To research his role in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, Shia LaBeouf spent a good deal of time at John Thomas Financial, an Encino branch of Charles Schwab and Goldman Sachs. It was there he learned how to stick $20,000 in an online brokerage account and turn it into $450,00-ish in a matter of months, wow the shit out of Lloyd Blankfein in the 47th round of interviews, and insider tips for passing Level I of the CFA. You know what he never did? Ask any of the guys he was shadowing about their feelings. Same goes for Penn Badgely, who spent some time on the Citi trading floor to prep for his role as a junior analyst in Margin Call (where he learned that “young traders sport ‘nice clothes that were not terribly tailored’ and that that the term ‘bucks’ means millions”). That’s because these two whippersnappers only care about the surface. They’re not interested in drilling down to the person underneath that suit and the fifties still stuck to your ass from the weekend. One guy who is? Kevin Spacey. He cares, deeply.
“I am trying to humanize bankers,” said Kevin Spacey, the Academy Award-winning actor, who plays a senior trader in Margin Call. “Everyone talks about facts, figures and debt. I was more interested in what they were feeling.”
Some of his deepest insights, he said, came from conversations with senior Wall Street bankers and traders. During the discussions, he asked: “What was it like to be at a friend’s wedding, or a bar, when you knew that the whole house of cards was about to collapse?”
“I listened with some degree of surprise about the weight of having knowledge that others don’t, how that shifted relationships — what guys couldn’t even tell their wives at the height of the turmoil,” Mr. Spacey said. Many of the traders, he discovered, were angry about some decisions that helped assure the survival of their firm but also destroyed longstanding bonds of trust between them, their clients and their colleagues.
Some of Spacey’s empathy may come from the fact that he, too, knows what it’s like to destroy the trust of a client and colleague and lose, if not billions, thousands of dollars in one fell swoop. Of course, it’s not all feelings that’ll go into making this flick. It’s important that the actors truly know their trade, so if anyone thinks they can get Demi Moore up to speed (she accepted the role of chief risk officer right before shooting started, leaving “less time for extensive research), the help would be greatly appreciated.