Jordan Belfort, real Wolf of Wall Street, speaks at Dubai conference

The real 'Wolf of Wall Street' Jordan Belfort spoke as the keynote speaker at the annual Arabian Business Conference in Dubai.
Jordan Belfort. Michael Loccisano / Getty Images / AFP
Jordan Belfort. Michael Loccisano / Getty Images / AFP

Jordan Belfort, whose autobiography inspired Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated The Wolf of Wall Street, was in Dubai on Monday, giving the keynote speech at the annual Arabian Business Conference.

Judging by his choice of metaphors, it seems he may have been following The National’s Star Wars: Episode VII coverage since touching down in the UAE.

Belfort told delegates from the stage: “You have to use The Force. The Force is what drives us to success. The Force is your own voice in the back of your head telling you that you have the skills to achieve your vision.”

Since Belfort was clearly in the mood to talk movies, it seemed an ideal opportunity to ask him about his own brush with movie stardom. The former stockbroker seemed surprised that anyone in the Middle East had seen it: “You got the opening credits, then we toss a dwarf and then it’s over, right?” He joked, referring to the 45 minutes of cuts that were made to the film in the region.

The Wolf of Wall Street tells the tale of Belfort’s rise and fall on Wall Street, from aspiring stockbroker to multimillionaire to prison on account of his increasingly dodgy deals, with a fair dose of sex, drugs and general unpleasantness along the way. It’s fair to say that Belfort doesn’t always come out looking like the nicest person on the planet, but how closely was he involved with the film adaptation of his own autobiography, and does it offer a fair reflection of his life?

“I was very involved. I chose Leo [DiCaprio who portrays Belfort in the movie] and I originally chose Martin Scorsese. I wrote the book and the movie is based on the book, but once it goes into Hollywood you never know what’s going to happen. There was some stuff in there that was wildly fictional and made me look much worse than I was, and I was bad enough. I never punched my wife for a start, I would never do that.

“There’s another scene where I write a script to help my employees sell to rich people and they’re suddenly great sales people. In reality I spent 30 days straight trying to train these 12 guys I had working for me to sell — they weren’t from the deep end of the gene pool. They had the IQ of Forrest Gump on three hits of acid.”

“The other main thing that’s fictionalised is that meeting where I say ‘guys I’m leaving’ and then I turn round and say ‘no — I’m staying.’ That’s just fiction. I left. I left the firm and I went and ran Steve Madden shoes. There was no ‘giving it to the man’ at the government like that.

“Also, how quickly I became that crazy. In the movie I go down and spend my first day on Wall Street and in the next scene I’m in a strip club snorting coke. It actually took about two years to get to the stage where I was going out and partying like that, but I understand in a movie you’ve only got three hours and you have to rush everything.”

Although Belfort may have believed it at the time, he has certainly changed his stance on the phrase: “Greed is good.” Now sober for 18 years, a calmer Belfort says: “Greed isn’t good. Ambition is good. Greed is about making as much as you can as quick as you can. If you think like that you can make money, but you’ll never hold onto it. You have to maintain your ethics and your integrity, always, because as soon as you step a little bit over the line where your ethics are drawn, that line moves, and next time you step over it, you’re even further from where it started, and it goes on.”

The reformed Belfort adds that the money from his motivational speaking engagements is being paid into an escrow account controlled by his lawyer, and that the money will be used to pay back investors who were hit by his questionable approach to ethics in the past. To the extent that is happening, and when the funds will make it back to their rightful owners, is a subject up for debate.

The Wolf of Wall Street took almost seven years to make from its being greenlit in 2007, which ended up changing the final script significantly.

“There are so many parts to getting a movie made — the director, the actors, the money,” he says. “The amazing thing is that, in the first version of the script the movie ended with me in jail. Over the next six years that followed, things moved on and they changed the ending of the film to fit my comeback.

“I actually got to change my own life story as it was being filmed. That’s pretty cool and it should inspire anybody that you really can change the story of your life if you work really hard and stay true to your ethics.”

cnewbould@thenational.ae

Published: May 19, 2014 04:00 AM

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