MILFORD, Conn. — The cameras are rolling on the journal of the "pig years." Inside the limo there is silence except for the sound of smacking lips. Brushing crumbs from his Armani suit, Danny DeVito cocks an eye towards the camera and lets out a belch.
"Cut! Oh Jesus, Danny ate a real doughnut," Norman Jewison says, yanking off his headphones, scowling at the monitor.
The crew shuffles in concern. The doughnuts are supposed to be organic, made somewhere in California, fat-free and sweetened with apple juice. But DeVito has noshed his way through the real thing during take after take at this Connecticut truck stop, and is dropping lines and ad-libbing wisecracks.
"Guess I'm sorta jacked," says the star, running his pudgy hands over his hair. "All this sugar. Feels good though."
It should. DeVito is shooting the biggest and most serious role of his career--playing Larry Garfield, a k a "Larry the Liquidator," the doughnut-addicted, take-no-prisoners takeover artist of "Other People's Money." The film, which co-stars Penelope Ann Miller, Gregory Peck, Dean Jones and Piper Laurie, shot largely on location in Connecticut and New York for release later this year, is based on Jerry Sterner's hit 1988 Off-Broadway comedy.
That play smartly pilloried the Reagan revolution--the so-called \o7 pig years\f7 , according to Jewison--and attracted legions of suspender-clad Wall Streeters to New York's Minetta Lane Theater. Voted Best Off-Broadway play of 1989 by New York area critics, the play is still running in New York, spawned several additional productions including Chicago, London and an upcoming Los Angeles run, and elevated the glucose-hooked arbitrager to something akin to cult status.
" 'Arbitrage' is just a big French word. Larry Garfield is a capitalist and he's doing it well," says DeVito about his character, whom he describes as "smarter than anybody I've played before. He is a man taking care of business. He doesn't think he's doing anything wrong."
If "Other People's Money" represents something of a departure for DeVito--leading man status for the Toby jug-sized actor who has excelled in playing the snarling comic foil to superstars Michael Douglas, Bette Midler and Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Romancing the Stone," "Ruthless People" and "Twins," respectively--the movie is consistent with Jewison's predilections as a director.
The Canadian-born filmmaker, who still owns a farm outside Toronto, has a reputation for maintaining a love-hate relationship with America, one that he has played out in several of his recent films. "A Soldier's Story," "Agnes of God" and "In Country" were all Jewison-directed films adapted from either a play or a novel that examined the racial, religious or political underpinnings of the United States.
"That is one thing that a Canadian does have--objectivity about America," says Jewison, leaning against a trailer during a break in the day's shooting. Now, in "Other People's Money," Jewison is taking on "10 years of corporate takeovers in America," as the director puts it, using his film to explore the impact of deregulation on businesses as well as working-class families who frequently were the real losers in the battles on Wall Street.
"There were tremendous repercussions from Reagan's deregulation," Jewison says. "Today, we have a society made up of everyone out for themselves, everyone trying to make a buck. I believe in a lot of the ideas of the play. Christ, where have our values gone?"
Written in 1987 by Sterner, a former real estate investor, "Other People's Money" brought the events and the headlines of the late 1980s to the stage. Sterner's protagonist was a cynical, Carl Icahn-esque New York corporate raider who takes over a cash-rich but unprofitable New England cable company, goes\o7 mano-a-mano\f7 with the old-fashioned factory owner and wins. Not only does Garfield put the factory's hundreds of employees out of work, but between doughnut infusions, he even romances the factory owner's attorney, an equally cynical corporate lawyer.
For Jewison, the challenge in shooting "Other People's Money" for the screen was only partly a question of how to expand a five-character, two-act play into a full-length feature film. He hired veteran screenwriter Alvin Sargent, who had previously adapted other works for the screen, including Lillian Hellman's memoir "Julia" and Judith Guest's novel "Ordinary People." The greater challenge for the director, however, was how to retain the relevancy of a time-sensitive comedy almost three years after its Off-Broadway debut.
Indeed, many reviewers have faulted Brian De Palma's "Bonfire of the Vanities"--based on Tom Wolfe's 1988 best-selling novel about the downfall of a Wall Street "Master of the Universe"--for being dated by the time it reached screens this past Christmas.