Robert De Niro says the crimes carried out by Bernie Madoff — who he plays in new HBO film The Wizard of Lies — are “beyond his comprehension”.
Speaking about whether he thought the convicted fraudster was a sociopath, he said he could not understand what Madoff did and how he could do it without telling his family.
De Niro told the Television Critics Association (TCA) winter press tour: “What he did is beyond my comprehension. There’s a disconnect in him, but I don’t understand…the only thing I feel strongly about is he didn’t tell his kids or his wife.”
De Niro added that the former financier operated like a “classic con”, creating a mystique around him and making people desire him and clamor for him — thinking he was doing them an enormous favor.
The Wizard of Lies, set to air in May, sees De Niro star alongside Michelle Pfeiffer as Bernie and Ruth Madoff, the notorious Wall Street fraudster and his wife who were at the epicenter of a massive financial scandal in 2008.
De Niro, who also serves as an executive producer, admitted he didn’t meet Madoff in preparation for the role.
But he said he did read Diana B. Henriques’ book, The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust, on which the film is based. He also did a large amount of additional research.
Author Henriques told the TCA press tour she was amazed at how much research he had done, after she “interviewed” De Niro while he was in character and he answered all her questions off the top of his head AS Madoff.
She said she thought Madoff was definitely a sociopath, adding: “But so are a lot of entrepreneurs.”
She said: “It doesn’t explain anything, to call him a sociopath. What you learn is how capable these con-men are.”
Speaking about his victims, she added: “It wasn’t an act of greed to trust Bernie Madoff. He had a legitimate business and stature. Only someone you trust can truly betray you.”
Talking about the film, she said: “What you’ll see in Bob’s (DeNiro’s) performance is how plausible con men like this are.”
Jane Rosenthal, executive producer and De Niro’s long-time producing partner, said they took the film to HBO because no conventional movie studio wanted to make it.
She said the team considered Wizard of Lies as a theatrical movie, but it would have been a tiny release and the network offered them a bigger audience.
She added that HBO also delves into subjects in a way they aren’t covered in feature films, adding “HBO allows you to go inside a story, not just do the bells and whistles.”
The Wizard of Lies is based on Madoff’s wealth management business, Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, which was a massive Ponzi scheme.
It examines the devastation of Madoff’s smaller investors who were completely ruined by his scheme, not just the wealthy ones.
The film also analyzes the methods he used and the grand cover-up, when the financier’s wife and sons found themselves under intensive media scrutiny and became pariahs in their community.
Madoff was uncovered as a fraud in December 2008, when his sons contacted the FBI.
Along with Henriques’ book, Laurie Sandell’s Truth and Consequences is additional source material.
The Wizard of Lies is expected to air in Spring 2017