision seems to have worked – Plummer’s Best Supporting Actor nod was among the film’s three Golden Globe nominations, which places it in a strong position for the Oscars, although Scott says he tries not to pay too much attention to awards.
“It always feels good when you get an acknowledgement like that… But I’m more grateful for the fact that I’m healthy and can still make movies. That’s what I’m most grateful for,” says the director.
Having started our conversation at the end, with the film’s reshoots and subsequent awards buzz, I attempt to rewind the clock to its origins – was the Getty story one Scott had long wanted to tell?
“I was familiar with the incident, but wasn’t initially interested,” the director admits. He says he quickly changed his mind about adapting the Getty story to the screen after reading David Scarpa’s screenplay.
"Within a few lines [of the script] and after meeting with Dan and Bradley [producers Friedkin and Bradley Thomas], I knew I was in good hands. I absolutely wanted to make this movie." So what was it about the story that appealed to Scott, director of classics such as Alien and Bladerunner?
“Getty became famous because of the money. But then he became infamous when he refused to pay up,” Scott explains. “People somewhat simplistically thought, what a bad guy. But it was more complex than that. And it’s that complexity which fascinated me. When he’s talking to the press and they ask him, ‘How much will you give to release your grandson?’ ‘Nothing.’ He’s talking to the kidnappers. They’d be watching for his reply. He was negotiating.”
The lurid story, with Getty junior’s severed ear being delivered to his grandfather in an envelope, still resonates with many. I ask Scott if it was a challenge adapting a story with such cultural significance for the big screen.
“Honestly, I never think of ‘challenges’. I just think of how much I enjoy doing what I do, what needs to be done, and get on with,” he says.
His laid-back attitude also extends to his cast and crew. “I just always try to make it cheerful and fun on set,” says the veteran director.