HitFix Interview: Demi Moore, Zachary Quinto get creative in 'Margin Call'
PARK CITY -- What’s striking about “Margin Call” as a film is, one, there are no sex scenes, exploding buildings, car chases or Oscar-baiting sobs; and, two, its cast includes stars like Demi Moore, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto and Stanley Tucci, who’ve done movies with all of that.
The J.C. Chandor-directed flick is self-contained to a period of time over 24 hours, set sometime in 2008, with the majority of its scenes shot on a single floor of a financial office building. The actors didn’t stay in trailers but instead spent the 17 days of shooting staying on a floor of the building, like living and breathing the financial life and tumult of “Margin Call.” It’s a little like re-living the horror of the financial crisis, the Early Days. It was bought by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate before it even premiered last week at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Moore, Quinto and other “Margin Call” co-stars Paul Bettany, Penn Badgley and Simon Baker were seated at a table of a bar in a basement club in Park City, discussing the closeness of the shoot.
“We had a real sense of camaraderie because we were so fortunate to shoot 85% of the film in one place. And we were all on the 42nd floor of a high rise in Manhattan and all of our rooms were on that floor.”
“You can be really spoiled,” Bettany said. “This movie we have 50 pages to shoot and you see actors in a state of preparedness and often you don’t. Everybody’s onsite and turned up. There’s a level of fear when you look at your script and go, ‘I got like 15 fucking pages tomorrow. I’d better step up.’ And I found it really fulfilling, so much more than any other movies I’ve been in.”
During that moment in Park City, none of the actors had seen the final cut of the film, yet, so sometimes details were hazy. And the cast had a little fun in “remembering.”
“There were some fun sex scenes, which got cut out,” Bettany said matter-of-factly.
“Yeah, of me sleeping my way up to the top,” Moore laughed.
“I wanted Demi’s character but they said I couldn’t have it, so I had to settle for Will Emerson,” Bettany said of his gum-chewing, fast-talking slave-to-the-system. “But I was very attracted to Will Emerson because he seems sort of slightly amoral, like he was suffering from Asperger’s.”
“I mean, yeah, I don’t think you get a cast or ensemble of this caliber without material that is excellent and compelling and diverse in terms of like you’re saying these characters are really different facet of the psyche and that is something that I think we all were really excited about,” Quinto says.
Quinto’s character Peter Sullivan plays an analyst at the major financial firm, a faceless number-cruncher -- until he uncovers a major problem in the company’s assets strategy. This discovery leads to some ethical and moral dilemmas for the rest of the group, all the way to the top.
That moral gray zone is perhaps where art meets science.
“Probably one of the most creative people I know is my accountant,” Baker laughed. “Actually the politics of it all is interesting to me and the vulnerability and the sort of aggression. We joke, but lot of these guys are… on the autism spectrum in a lot of ways. They’re so detached from the emotional aspect of what they’re doing that it becomes a creative endeavor.”
“I mean we met a bunch of financial people to prepare. And one guy, he’s talking about the percentage of poison assets rising. And I’m thinking, ‘What are poison assets?’ And you realize that poison assets are failing mortgages. But if you call them ‘poison assets,’ they’re not people losing their dream and failing and falling by the wayside. They’re just poison assets,” Bettany says. “They made money out of nothing. They made more money – or, rather – made and spent more money that actually exists, you know?”
Quinto expands: “That was definitely the most interesting facet of Peter for me was the notion that he represents a perspective that is really troubled about what he discovers. And yet by the end of the film, he accepts what they offer him in terms of a promotion within the company.”
“I think the most striking characteristic of the entire film is that [the financial collapse] proved that [firms] took ghost numbers and then put real money in their pocket, which is what they had to do in order to enable the rest of the country and then the rest of the world. It’s just this massive ghost operation. And they’re just sitting there, giddy, getting hard at the idea. at the idea. It’s really amazing,” Badgley said. “I did some research and I got down with a couple of bankers… they’re incredible. The confidence they have, to be my age—I’m 24—and to think of doing that?”
"Margin Call" heads to theaters in October.