Monday evening I was honored to attend the premiere of the HBO film, "Too Big To Fail," which opens on HBO May 23rd at 9 p.m. Curtis Hanson of "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," "The River Runs Wild," "8 Mile" and "L.A. Confidential" fame, directs the film. Peter Gould bases the screenplay, on the book of the same name by Andrew Ross Sorkin about the financial collapse of Wall Street and the big banks.
The stellar cast includes: William Hurt as Hank Paulson (Treasury Secretary), Paul Giamatti as Ben Bernanke (Chairman of the Federal Reserve), Ed Asner as Warren Buffett, Billy Crudup as Tim Geithner (President of New York Fed), James Woods as Dick Fuld (CEO/Lehman Brothers), Mathew Modine as John Thain (CEO/Merrill Lynch), Ajay Mehta as Vikram Pandit (CEO/Citigroup), Bill Pullman as Jamie Dimon (CEO/JPMorgan), Tony Shalhoub as John Mack (CEO/Morgan Stanley), Evan Handler as Lloyd Blankfein (CEO/ Goldman Sachs), Ayad Akhtar as Neel Kashkari (Asst. Secretary for International Economics and Development), Cynthia Nixon as Michele Davis (Asst. to the Secretary of the Treasury for Public Affairs and Director of Policy Planning), Topher Grace as Jim Wilkinson (Paulson's Chief of Staff) Michael O'Keefe as Chris Flowers (Bank takeover expert) and Peter Hermann as Christopher Cox (Chairman of the SEC).
The parts are well cast but the film belongs to William Hurt. He embodies Paulson mind, body and soul. There is no acting here, only behavior. We have the privilege of watching a human being with all the nuances and subtleties of real life. Never a false moment, we root for Paulson and watch in horror as he implodes along with the global meltdown.
Now in the spirit of full disclosure, I had the amazing good fortune to work with Mr. Hurt on this project for ten weeks as we went through that script over and over again. I looked up every financial term (CDO's derivates, Credit Default Swaps, Margin Call, AIG, Fanny Mae/ Freddie Mac, every CEO, every bank, every everything) and made a glossary of all of these terms. I mean who ever heard of most of this stuff let alone understands it? The actor's job is to make this language appear second nature; this is who you are and what you do. I did research on top of research putting together a time line of all the events since films are shot out of sequence and the actors need to know where they are in the script at any given moment. Finally, I did a chart run down of each scene and what it was about. The subject matter was so deep and so complex it was like taking a crash course in economics. I learned everything I ever wanted to know and much, much more about the financial crisis than I ever imagined I would.
What impressed me so much about working with William Hurt is his complete and total dedication to his craft and the work. He is first and foremost an artist. He is intensely passionate and thorough and works tirelessly at the job at hand. It shows because when he's on screen he's not acting. He just is and it is a wonderful sight to behold.
I admit I was a little nervous before the screening well, maybe not nervous, nervous but excited nervous to see how all this hard work would come together to tell the story of this very complex and difficult subject. But I relaxed almost as soon as the film began and once William Hurt came on screen I said, "Okay now, this is what I'm talking about."
But let's be honest here. The making of any film is a collaborative effort. The actors may get the accolades but there are so many unsung heroes on a film set from hair and make-up to grips and electricians, from the teamsters and craft services to the extras, production assistants, props, set designers, assistant directors, cinematographer to the director, producers, editors, etc. All these forces come together to create this specific world for a finite amount of time. It's always a crapshoot. No one ever knows how things will turn out but in this case the work rings true and plays like a thriller, which keeps us on the edge of our seats.
Tony Shalhoub is also quite wonderful as John Mack the CEO of Morgan Stanley. And if you don't blink you can catch me as his assistant. I come in to tell my boss, Tony aka John Mack. "Geithner's calling again," and he cusses me out. Well, you know how these Captains of Finance can be when their banks are collapsing. Anyway, my reaction gets a laugh so that made me happy.
Okay, I guess I've gushed enough except to say I feel so blessed and proud to be a part of this project. It was a great gift to me and to my spirit and I hope everyone will get a chance to see the film and understand a little better what happened and how nothing has really changed. That to me is the saddest part about this whole ordeal. Did we learn nothing?
Turns out Timothy Geithner, who succeeded Paulson in early 2009, also saw a recent screening of "Too Big To Fail." Afterward he warned, "It will come again. There will be another storm. "I'm certain we will" experience another catastrophe--he just couldn't say when or what kind. So why wasn't anything fixed? Wall Street contributed almost $1 million dollars to Barack Obama's presidential campaign and Obama needs $1 billion with a B to run again in 2012. Oy!