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THE WIZARD OF LIES Q&A with Star Robert De Niro, Director Barry Levinson & Author Diana B. Henriques

Maj Canton - May 19, 2017





On Saturday, May 20, 2017 HBO premieres THE WIZARD OF LIES. In 2008, Bernie Madoff and his $65 billion Ponzi scheme made worldwide headlines, rocked the financial community to its core and brought tragedy to thousands of peoples’ lives, including those of his own family. Based on Diana B. Henriques' 2011 bestselling book of the same name, THE WIZARD OF LIES examines Madoff's deception, lies, and cover-up, all as the financier's wife and sons are catapulted into a harsh and unrelenting spotlight. Superbly directly by Barry Levinson and a riveting performance by Robert De Niro, THE WIZARD OF LIES is not to be missed. Also starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Madoff’s wife Ruth, Alessandro Nivola as Mark Madoff, Nathan Darrow as Andrew Madoff; Hank Azaria as Frank Dipascali, Kristen Connolly as Stephanie Madaoof and Lily Rabe as Catherine Hooper. The author of the book, Diana B. Henriques, plays herself as the first journalist to interview Madoff in prison.



This past January at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter Press Tour, HBO presented a WIZARE OF LIES panel that included Executive Producer and star, Robert De Niro and Director Barry Levinson. Here are a few highlights (edited for clarity and readability) from that panel.




Question: Can you speak about your preparation for the role? In your preparation, was it important for you to speak to some of Mr. Madoff's victims? Do you think Madoff’s a sociopath?

Robert De Niro: Yes. I spoke to people. I read Diana Henriques' book, of course, and some other books. I didn't meet Madoff, but I did a fair amount of research on it. The only thing that I feel is that his kids didn't know and his wife didn't know. 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. What he did is beyond my comprehension. I did as best I could, but I don't understand.

Question: What do you think the viewers will learn from watching that movie?

Robert De Niro: 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.

Question: Ms. Henriques you had, very unique position. You were sitting across from Mr. Madoff and also from Mr. De Niro. So were you in the position of saying, "No, he didn't say it quite like that"

Diana B. Henriques: Well, Bob, if anyone knows anything about his preparation, he's a vacuum cleaner. By the time we actually wound up on the set, he had just about learned everything I could possibly tell him about Bernie. But even through that filming, there would be moments where he would say, "Is this right with the hands?”, that kind of thing, down to excruciating details. It was really an unforgettable experience to see Robert De Niro so totally occupy that character. At one point Barry had the brilliant idea of having Bob and me improvise questions and answers. Well, I mean, this is what I do I ask questions. I'm a journalist asking questions. But Bob is having to answer those questions extemporaneously out of Bernie Madoff's brain. And I made the vow right then and there was to never take investment advice from Bob De Niro --just in case he's channeling his inner Bernie. It was so convincing.

Question: What about the SEC and investigators? How were they so duped, and do you have as much empathy for them?

Barry Levinson: There were things that took place that the SEC could have been looking into and did. And we actually show a couple of those sequences and how Bernie deals with them. So it's not like there aren't some regulations. I think there are a lot of mistakes along the way, and certainly in terms of those people who lost their money because they trusted a man who seemed incredible. He had a certain demeanor that he could just sort of bring you in. And he wasn't that type that seemed aggressive and he was out there and he was a fast talker. He wasn't that type at all; you almost had to come to him. People came to him. So it was a different kind of con artist that ultimately was able to build this incredible Ponzi scheme.

Question: Mr. De Niro, with all the preparation that you did for your role as Madoff, when you walk on the set, what helps you inhabit? Is it the suits? Is it looking in the mirror and seeing that the hair is just right, like Madoff? What is it that makes you become the man?

Robert De Niro: It's the physical, of course, seeing how I look and so on. And I studied as much as I could -- there wasn't a lot of him, but the visual stuff of him and his behavior and so on, the way he talked. And that's it.

Barry Levinson: I've worked with Bob a few times now -- we'll go over stuff and step by step by step, very slowly, maybe inch by inch, all of a sudden this character begins to emerge. It's not, like, one day. It's over that period of time of talking and preproduction notes and going over things, it just keeps evolving. And then there's that day when all of a sudden there's the character he's going to play. I'm fascinated every time to see that inch-by-inch transformation that takes place. In the course of doing a movie, we'll be talking about a lot of things between a scene about, you know, "Let's try this. Let's experiment here." Bob is always sort of open to experiment and see what if there's another moment to this moment.