Interview: Oliver Stone

Your father was a stockbroker. What did you learn from him about the financial world?
Dad started in the business in 1931 and worked in it off and on until 1985. He liked movies very much and used to say to me: "Why don't they make a good movie about business?" And that became a challenge.

After Platoon I was able to pretty much do whatever I wanted, so I thought it would be a good time to do a business movie. I think Wall Street made people aware of the world of finance and, at the same time, it felt like a sexy subject matter simply because money was sexy in the 1980s.
When I started thinking about Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, I realised that the financial collapse of 2008 was the payoff for the 1980s. It wasthe culmination of a credit bubble of enormous proportions, where easy money was prevalent and people became really spoiled and started to live way beyond their means.

How has America changed since the financial crash?
The country has changed quite a bit. Credit is dry, the endless bubble of optimism is gone, recession has set in, the unemployment figures are extraordinarily high - especially hurting those above 50. At the same time, the meaning of the banks has changed and the trust that was historically there between the people and the bankers has not been restored. The banking laws are still deregulated.

How do you rate Barack Obama's efforts to kick-start the US economy?
Although Obama is trying hard to make reforms, he's running into the gridlock of strong lobbies with a lot of money opposing him. I honestly think reform is necessary.

I think we should return to our regulated economy. My father used to say that there can't be strong capitalism without production. Profit is only justifiable with real production. Profit based on speculation is not healthy for any society.

While making either film, were you appalled by people's attitude to money?
People's attitude towards money - as Gekko says at Fordham [University] in the new movie - has undermined the economy and at the same time helped enable the banking class to extend more and more inflated loans, liar loans and cheap mortgages to the public. The public and the bankers, in essence, co-operated in this bubble.

Did you feel excited or challenged by the prospect of revisiting Wall Street?
It was extremely difficult to go back to the subject matter because the new markets of the 2000s were much more complex than the 1980s Wall Street that I knew a bit about. Along with my writers, Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff, I had to do a lot of research into the new workings of these exotic securities that could be lumped under the name of "derivatives". Perhaps the toughest aspect of making this film was combining the financial complexity with the need for a driving, tense narrative that would carry through the film.

Did Michael Douglas immediately agree to reprise his role?
He offered me the chance to do it in 2006, but I passed because it didn't seem like the right thing to do; Wall Street was just pigging out of the trough. After 2008, there was a strong reason to do it because of the sense of karma coming into play.

Why do you think Gordon Gekko has captured people's imaginations for so long? And has he now been replaced by the banks?
Gekko is ruthless and impossible to stop and had no morals. Usually villains can capture the imagination. I never thought it would be possible for the banks to take Gekko's position in society. Though they never quite broke the law, the bankers did in fact extend Gekko's notion that anything was worth doing in the name of profit. Money was the only goal. So yes, Gekko has indeed been replaced by the banks.

This article first appeared in the 04 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Licence to cut