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Oliver Stone Corrects Michael Lewis’s Conspiracy Theories on Why the Wall Street Sequel Was Bumped

Earlier this month, Fox announced that it was pushing the opening of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps back from April 23 to September 24, this despite two imminent cover stories on the film's stars, Michael Douglas and Shia LaBeouf, in Vanity Fair and GQ. While the studio remained mum, Variety reported that the move was made to allow the film to premiere in Cannes in May. But Michael Lewis, the best-selling author of The Big Short who wrote a profile of the sequel's director, Oliver Stone, for the suddenly premature issue of Vanity Fair, theorized that the cause was simpler: Stone blew his deadline, and he still wasn't finished. “What a waste of publicity!” said Lewis, whom we caught outside MoMA Tuesday night before his live Q&A with VF editor Graydon Carter. For his article, Lewis had gotten to see a fifteen-minute clip of the sequel; he liked it, and while he confirmed the movie is "slickly finished," he added, "what I saw was just a piece of the movie. So that’s kind of a sign.”

Such accusations must not go unanswered! So Vulture tracked down Stone on a scoring stage in Santa Monica, where he was still fiddling with the movie's final mix. “That’s his supposition, huh?” asked Stone, chuckling. “It’s very conspiratorial, no? … This is the flat-out truth: [Fox] said, ‘We’d like this for April.’ We’d finished shooting principal photography on December 9. That’s a tight squeeze, but I could have made it.” But then the possibility of Cannes arose, which Stone thought was a great platform; also contributing to the decision to push was the disturbingly close May 7 opening of the behemoth that will be Iron Man 2, which "gave Fox a bit of a shiver."

As for the magazine coverage, Stone said he was upfront at the beginning that the April release was likely, but not definite. “What I said was that I’d make my best effort," said the filmmaker, one of the few who still has final cut on his films. "But I had no contractual obligation to do so; that would violate the Directors Guild director’s cut rules. And so I’d told them: If you’re willing to take that risk, you put [Douglas] on the cover.”

In any event, Stone thinks a Cannes debut followed by a September release will better serve his sequel. “May is jammed with popcorn movies,” he said. “I was always for September from the beginning: It’s a much more volatile, much more interesting time on Wall Street.” Especially this year. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said financial reform is "one of the president's top priorities now,” and Lewis had told us that “because it seems quite likely that the financial-reform debate is not going to be over before September, and the elections are then … Wall Street people could be sitting in Congressional hearings. It could be noisy. [Fox] could get very lucky.”

That said, Stone admits that while such free publicity may help his film, his goal isn’t to become the poster child for regulatory-reform hearings. “We need reform, but I don’t think I’d make a movie on that basis,” he told us. “Our average person in the audience doesn’t even know what a derivative is. This is not agitprop; this is an entertainment. It’s about a social issue predominant in our minds, but there’s no way a movie like this can be up-to-date. But it has great characters and an interesting story.”

The tricky part may be making Wall Street figures sympathetic in this era: Yes, Gordon Gekko is still a villain, but LaBeouf's broker character is the hero. But legendary leftie Stone actually has a soft spot for the financial world. “We can all get into mass lynching and vigilantism, and there are a lot of fat-pig bankers," he said. "But most of the people working on Wall Street are good people. My father was a broker and he served clients his whole life. I know a lot of brokers who still try to do that.”

Empathy aside, Stone is responsible for the catchphrase — Gekko’s “greed is good” — that remains the go-to clip for every news program that wants to illustrate financial excess or corporate malfeasance. Will there be a line in the sequel that can keep news producers happy for decades? The director declined to presuppose what might work its way into the lexicon: "When I wrote Scarface, I wouldn’t have been able to say what people would pick up on. I mean, ‘Say hello to my little friend!’? Who the fuck thought they’d pick up on that?"

Photo: 20th Century Fox