It’s a scorching hot July day in Rome but Ridley Scott couldn’t care less. “When you’re working, as long as you’re enjoying it, you put up with most things,” he says, with typical bluntness. “Cold or heat…you get to the end of the day and think, ‘How the hell did I get through today?’ And you do. How the hell am I going to get through tomorrow? You think it’s all rock’n’roll, nightclubs and champagne – it’s not. We work bloody hard.”
The director is in the Italian capital to shoot his latest movie All The Money In The World, a 1970s-set tale that zeroes in on the hugely wealthy but troubled Getty family. Scripted by David Scarpa (The Last Castle), the film arrives hot on the heels of Scott’s Alien: Covenant, still in cinemas as Scott calls ‘action’ on what, remarkably, is the 25th directorial project of his career – one that’s seen him nominated three times for a Best Director Oscar and once for Best Picture, for 2016 hit The Martian.
This latest film is being fast-tracked for a winter release – right in the middle of awards season. It’s a fast turnaround but one that expresses the confidence those involved have with the project. While Scott usually develops his own films to direct, Scarpa’s script came to him during the Australian shoot for Alien: Covenant. “Normally, I do everything myself,” says Scott. “Sometimes I get something that lands on my desk, but very rarely.” The story stuck with him.
Inspired by historical events, All The Money In The World tells of the brutal 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, grandson to oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (played in the film by Kevin Spacey). The abduction of this 16 year-old teen became headline news, with the kidnappers demanding £17 million – a ransom the billionaire Getty refused to pay. “It was a big deal at the time,” remembers Scott (who was managing a successful TVC career back then, his beloved Hovis ‘bike round’ advert first airing in the very same year).
For the past couple of days, the production has taken over an automobile restoration factory on an industrial estate some thirty minutes from Rome Fiumicino airport. Rooms are full of trophies, memorabilia and shiny vintage cars, but the main hanger has been carefully converted – every available inch of space being used. Upstairs, a space has been transformed into the 1970s offices of Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, complete with old-fashioned typewriters and framed front-pages – with headlines like ‘Kennedy Assassination’ – adorning the walls.
This morning’s scene takes place here. The kidnapped boy’s distraught mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) arrives to meet the newspaper’s editors, accompanied by Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a “fixer” and the man Getty has entrusted to negotiate the return of his grandson. Dressed in a brown T-Shirt and beige trousers, Scott is ever-watchful as the crew hurry to set up the shot in the boardroom. “It’ll take forever to unplug that, chaps,” says Scott, talking from behind the camera as he glances towards some cables.
Scott is economic when it comes to shooting – not one to linger on shots when there’s another to be set up. “You can be taught at the beginning of it all, but at the end of the day, you have to evolve yourself and make your own rule book,” he says. “And so my rule book came down to fewer takes, maybe two – Mark loves two takes! Michelle, I’ll see her finger go up and she wants one more take. So I say, ‘Keep rolling, keep going…’” Actors, he says, respond to this. “They love to move fast. They don’t like forty takes.”
Downstairs, on the main floor, is a large black tent, air-conditioned in the sticky heat. Inside, Scott sits in front of a bank of monitors – each connected to a camera positioned in the room. As the scene plays out, so Scott will “cut live”, constructing the sequence as it plays out in front of him. It’s little wonder the release date of the film is so ambitious. “He’s got a photographic memory and he will cut the scene while he’s shooting,” says Kevin Walsh, president of Scott Free Films. “It’s extraordinary to watch.”
Scott’s enthusiasm for the job is remarkable for a man who turns 80 in November. “He’ll tell you he’s never worked a day in his life,” says Walsh, who claims Scott has the energy of a man half his age. “I am 40!” laughs Scott in agreement. “You never think about a number. I don’t even think about it. It’s what my engine is, what makes me run, and always had done. Ever since I began to direct television commercials. That was my film school. It was fast, furious and highly competitive. And you’re making money and you’re loving it….it’s a real pleasure. It’s the best film school you have.”
In the afternoon, the action moves to the main floor to shoot a scene where the ransom money is loaded into a car driven by Wahlberg’s Fletcher Chase. “Don’t get everybody killed,” says one Italian bystander, as Williams’ Gail squeezes into the vehicle. Another area of the floor has been converted into a postal sorting office for a scene where workers go on strike, just as a package containing a vital story element (no spoilers here) is being shipped along the conveyor belt.
In the final weeks, the shoot will head to England, where scenes of Getty’s mansion will be shot and also to the Middle East, to film Fletcher Chase’s introductory scene. With Danny Boyle’s Getty family television series Trust also on the way, Scott’s film is certainly on point. At a time when the gap between rich and poor is ever-widening, this feels right in the middle of the cultural conversation.
A film that deals with the corrosive effects of wealth, All The Money In The World looks set to be an intriguing meditation on the nature of family, power and, of course, money. But Scott stops short of saying the film is simply out to condemn riches. “You can say that money is the root of all evil. I don’t really believe that,” he says. “Money – you’ve got to know how to spend it. Money can ruin people. It can also make people grow.”