Last week, this threesome gathered to talk about their film.
Levinson: "We weren't just dealing with headlines. You have to get into the flesh-and-blood characters, not just the financial aspects. You got to get as human as you can: What is the dynamic between Bernie and Ruth, and between the two sons," both of whom worked for Madoff and were suspected of having known what he was up to, and one of whom, Mark, would commit suicide on the two-year anniversary of his father's stunning downfall. "It is a true tragedy that in the end destroyed the entire family."
Pfeiffer: "A lot of people had their minds made up about Ruth and the boys, and believe they were involved and guilty. I think we do a successful job in dispelling that."
Levinson: "We talked to the FBI. In their two years of investigation, they couldn't link them to anything."
Pfeiffer: "And they tried!"
What were the challenges in making "The Wizard of Lies"?
De Niro: "There were no real challenges, other than: There's ALWAYS a challenge!"
Levinson: "It was easy. It fell into place. Right away, it was: 'Let's try a little thing here and a little thing there.' But we never struggled to make a scene work."
Pfeiffer: "It was the first time I had ever played a real person, one who was still alive, and I felt that burden! I know a lot of women of Ruth's generation who were focused on the family, the children and left all of the rest to their husbands. That was MY mother, who never had a job but instilled in me the importance of having a career. I felt like I was responsible for Ruth's truth being represented. I used to have a lot of conversations: 'Barrrrrrrry! We have to be SURE!' "
And did she feel sure?
Pfeiffer: "I do, now that I've seen the finished product."
She conceded that ABC's rival Madoff film, with its significant jump on the HBO project, "gave me pause, learning that was going on."
Levinson: "I was sent the script for the other one, but I was doing something else and I didn't read it. Then this ['The Wizard of Lies'] script came up. I never did see the other film, because once we decided to do this one, I didn't want to risk being influenced."
De Niro: "I liked the project. We had experts to speak to, sources of information, so that was all good. I had certain physical similarities with him. So I thought, 'This would be fun to do.' And that was it."
An actor legendary for how he transforms himself into each character he plays, De Niro had no ready answer for how he grasped Madoff.