Directed by Barry Levinson and written by Sam Levinson, Sam Baum, and John Burnham Schwartz, the story is based on the non-fiction book of same name by Diana B. Henriques. The film co-stars Michelle Pfeiffer as his wife Ruth Madoff, and Alessandro Nivola as their older son Mark Madoff.
The film examines Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme – his deception, lies, and cover-up, all as the financier’s wife and sons are catapulted into a harsh and unrelenting spotlight.
De Niro, who also serves as an executive producer on the project, was joined by Levinson during the HBO portion of the 2017 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour on January 14, where EUR/Electronic Urban Report was on hand to ask the iconic actor about is preparation for the role, and whether it was important for him to speak to Bernie and some of his victims, including any celebrities he also reportedly ripped-off.
“Yeah. I spoke to people. I read Diana Henriques’ book, of course, and some other books and spoke to people,” he said. “I didn’t meet him, but I did a fair amount of research on it.”
In a new preview for the film that was played at TCA, Madoff reflects on media reports that label him as a “sociopath,” and De Niro was asked if he believes Bernie suffers from the personality disorder.
“The only thing that I feel is that his kids didn’t know and his wife didn’t know. What he did is beyond my comprehension,” De Niro said during the TCA winter press tour. “So there’s a disconnect somehow in him and I still would like to understand. I did as best I could, but I don’t understand. You can do your interpretation. The only things I do feel strongly about is that he didn’t tell his kids and he didn’t tell his wife. But everyone around him probably had an idea. They just didn’t want to look too deeply because they knew something wasn’t quite right.”
When asked what he thinks viewers will learn from watching “The Wizard of Lies,” Bobby D remarked, “You know, I don’t know what you will learn. You will get one impression and another person will get another impression. I think to me, it’s like the kind of story that you read into what you want in a way, like a book, a novel or something.”
He continued, “You can’t — there’s no clear — as Diana is saying, you can’t label him this or that, and I think that’s a danger to go in and be too specific in some ways because you’re making a — it’s not that you can’t make a judgment or anything, but it shouldn’t be that.”
The Madoff investment scandal defrauded thousands of investors of billions of dollars, and for his crimes, Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison, the maximum allowed.
“He’s a classic example of somebody who receded very much back, let people come to him, and got to a position where people would think it’s an honor for him to take their money,” De Niro explained. “And that’s a classic, classic con situation that you see in all forms, all walks of life. People can get into that position and he was in that position and he used it.”
“The Wizard of Lies” premieres tonight, Saturday, May 20 on HBO.