Ridley Scott tells how he called the shots on replacing Kevin Spacey in new film
When Oscar-winning English film-maker Sir Ridley Scott heard of the allegations surrounding Kevin Spacey, he knew he had to come up with a solution or wave goodbye to his latest film, All The Money In The World, he tells Gemma Dunn
IF DIRECTORIAL awards were given out to those who have achieved the impossible, Sir Ridley Scott would surely be a front runner. Within an hour of learning of the sexual harassment allegations surrounding Kevin Spacey last October, he had not only taken the decision to axe the actor from his latest film, but recast his role.
"I knew if I didn't do something, there would be a question of cancelling the film," he says in reference to All The Money In The World. "It wouldn't happen immediately, it'd gradually die and someone would say, 'Maybe we shouldn't run it, we should edit?' I was saying, 'No you can't edit, you can fix this!' "
That "fix" would require Scott, director of landmark films including Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator, to recall A-listers Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg, recruit Spacey's replacement in Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer and reshoot all of his 22 scenes in just nine days.
That was just six weeks ago. Today, the crime thriller, which follows the infamous kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother Gail (Michelle) to convince his billionaire grandfather (Christopher) to pay the $17 million ransom, is wowing audiences worldwide.
Of 88-year-old Christopher Plummer jumping on board, the director says: "He was always there, and I think he thought it'd never happen because I was thinking about him when I was going to do Gladiator as well, and it went to Richard Harris.
"The reason I went with Kevin [Spacey] was Kevin is in his 50s," he reveals, elaborating: "[There's] a lot of make-up in the mornings, big make-up, prosthetics, three and a half hours of it. The film is pretty challenging, [there are] a lot of scenes, a lot of dialogue, so I went with youth. Wrongly."
If anyone should know age doesn't account for everything, however, it's Sir Ridley Scott. At 80 years old, the veteran director – who is tipped for success this awards season – is far from slowing down.
"It's easy for me," admits Scott, whose breakthrough came with the science-fiction horror film Alien in 1979. "I think it's genetic, it's in my DNA. My mum brought up three boys; she did good."
He credits that same upbringing in the coastal town of South Shields, near Newcastle, and his mother specifically, for the respect he has for women, both in and out of the workplace.
"I get on with women," he says, simply. "I love women, and respect, I think, goes with it hand-in-hand."
Of years of casting film stars, he adds: "I don't differentiate. It's horses for courses, whatever the part is. Is it male? Is it female? I don't really separate that, because there's some great female actresses and there's some great actors out there. I think a change is as good as anything."
He reminisces over what he calls his "courageous movies" – take Alien, for example, in which he cast Sigourney Weaver as the star.
"I was sat in the office one day with [US film executive] Alan Ladd Jr and we had the script and we're looking at Ripley, and Al said, 'You know, what happens if it's a woman?' I said, 'Dude, let's find an athletic woman. Why not?' And we just did it.
"I didn't ever think of the repercussion of the importance of what that meant," he says. "Because gradually during the process, [she] earned her right and stripes as the survivor. She suddenly was this female action hero."
With his own daughter Jordan among the minuscule 4 per cent of female directors in Hollywood, he must believe there's still a way to go.
"I like to think you've got to come up with a story," he says, resolute. "I am from West Hartlepool College of Art and I come up with a f****** story and I get the f****** film made.
"By the time I did a film I was 40, so it was really hardcore getting there," he notes. "I was very successful as a commercial maker – awards all over the place. But in those days Alan Parker, me, Adrian Lyne couldn't get in [to the film industry].
"So eventually I just went off and wrote three screenplays," he continues. "I'm not a writer, but I wrote three pretty good screenplays and then finally had enough money to be able to afford to pay a writer, so I started financing my own projects."
The rest is history.
As for the wider sexual harassment scandal engulfing Hollywood, Scott was recently quoted as saying it would usher in "an immediate change".
But can he ever see such figures as Harvey Weinstein and Spacey re-emerging?
"Never say never, I've no idea," he says with a shrug. "I'm sure Harvey will already have a go within a year.
"Well what's this thing about forgiveness? Do we ever talk about forgiveness? Or is forgiveness now out of that question?" he asks. "Do you learn what is unforgivable? When a guy can rape and kill and get out after five years, I don't understand the law at that level."
"[But] I don't even think about it, honestly," he finishes. "I think it's long overdue and about time."
:: All The Money In The World is in cinemas now.