Oliver Stone Walks in the Shoes of Bankers

Director Oliver Stone walks with Katie Couric on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Gordon Gecko returns to the screen in Oliver Stone's new film "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." It's a crash course in all that's gone wrong in high finance in the years since Michael Douglas first played the high-powered financier. "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric recently went with Stone to the investment world's own center stage:

"Do you feel like you're stepping into the lion's den at all?" Couric asked Oliver Stone as they entered the New York Stock Exchange.

"No, it's fun," the filmmaker replied. "We shot this floor in 1987."

At the very center of the financial world, director Oliver Stone is, for lack of a better word, money.

Twenty-three years after he made the original "Wall Street," Stone can stop traffic on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, and his film - an unvarnished and unflattering look at the financial industry - is still for many here required viewing.

Stone is shown a clip from the original "Wall Street" playing on a loop on a small screen just off the trading floor.

"This is not just for you, this has been up for months," said one trader.

"We do this all the time," said another.

The agitated man with the mustache, seen in the film, is real-life former trader Mike Rutigliano, who's present today. "You haven't changed a bit!" said Couric.

"Thank you, Katie, it's all lighting!" laughed Rutigliano. "This is the longest 15 minutes of fame in the history of mankind. 'Cause this was filmed in '87, and we talk about it every day."

"Are you worried that this 1987 film was so successful in capturing the zeitgeist - it was kind of a Kismet moment for the American psyche - that it's going to be hard to replicate it?" Couric asked. "Because this is the first sequel you've ever done."

"If I really wanted to do a sequel, Katie, I would've done it in the 1990s, 'cause that makes sense," Stone said. "It's more fresh in the memory, make more money, and stuff.

"I mean, you're facing 23 years later. There's a whole new generation that doesn't know the original," he said. "I really did this movie because it was worth doing, because of the 2008 crash. And that gave it a definition, a background. "

In the first "Wall Street," a young trader - Charlie Sheen's Bud Fox - gets involved with a predatory corporate raider, Gordon Gekko - one of Michael Douglas' most notorious roles.

At the time it was a cautionary tale. Compared to the recent economic chaos, it seems kind of innocent. In 1987, the stakes were smaller, the cell phones were bigger, and the prevailing mood could be summed up in one iconic phrase:

"Greed, for lack of a better word, is good."

The new movie, "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," centers around another young trader, played this time by Shia LaBeouf, who falls in with a very fast, very rich crowd led by James Brolin as a villainous super-banker.

Michael Douglas reprises his Oscar-winning role, picking up Gekko's story as he's released from prison . . . a man who's lost everything, including the love of his daughter - now engaged to LaBeouf.

Like many of his movies, "Wall Street" echoes of liver Stone's personal life: Born in New York City, his father was a successful stockbroker.

"Did you ever want to follow in your father's footsteps, or do you feel he ultimately got kind of kicked in the teeth in the end?" Couric asked.

"My dad loved what he did," Stone replied. "He loved the business and he loved writing about it, and he lived his whole life out here, although he had a tough time because of the new changes at the end. He worked until he died, and that gave him satisfaction."

But Stone wanted more: After a brief stint at Yale, he joined the Army and went to Vietnam. He came home a decorated combat veteran, and a man who was, he says, forever changed.

"How do you come back from the war? If you come back stone dead inside or do you come back with a heart still? That was the hardest thing for me. It was not fighting the enemy, although they were significant. But it was to try to keep your own humanity alive inside you. Believe me, that war is a curse, because it scars people for life."

"You still seem scarred by your own personal experience there," Couric said.

"But I overcame it into the sense that I readapted to society and I made three movies about it. So, I was able to exorcise some of these devils."

Stone turned his Vietnam demons into box office success, winning a directing Oscar for "Platoon," and another for "Born on the Fourth of July."

He's since become one of Hollywood's most prolific, and controversial, directors, tackling subjects that defined his generation, including the JFK assassination, the Doors, Nixon, Latin America, and George W. Bush.

"As much as I may detest his policies, I tried to make him human," Stone said of his film, "W." "And some people criticized me and they said it was too sympathetic to Bush. I thought it was empathetic, [which] is a big difference to me.

"But I walked in his shoes. You understand, by goin' across the valley and walkin' in the shoes of someone you do not like, it makes you more human and more tolerant.

"When I do a 'Wall Street' movie," he said. "I have to think like the bankers. You know, I have to feel for them, too, because they have their point of view."

He's a provocateur who likes to rattle cages . . . turning his lens on Fidel Castro, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.

"You're absolutely fearless in the subject matter and the people you focus on, and you try to profile or explain," offered Couric.

"I like Hugo Chavez personally - he's made mistakes," Stone said of his most recent subject. "But if I don't live with my conscience when I'm alive, I'm gonna be dead one day, very shortly probably. And what have I done? I've just added to the American pain. All my taxes are going to bombing people in Afghanistan and Iraq. I'm not happy about that. What can I do for my children to change things?"

Stone's latest "Wall Street" movie got some unscheduled, and unwelcome, publicity last month when star Michael Douglas announced he was battling throat cancer.

"I watched this movie and I thought, 'Gee, I wonder if he was sick during the filming," said Couric.

"I couldn't see it," Stone said. "In fact, we went to the Cannes Film Festival, we previewed there. And it was a very wonderful experience. And he looked strong. I couldn't tell. And he said himself it was early summer when it came on. Apparently, he had it checked quite a bit and - nothing."

" It was undiagnosed," Couric said.

" Yeah. No, he went to doctors. And then they couldn't figure out anything until, I guess, August. So, it was a shame. And I know he's going through a period of difficulty. And I pray for him.

In the film, Douglas' Gekko is still a bit smarmy, but older and seemingly more . . . human.

"Has Gordon Gekko gone all soft on us?" Couric asked.

"Soft? No," Stone said. "But he's got a heart. He's not soft. He's a tough guy, Gordon. And he does tough things in the movie. I won't tell you what he does, but he does play dirty tricks."

"He's still the old Gordon Gekko in many ways."

"In part, yeah," Stone said. "But definitely when you're that age, and I am - we all know the Beatles song, right?"

"When I'm 64?" Couric said. "Happy birthday today, by the way."

"Thank you, Katie. When you reach that age, I mean, you better have come to some conclusion that money isn't everything, you know?"

And like the stock market itself, it's hard to predict how Oliver Stone's new movie will do. But on the street at least, the inside word is . . . optimistic.

At a time when Wall Street isn't exactly at the pinnacle of respect in this country, a trader named Mike told Couric, "I think people are going to enjoy this movie!"

For more info:
"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" (Official Website)