Across his remarkable career, Sir Ridley Scott had done some miraculous rescue work on troubled films. He reworked 1982’s “Blade Runner,” for which he did not have final cut control, when preview audiences wanted a clearer story line and a happy ending. He kept retrofitting and adjusting it in video form for 25 years.
In 2000’s “Gladiator,” Oliver Reed died of a heart attack three weeks before filming concluded, leaving several important scenes unfinished. Rather than replacing the key character with another actor and extensively reshoot, Scott used computer special effects to map Reed’s face onto a body double.
But Scott said that he had never dealt with a challenge of the magnitude that he faced on Oct. 29. That’s when he learned that Kevin Spacey, paying manipulative billionaire J. Paul Getty in “All the Money in the World,” was facing disgrace after charges of sexual assault.
The scandal threatened the movie, which was scheduled for release in prime awards season, with fallout that could essentially put it out of business. After replacing Spacey, 58, with Christopher Plummer, 87, and re-creating dozens of crucial scenes with co-stars Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg at lightning speed, the movie is opening Monday, just three days after its original release date.
In a phone conversation this week, Scott talked about the mad scramble and what impact the recasting had on the film.
Q: How did it feel when you learned that the project had been torpedoed and you had to come up with a new plan?
A: I wasn’t told by the representatives of Kevin, or Kevin. No one said a word. It came up on “Dateline” or something, and I was obviously shocked. And then kind of pissed off. And when I get pissed off, I get very competitive. I called my partners, saying we can fix this. We need to reshoot immediately. And I think if I go with Christopher, who was always second on the list of two for the job, I’m convinced we can do this. Once you do that it becomes a matter of dates, locations, who, what and when. We were shooting within nine days.
I never dwell on problems. I only think of solutions. Outcomes.
Q: Is this the most demanding movie repair job you’ve ever faced?
A: Yes, in terms of sheer minutes of shots and scenes. But once you decide to do it and have the components, doing it is kind of straightforward. But it was a little tense because we had to get it done on time. I didn’t want to change my date of release. But once I’ve get my team in place, I know I’m going to get it.
It cost less than $10 million. When you reshoot, you have to pay the unit. But the [original] actors and I were not paid again. They were there supporting the process and supporting what I was trying to do, and that was very gratifying that they did that. My feeling is, it’s a lot of money whatever way you look at it. But I think it’ll be worth it. Having done this, oddly enough, has given us a bit more profile.
Q: How did the role change in Plummer’s hands?
A: I think the main reason I went with Kevin rather than Christopher [originally] was the fact that he had won a lot of accolades recently for his work on “House of Cards,” and of course, I always loved what he did in “American Beauty.” Kevin is always cool and gave it cynical humor. Christopher definitely brought a warmth to this which was not there with Kevin. And by that warmth, he oddly enough becomes more dangerous. He’s saying the same words in a somewhat different fashion that somehow embellishes who he was.
Christopher is such a pro, he was able to segue in pretty easily. I never would have showed him Kevin Spacey’s performance, ever. It becomes misleading, and I wanted him to own it.
Q: He seems to be entirely in control of the role and committed to it. Is that because he studied the script when he was a candidate for the part and knew it well at that point?
A: More than that, he’s a very experienced theatrical man, having done Lear, Hamlet. You name it and he’s done it over the years. That helped him learn all the scenes in a very short space of time. It took only three days.
Q: The recasting ensures that the movie will move ahead without any scandal following it. But is it also a statement sending a message that this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated under any circumstances?
A: The problem is, you never know. I didn’t know of Kevin’s history, or practices, if you like. Of course, I don’t go looking for it. It’s not my business. I really don’t care. I knew that he was a little, you know, playful, let’s put it that way. I don’t know more than that, and I don’t want to know. Certainly if it surfaces in such a serious way, it cannot be tolerated.
Q: Do you ever feel that you’re in a completely new era of filmmaking? Increasingly they’re creating images digitally rather than capturing them from life.
A: I like it now, because I think digital data is so efficient. For me to edit this film was crazily straightforward because I can wake up in the morning, shoot, e-mail it to the editing room and by 6 o’clock look at it. You can’t beat that. It’s fantastic. The old film approach was much more laborious. I do a lot of TV, good TV [producing streaming series including “The Man in the High Castle” and “Jean-Claude Van Johnson”]. I like the extended form of television to develop stories and characters. So I love the digital world, no question.