It could be 1987. Hundreds of socialites, dripping in tulle and silk, lean over decadent flower centerpieces to whisper into each other's diamond-decorated ears. Their tuxedo-clad husbands look appropriately bored to find themselves at a dinner for a charity they can't remember the name of but for which they wrote handsome checks. And in the middle of it all, Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen are going at it once again. Although chances are, 23 years ago Sheen had learned his lines a bit better.
FOR THE RECORD:
"Wall Street" sequel: An article in the Sept. 12 Calendar section about the coming film "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" said the movie was written by director Oliver Stone and Allan Loeb with a rewrite by Stephen Schiff. The sequel to "Wall Street" was written by Loeb and Schiff, based on characters created by Stone and Stanley Weiser. —
On this November day as "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" filmed, much feels familiar. Oliver Stone is refocusing his camera on the financial industry, and Douglas has slipped back into his role of Gordon "Greed is good" Gekko as if it were a pair of custom-made John Lobbs. And despite the recent economic crash, banks have just announced record bonuses; there is hope outside this downtown movie set, where members of the Street scurry by shouting buy prices into cellphones.
The sequel, which opens Sept. 24 and was written by Stone and Allen Loeb ("The Switch"), with a rewrite by Stephen Schiff ("The Deep End of the Ocean"), takes place in 2008. Banks are imploding, a million dollars is lunch money and Gekko is newly out of prison. Shia LaBeouf plays Jake, an idealistic trader and possible Gekko protégé who is also engaged to Gekko's estranged daughter ( Carey Mulligan); rounding out the cast is Frank Langella as a disgraced banker, Eli Wallach as an old-school titan, Josh Brolin as an inside trader and Susan Sarandon as Jake's mother.
Sheen, who played Gekko's protégé Bud Fox in "Wall Street," has agreed to a cameo: one quick interchange with Gekko at the gala where they see each other for the first time since Fox sent Gekko away. Because of Sheen's schedule on TV's "Two and a Half Men," he has flown in the night before and will leave this afternoon. He is clearly disoriented by either the travel or the setting or both, and he curses through his continually flubbed lines. (LaBeouf, who has been asked to steer clear while Sheen is on set, will later say he can't remember who asked him or why, but he is sorry because he was eager to meet the actor.)
"I'm just trying to get my bearings," Sheen says between takes. "It's a bit of a ghost-like thing, showing up. I just got in last night, and in a nanosecond I'm face to face with Michael and there's Oliver grinning behind the camera. It's just so weird." Adds Stone, "He said that TV cameras don't get so close to your face. It's been tough on him."
Stone is known for his demands on actors. As Douglas says, "He's mellowed, but it's still always a workout with him." LaBeouf is feeling the pressure during production, alternately thrilled and exhausted. He spent the few months he had between winning the role and starting production by trading with different firms, playing with as much as $1 million and becoming so impassioned he began studying for his Series 7 exam, which would earn him an actual broker license.
"My first meeting with Oliver, he was really expedient about killing any ego or conceit on my part," LaBeouf remembers with a laugh. "He said, 'Don't worry, Tom Cruise wasn't an actor when I first worked with him either.' It was like a knife to my heart. But I went on to become the most competent and astute of anyone on set about the business out of necessity. Otherwise, I felt like a drowning man. To sit in a room with these actors … I was just the dude from 'Transformers.'"
LaBeouf describes the on-set atmosphere as alpha males "in a dog fight," with Stone as a masterful referee. "Everyone was very friendly, but the scene work felt dangerous," he says. "These guys aren't going to coddle you. Douglas was the one who comforted me. And I've never gone deeper with a director than Oliver. He's the Easter bunny and Orson Welles in one man."
Stone spent three years developing "Money Never Sleeps," continuing to rewrite the script and meet with financial consultants during filming. Making the film, he says, "is a much more complicated process than in 1987. Then, there were no business movies. We were thrown into 1,600 theaters, and everyone was shocked when Michael got nominated for and won an Oscar. Now there have not only been an explosion of movies about this, but there's CNBC, there's Fox Business News … it's a sexy industry. The world has changed, and the heroes are different. Back then, you just had to have a billion."
Still, Stone sees no reason why his sequel, which premiered at Cannes, can't strike a chord as resonantly as the original did two decades earlier. "It's not a documentary," he notes. "It's about eternal things: Greed, envy and morality."