Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps was supposed to open in theaters in April, but when Cannes invited Oliver Stone (a French favorite) to premiere his very topical sequel at the festival, the U.S. debut was pushed at the last minute to September. Now the film premieres at the festival Friday night, and critics will finally have all their questions answered: Is greed still good, or just okay? And where the hell is Shia LaBeouf going on that motorcycle? We tracked down the director at the festival as he was madly trying to secure some extra tickets to his own premiere, and talked to him about whether Gordon Gekko is to blame for the current breed of greedy bastards, why he didn’t show the film to Timothy Geithner and Lloyd Blankfein, and how he might be the first person ever to capture Michael Douglas onscreen as a poor person.
What are you doing to relax before your movie premieres tomorrow?
[Laughs.] I’m trying to get tickets for people. “Friends.” It’s insane here. You know what a ticket’s going for here on this film, on the black market? 8,000 Euros! That’s about $10,000, I think … which is approximate, but still, amazing for a movie ticket.
It’d be kind of ironic if this film in particular sparked a dangerously volatile futures market.
It’s a scalping thing. I heard we were the highest ticket at the festival. I had 25 “friends” call on the last day [before the film screened] to get in. That’s a dilemma you can’t get out of.
You’ve made W, Alexander, Nixon, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July — all based on the lives of real people. Given all the actual dramatic financial headlines of the past two years, why did you think this story needed to be told as fiction?
That’s an easy answer. The original Wall Street was a parallel reality. We didn’t want to be specific. We have all this framework going on, but we still have to come up with a narrative to make this work. A documentary is a whole other proposition … and this is not that. This is two hours and ten minutes of story, set against this backdrop. This allows us to play, to have fun. We didn’t want to make it like reading a book about this crisis. Most American people are not interested in the details of business.
This is the first time you’re screening a full film at Cannes. What is it about debuting at the festival that most benefits the film?
It’s the global, prime spot to play. There’s no one event in filmdom that’s bigger. And actually, I’m 63 years old, and the festival is 63 years old, so I’m hoping I was born at the right time.
Do you worry that whatever the reception to the film is here, it could hurt you because Cannes is the buzz of the elite and not reflective of what “real” Americans think?
I agree with that. But listen, I’ve been in the business. If this was one of my first few films, I’d probably have a different take. But I’m not worried. I think you make a film like a mountain: You make it solid, for time. I’ve made films that have not been received well, but I think were good. So I approach this with the same attitude: You build the edifice. And sometimes, they come back with time. I mean, look at Scarface, for Christ’s sake, and even Wall Street to some degree. That was a film that was somewhat denigrated in its time, but it had good street cred.
So does it matter what Wall Street thinks of Wall Street 2?
In a way, Wall Street  has to have credibility with the core group of people who work there; they have to sign off on it. Enough of them have seen it now that I feel comfortable with it. And at the same time, we’ve shown it to enough real people, so-called “civilians,” that it feels good. It’s got the pace. What the elites say, that always varies with the wind.
Have you shown the sequel to, say, Timothy Geithner or [Goldman Sachs CEO] Lloyd Blankfein?
No. I could have shown it to ‘em, but I don’t think that would be the crowd [to vet the film]. I’m talking about guys who work on the Street. You’re talking about the elite of the elite. They’re not going to like it. Blankfein is fighting for his life right now. They have a lot at stake here. Any kind of criticism — and he’s obviously implicitly criticized in this, because the banking class is criticized, and criticizeable — he’s not gonna go for it.
But the first Wall Street was meant to be a cautionary tale and wound up becoming the total opposite: Many of the kids who went and got jobs on Wall Street in the late eighties and early nineties did so precisely because they wanted to be Gordon Gekko, not Charlie Sheen’s Bud Fox.
You could argue it both ways … It’s a bit of an exaggeration, “the total opposite,” because I did talk to a lot of people, and while a lot of them say Gekko became their hero, I think that’s not quite true. I think that people liked the world that was created, the fantasy of that world. A lot of young people told me they joined the Street after that. They were studying law or medicine, and they went into the market because they saw the [first] movie. They were 30 or 40 years old, and many of them had become millionaires. But many of them had become millionaires honestly.
Speaking of the moneyed, congratulations for getting Michael Douglas to play — for the first time ever in his career, I think — a poor person. They said it couldn’t be done!
Is that true?
I’ve never seen him onscreen without French cuffs or bespoke tailoring.
Well, there was that one Joel Schumacher picture? Falling Down?
I think D-Fens was supposed to be middle class. Which for Michael Douglas is grinding poverty, I suppose. Anyway, you were racing to finish W before Bush left office. With Wall Street 2 are there some real-life events you’re hoping to time the film to?
God, no. We’re not a news piece. We’re a timeless piece. But I’d rather come out in the last quarter, late in the year, because that’s when the market volatility rises.
Well, thanks for the time. Go scalp some premiere tickets and get yourself a nice Wall Street bonus.
I’ll give ‘em to my daughter. She’s going shopping on the causeway and is ready to buy shoes. [Laughs, pauses, becomes a bit more serious.] Actually, I think she was going to sell her tickets; she’s about 14.