City A.M. exclusive: Michael Douglas on Gordon Gekko

IN THE character of the Wall Street corporate raider Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas created one of cinema’s most memorable scoundrels, writes Timothy Barber. That was in the 1987 film Wall Street, made at the height of the 1980s boom years. In last year’s follow-up, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (released on DVD on Monday) Gekko returned – chastened, bankrupt but as charismatic as ever. In an exclusive interview, Douglas reflects on playing the villain who, ironically, inspired a generation of bankers.

Q: What was it like to return to the role of such an iconic character as Gordon Gekko?

Michael Douglas: It forces you to look back to that time 23 years ago when we made the original movie. It was a very important movie for me in terms of my career – I won and Oscar and then Fatal Attraction right after it. And it’s interesting historically because of what’s happened economically in the world markets. It really gives you food for thought.

Q: Even though you played a villain, many people in finance looked up to Gekko, and almost idolized him. Did that surprise you at the time?

MD: Well, I was always shocked when so many people who saw Wall Street said that I (Gekko) was the person who influenced them and inspired them to go into investment banking. I’d say to people, “well, I was the villain” and they would say, “no, no, no”, they didn’t see me that way, so it was all very seductive I guess.

Q: What do you think has really changed on Wall Street since the last movie was made?

MD: The proportions and circumstances in the financial world are like night and day in terms of the statistics that we were talking about back then and the kind of corruption that existed at that time. The numbers that we’re talking about now are staggering as well as the chicanery and trickery, which is much more sophisticated than what existed back then. I think [director Oliver Stone] has done a really good job in terms of capturing the kind of intrigue that goes on. It’s almost like a Greek tragedy or a Shakesperean play.

Q: In the first movie one of the big questions was: “how much is enough?” Has Gekko found an answer to that now?

MD: Well, right now as far as we know, Gordon doesn’t have anything: no money, he’s been stripped pretty clean and he cannot trade publicly in stocks, so he’s somewhat limited in this arena. He is trying to become an author and we’ll see how successful the book is, but being a best-selling author is still a long way from what he was doing and the power he had before.

Q: Did you have any idea that Gordon Gekko was going to be the iconic character that he became when you made the first film?

MD: I had no sense that Gekko would live on as this sort of archetypal character, representing a whole period of culture and business. I knew it was a well-written part but I had no idea that certain lines would last like “greed is good”. The people who work in Wall Street still look up to Gordon Gekko, he’s sort of a guru. I think it’s probably the picture people identify me with the most, and is has always amazed me.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment