Sure, Christopher Plummer has been getting the lion’s share of attention for his heroic, 11th hour save in ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD. But for all the hullabaloo surrounding the scandal that rocked Ridley Scott’s production, there’s a much welcomed surprise hidden within the film itself – specifically dealing with Michelle Williams’ role as the un-intimidated mother of a kidnap victim.
Based on the book by John Pearson, the sensational, suspenseful drama tells the real life tale of a kidnap that rocked the world back in 1973. Sixteen-year-old J. Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) was abducted in Rome and held for ransom. The twist? His oil tycoon grandfather J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), who was then the richest man in the world, wouldn’t pony up the dough for his release. It’s then up to mom Gail (Williams) to weaponize the things she learned during her time in the Getty family to persuade her ex-husband’s father to pay. It’s an astounding, sometimes shocking tale – one made stronger because of the dynamic between two strong personalities at the center. For as much as this gives us insight into the wealthy figurehead of an empire, it equally gives us a subversive take on the “mom who waits by the phone” trope.
At the film’s recent Los Angeles press conference, Williams said she found pleasure being able to bring Gail, a notoriously private person who was uncomfortable with the Getty name and the family’s wealth, to life.
I think the way the script was conceived was of a woman who refuses to let herself fall apart, a woman who takes great effort to keep herself together because falling apart won’t get any closer to the ultimate goal which is to have her son back. That was, at times, one of the hardest things to do was to keep your wits about you, to stay as strong and as steely as possible when confronted with these circumstances that are so wrenching.
The scenes that impacted Williams the most weren’t necessarily those that spotlit Gail’s resolute fortitude, going up against Getty, but those where she’s called back into the world of being a vulnerable mother desperate to get her son back.
That scene, going to a newspaper to look at the ear, they are these out of body experiences. As an actor and as this woman, to keep her intact was one of the biggest challenges, because falling apart isn’t going to get her anywhere. It’s not going to get her any closer to having her son back. I’d say that was one of my main goals.
Since Gail renounced the Getty’s fame and fortune, there wasn’t that much material widely available for Williams to research. However, the few YouTube clips that are out there, provided a good base to build her version of this woman.
There’s only a couple clips of her online, two or three. They really became my touchstones. I spent a lot of time working on them with a dialect coach and breaking apart the vowel sounds and understanding specifically where that kind of speech pattern comes from. And would use them. They were sort of a beautiful, you know, you have a weekend off and to be able to come back to one of those clips just sort of put me right back into the pocket of how she carried herself, how she spoke, how she moved her mouth, how specific she was, how intelligent she was. They meant a great deal to me.
In the film, as was the case in real life, Gail is hounded by the aggressive paparazzi.
It jarred me. It upset me. But again, she has to go through so much in this movie, so much that’s unfair, so much that’s undue, so much that just shouldn’t have been, and she’s doing it essentially alone. She and Chase [Fletcher, played by Mark Wahlberg] form a kind of partnership, or a kind of friendship at a certain point, but she’s essentially taking all of these hurdles by herself and has to really prove herself steely and worthy to be taken seriously. She is in a man’s world and unfortunately, to an extent, has to play like one of the boys in order to have any kind of authority in these really tough rooms.
Scott was a tremendous aid in putting Williams at ease during the shoot.
Ridley was so great at giving me the floor. I’d never, in all this time, worked with someone who’s given me so much freedom, who’s just opened up the space and said, “This is yours. Go be free.” It was intoxicating. what you see in the movie, a lot was our first take, which has a real kind aliveness to it. He would say to me, “So here’s the space. I’ve got cameras in places I don’t need to tell you about. Why don’t we just rehearse on film?” So we would, which is a scary thing to do because nothing is finessed, nothing is smoothed out. It’s all unknown. So we would do this thing that we would call rehearsing on film. Very often he would say, “Okay, great. We’ve got it. I’d like to move on.”
Altogether, Williams found the combination of the script, the character and working with the director to be a pleasurable experience.
I would get so excited to come to work. It was like the stage. It was like being in a play where it’s real, it’s alive, it’s the thing he’s the most interested in capturing, it’s the thing I’m most interested in exploring.
ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD opens on Christmas Day.