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Wall Street insiders open up for 'Money Never Sleeps'

Oliver Stone's sequel, featuring the return of Gordon Gekko, has an authenticity provided by advisors recruited directly from the Wall Street elite.

September 24, 2010|By Nathaniel Popper, Los Angeles Times

"We ended up talking about stocks the whole night," Chanos said.

Once shooting got underway Stone had a financial executive on set the entire time to get the details right. Farrell, a senior executive at Soleil, trudged to the New Jersey set every weekend for a few months and sat at a video monitor keeping tabs of shooting with a runner at his side in case anything looked wrong.

One weekend, Farrell raised questions about a scene in which the villainous bank CEO — based partly on JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Jamie Dimon, Stone said — was at a late-night meeting with his tie loosened and his jacket off.

"He would not have his jacket off; he just wouldn't, because he's the man," Farrell said he told Stone. "You might have that with government employees like Tim Geithner, but not with the masters of the universe."

"Almost every time I said something, he said, 'OK, we'll do it that way,' " Farrell said.

A few financiers managed to get even more involved. When Stone was scouting for locations, he came across Thomas Belesis, the chief executive of the trading firm John Thomas Financial, and told him to go straight to casting.

"I did a reading and I blew it out of the water," Belesis said. "He was very impressed, and he gave me a role."

Belesis, a child of Greek immigrants with a working-class Long Island accent, brought his patented swaggering style to the film. When Belesis was shooting a scene depicting the downfall of a Lehman Bros.-like trading firm, he told Stone, "Listen, let me do it my way because I got a great thought for a scene like this. And he just let me roll with my way." His "way" involved Belesis strolling out of the office with sunglasses on and a cigar dangling from his mouth.

"He's a great character. He's got the Greek warrior — the '300' look," Stone said.

The final product does not present Belesis and his traders in a terribly favorable light. Gekko is still a scheming manipulator, but as he watches the modern-day firms ramp up their leverage and splurge on credit default swaps, he says, "This puts me to shame."

This might seem like a rebuke to players like Belesis, who founded a group to defend Wall Street, and Scaramucci, who told President Obama during a recent round table that he was tired of seeing Wall Street treated like a piñata for public bashing.

But both Belesis and Scaramucci said they thought Stone carefully chose his targets and got them right. As Scaramucci put it, "The truth of the matter is that we on Wall Street haven't done such super great jobs — that's the facts."

Molner said that it was largely due to the credibility Stone won 23 years ago from "Wall Street" that beaten-down financialistas were willing to listen to him this time around, which might even provoke some reflection among a crowd not known for deep introspection.

"If you can enjoy the movie and ask a question or two, that's a good thing," Molner said. "It can be both entertainment and a support group."

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