VIEWPOINTS : Whom Should Hollywood Cast as Milken? : A Movie Version of ‘The Predator’s Ball'--Whose Primary Character Will Be Drexel Burnham Lambert’s ‘Junk Bond’ King--Stirs Debate Among Insiders About Who Could Best Play This Controversial Man
This month, the Brillstein Co. acquired the film rights to “The Predator’s Ball,” a best seller largely about the controversial financier and “junk bond” king Michael Milken. Who would do the best job of playing someone like Milken on screen? Free-lance writer Meredith Chen asked people in the entertainment, finance and publishing fields for their opinions, and excerpts of the interviews follow.
Ileen Maisel, a senior vice president with Lorimar Film Entertainment and co-developer of the film based on “The Predator’s Ball”:
“There has been talk about Richard Dreyfuss. There’s been talk about Warren Beatty. There have been a number of conversations about a number of major superstars, such as William Hurt and John Malkovich. I think it depends on how the screenplay turns out and who the director wants.
“The qualities we’re looking for are passion, intensity, persistence, charisma, single-mindedness, vision. We’re very excited about it and can’t wait to make it.”
Connie Bruck, author of “The Predator’s Ball” and senior reporter for the American Lawyer:
“I’ve been thinking about that myself lately. I did think that Dustin Hoffman would be good. I think he’s very bright and I think that he could transform himself into a Milken-like character more effectively than anyone else I can think of. He would have to convey a sense of enormous intellect, and he’d have to be very intense, sort of driven. He’d have to be able to be somewhat Machiavellian. I don’t see many movies and I don’t know many actors. There may be somebody out there even better, but Dustin Hoffman is the one that I think of. You’d have to stretch it to say they look anything alike.”
George Gilder, author of “Wealth and Poverty”:
“Woody Allen. I think Allen plays perplexed characters beset by the world. . . . I think Milken must be somewhat perplexed by his current predicament. I don’t think he ever expected any of it, and I don’t think there is any criminal activity involved in any of it, and yet the whole world is crashing down around him.”
James W. Michaels, editor of Forbes magazine:
“With all due respect, I don’t think it should be made at all after seeing what they did with the movie ‘Wall Street.’ It would just turn into an old-fashioned melodrama with good guys and bad guys. This is a very complex situation and a complex guy. Any leading actor is going to impose his own personality on a man who is unique and in a situation that might be Greek tragedy, but it isn’t melodrama. I can’t think of an actor today with the range to play a character as complex as this man. If we had an American Lawrence Olivier who had a tremendous range in his bag of tricks, maybe, but I can’t think of one of our leading actors today who could play a part like this.
“Dustin Hoffman probably comes as close as anybody I could think of, but the problem is that he, too, is a relatively narrow-range actor, in my opinion. To play this part, you’d really have to study the guy and his background, and the weird, strange and unique financial situation that he found himself in and took advantage of. I guess Dustin Hoffman would be as good as anybody. Whoever they choose and whoever makes it, I hope to goodness that they don’t try to turn it into a simple good versus bad.”
Joseph Blasi, professor of management at the California Polytechnic School of Business:
“My choice is Ben Kingsley. He’s the person who played Gandhi. I’ve attended several seminars where Milken has discussed his views about employee ownership of companies and education of children in the United States. Whatever else he has or has not done, I was struck by how he sees himself as a revolutionary, as a person who wants to turn the corporate system on its head. I chose Ben Kingsley because I feel that Gandhi had a mixture of idealism and radical ideas with a very unconventional type of behavior. I feel that the media image of Milken has emphasized his scheming side, without emphasizing his reformist side. I’m not saying, however, that he doesn’t have a scheming side.
“The word is that Milken wears a toupee. That sort of brought back Kingsley, too, because sometimes I’ve seen him acting in roles with his hair and sometimes not, and you know Gandhi was bald.”
Andrew Tobias, whose most recent book is “Managing Your Money”:
“On the one hand, Tom Hanks is the obvious choice because he’s about the right age and he’s got sort of that boyish quality and Mike Milken look. Milken has a sweet side, apparently, and certainly Tom Hanks is terrific that way.
“But it’s got to have a Marlon Brando, as in ‘The Godfather,’ because this is all about doing favors and kind of building a network of people where (Milken) was the godfather and pulling the strings. Or even Charlton Heston playing God himself. So you’ve got Tom Hanks, Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston kind of merged together and as a practical matter, I suppose it will be Michael Douglas, right?”
Alan Abelson, editor of Barron’s:
“How about his brother? I don’t think anybody knows more about Michael Milken than he does, and he has the added advantage of having seen Milken in action. He’s participated with him, so he would be just perfect for the role--providing, of course, he isn’t indicted. You want somebody who isn’t indicted? Well . . . that pretty much takes out most people in Wall Street who would qualify.
“Maybe the guy who played in the movie ‘Wall Street,’ Michael Douglas. It seems to me he’s making a career of playing devious and dubious Wall Street types. But to tell you the truth, I retired as a casting director sometime back, so I’m at a disadvantage here.”
Publicist Henry Rogers, chairman of Rogers and Cowan:
“I see James Caan. I think there is something a little too kindly about (Woody) Allen, (Richard) Dreyfuss and (Dustin) Hoffman. I think James Caan is the ideal type for the role because underneath this bland exterior can be a manipulative interior. Evidently there is something manipulative about Milken. I think James Caan would be ideal.”