All the audacity in the world

Director Ridley Scott (far left) and actor Christopher Plummer on the set of the movie, All The Money In The World.
Director Ridley Scott (left) and actor Christopher Plummer on the set of the movie, All The Money In The World.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Octogenarians Ridley Scott and Christopher Plummer have pulled off a bold feat: replace an actor in a finished movie

NEW YORK • The sun was setting on Nov 7 when actor Christopher Plummer arrived at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan for a secret, hastily arranged meeting.

He had intended to be resting in Connecticut after a whirlwind month. But director Ridley Scott had flown in from London with an urgent plea: Would Plummer help expunge the disgraced Kevin Spacey from Scott's latest film, set for theatrical release by Sony in just six weeks?

It would mean refilming 22 scenes in All The Money In The World, about the 1973 kidnapping of teenager John Paul Getty III and his oil billionaire grandfather's refusal to pay a US$17 million ransom.

"I admire you very much, but I still have to read the script," Plummer, 88, recalled telling Scott, 80, as they met in the Terrace Boardroom on the hotel's 11th floor.

By the next morning, he had agreed to replace Spacey as Grandpa Jean Paul Getty.

"At my age, which is enormous, you get worried that your memory won't hold up," Plummer said. "But this was too good to pass up."

And so began a race to pull off something never before attempted in Hollywood: revisiting a finished movie, reassembling major members of the cast, refilming crucial scenes, re-editing many sequences, retooling the marketing campaign - and doing it all at the last possible minute. Scott and others worked 18-hour days as they rushed to finish in nine days what would typically have taken at least a month.

"You can sit there and let something kill you or you can take action," he said in his no-nonsense way. "I took action."

Over the last three months, sexual harassment scandals have impacted nearly every corner of Hollywood.

As men such as Spacey, Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. have been accused of vile behaviour, entertainment companies have mostly responded by shelving or delaying movies and TV shows associated with them.

In the wake of the allegations against Spacey, Netflix halted production on House Of Cards and abandoned Gore, a completed film starring Spacey as Gore Vidal.

But All The Money In The World presented unique challenges.

A trailer was already on heavy rotation in theatres. Awards prognosticators (nudged along by Sony publicists) had also been touting Spacey's performance as Oscar-worthy.

Sony and Imperative Entertainment, which produced the film, held a series of emergency meetings starting Oct 30, a day after Spacey apologised for making unwanted sexual advances towards actor Anthony Rapp in 1986, when Rapp was 14.

As more men came forward, outrage poured onto the Internet, with some vowing to organise a boycott of the movie.

At that point, the film's scheduled premiere was two weeks away.

Hitting the pause button was the obvious move. But Mr Thomas E. Rothman, Sony's movie chief, was adamant that pushing back the release would tarnish the film even more. There was no better release window for a sophisticated drama than the Christmas holiday, the biggest ticket-selling period of the year. And they needed to stay ahead of a miniseries about the kidnapping in the works at FX.

It was decided that the film, which also stars Michelle Williams as the kidnapped boy's desperate mother and Mark Wahlberg as a Getty family fixer, would arrive on Dec 22 as planned in the United States. (Sony eventually settled on Dec 25.)

Sony marketeers scrambled to shift gears.

The studio had been leaning heavily on Spacey's performance to generate interest for the film. The trailer climaxed with images of him as the elderly Getty, a transformation that required facial prosthetics and heavy make-up.

But, suddenly, the studio's messaging to entertainment journalists switched - Spacey's role was only supporting, the real stars were Williams and Wahlberg.

A few days later, two of the film's producers, Dan Friedkin and Bradley Thomas, unexpectedly arrived at Mr Rothman's office.

They told him they were determined not to let the wrongdoings of one person damage a film that had been worked on by more than 800 people. And they floated an audacious idea that they had privately discussed with Scott: What about replacing Spacey with another actor?

This is where the story of All The Money In The World becomes about, as Mr Rothman colourfully put it, "two octogenarians kicking absolute a**".

With Sony's blessing, Scott sprang to action, convincing Plummer to take on the challenge.

Why Plummer? Scott had considered him during the initial casting process, but went with Spacey for reasons that included scheduling.

The director said he did not tell Spacey he was being replaced because Spacey had never contacted him to discuss the misconduct allegations. "A phone call would have been nice," Scott said. "At first, I was disappointed. Then I was mad." (He added that nothing in Spacey's contract prohibited his replacement; he got paid.)

Wahlberg and Williams agreed to work through Thanksgiving. Production on All The Money In The World resumed on Nov 20 in London, with cast and crew moving to Rome a few days later.

Since the original scenes had all been filmed on location, no sets needed to be reconstructed, saving a lot of time. Plummer was also nearer in age to the character, making it possible to forgo the kind of facial disguise that Spacey had donned.

"There was no digital trickery required either, contrary to the speculation," Scott said. "A little bit of good-morning make-up and some front lighting and he was ready to go."

Plummer said memorising lines at lightning speed also turned out to be relatively easy.

"Thank God for my training in the theatre," he said, adding that he soon forgot that he was replacing another actor. "Very quickly I put that completely out of my mind."

Long hours may have been their biggest challenge.

For nine days, Scott arrived at filming locations by 6.30am to eat a quick breakfast and finalise planned shooting angles with his long-time cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski.

Filming usually continued straight through lunch. As sequences were shot - Scott typically does very few takes - footage was digitally shipped to the film's editor, Claire Simpson, who would start stitching it together.

In the evening, Scott would make adjustments. "I'm kind of like a funny battery that never wears out," he said.

Despite their efforts, All The Money In The World faces an uphill battle at the box office. Competing movies include Downsizing and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Of course, the publicity generated by Scott's race to scrub Spacey from the movie may prove helpful. The effort has been cheered online in some of the same forums where boycotts were brewing. "Mr Scott is an inspiration," wrote one commenter on

And Plummer may have turned in a performance that eclipsed Spacey's.

In a surprise, Golden Globe voters, who saw a not-quite-finished version of All The Money In The World last week, nominated Plummer for Best Supporting Actor, Scott for Best Director and Williams for Best Actress.

"I think it's a fantastic change," Scott said. "Kevin's performance was colder. Christopher has enormous charm - a twinkle and a smile - that makes this coldly logical character feel even more dangerous."

Will the original version ever be released, perhaps on DVD, so that viewers can judge for themselves?

Scott let out a huff.

"I doubt it," he said.


•All The Money In The World opens in Singapore on Jan 25.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2017, with the headline 'All the audacity in the world'. Print Edition | Subscribe