Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy on ‘Trust’ and the Fascinating Tale of the Gettys

     April 1, 2018

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Created by Simon Beaufoy and with the first three episodes directed by Danny Boyle, the FX series Trust delves into the insanely wealthy Getty family, who had everything money could buy, except for happiness and family loyalty. In 1973, oil tycoon J. Paul Getty Sr. (brilliantly played by Donald Sutherland) was possibly the richest man in the world, with a harem of mistresses and a pet lion, when his grandson, John Paul Getty III (in a stand-out performance by Harris Dickinson), was kidnapped by the Italian mafia in Rome. And while the captors banked on a multi-million dollar ransom for the return of their loved one, they found themselves unexpectedly embroiled in a nightmare ordeal, in which nobody seemed to want their captive back.  

During this interview with Collider, executive producers Simon Beaufoy and Danny Boyle talked about why they wanted to tell the story of the Gettys, how families are endlessly fascinating, that extreme wealth can be very isolating, what makes this family relatable, assembling such an incredibly talented cast, shooting this at the same time Ridley Scott was making All the Money in the World, and how they’ll continue the story for a possible Season 2 and 3.  

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Image via FX

Collider:  What was it about this project that appealed to you? Was it this crazy family?  

SIMON BEAUFOY:  The initial impulse was the puzzle of the center, of why the richest family in the world, as they were at the time, wouldn’t pay a tiny amount of money for the release of their grandson. The kidnapping went on for about five and a half months. I thought, “There’s gotta be something interesting here. What kind of terrible person must this little kid have been, for nobody to pay up?” And then, the more I look at it, the more I thought, “No, it’s not him that’s terrible. He’s just one cog in three generation of dysfunction.” The more I looked at that family, the more I thought, “This is extraordinary.” Why wouldn’t you want to write about the wealthiest man in the world, locked up in his massive house in Surrey, with a harem,  a lion and a pay phone. The unbelievable bits of the story are true. They’re the facts. The bits I’ve made up to dramatize and stitch things together are the boring bits. The real bits are off-the-scale weird. You wouldn’t make up that count, with his lion and his harem, and all the other crazy things, like the injections in his penis. Man, what an extraordinary person to write about. And he was only one generation of the family. The dysfunction spiraled down the generations. To me, it became the most fascinating story of this family. Families are endlessly fascinating. Shakespeare was always writing about families and wealth. So, I thought we could give it a Shakespearean spin, really.  

DANNY BOYLE:  You have to be interested in the people, in this format. That’s clearly the appeal. You want people to become obsessed with the characters. It’s got that larger-than-life feel about it, which is nice for the format. What I like about the format is that it is risk-taking. It does take risks, these days. My memory of television, pre-this Golden Era, was that it didn’t really take that many risks. Now, it’s like risk-taking abandon. You can go for it. #very bit of advice you get is, “Take the bolder option,” and I love that about it. And I remembered a bit of the story. I’m old enough to remember it when it happened. It’s interesting, talking to people, you find that they remember something about an ear and a kidnapping. That’s the bit they remember. I remember there was some weird stuff about the house, which I couldn’t put my finger on, but when we began the research, there was a harem, a menagerie of animals, a lion, and all this stuff. It felt like a wonderful Shakespearean piece of history. You use elements of it to tell your story and to dramatize your people. You touch on the facts. Nobody can establish the absolute facts, in this particular case, because everybody has contradictory accounts of it. With all of the accounts there are, they don’t all coalesce. I’m not sure if it’s why we went into it, but what we realized, in retrospect, is that it’s a good story. When you come out of it, and with a bit of retrospect, you think, “Well, we’re doing it because it’s important to look at the power of wealth and what it does to people.” It’s not that they’re driven by, if they’ve got 12 billion, they need 13 billion or 14 billion. I think it’s more to do with the fact that wealth makes them feel that the power of their own decision-making is the most important thing and that everybody should follow that. It’s what I call a willpower to make the world follow them. That’s what it felt like, making it.  

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Image via FX

I couldn’t understand, at first, how this guy decided that his grandson should inherit. I understood that the boys were disappointing. That’s obvious. It was clear. Everybody agreed on that, that he didn’t like them, or didn’t appear to like them or think they were worthy, and it also appeared that they didn’t want it. But how he saw his grandson, who was this hippie that ambled in from, and thought, “Oh, him!,” I found it in this force of will. Wealth can force people to see it your way and to do it your way. It’s not about whether I’ve got 12 billion or 13 billion. Nobody dies saying, “I wish I’d made more money.” They die with other regrets. It’s more about, “I wish I’d gotten my own way, on that decision.”  

He creates his own universe thinking, “I am God.” He rarely leaves it, everything exists within it, and everything has to come and live within it. He recreates a Roman villa for his place in Malibu. The political upheaval in Rome, at the time, was extraordinary and represented anarchism. His grandson was a way of freeing himself from the Getty spirit. Those ingredients make you go, “Wow, that is pretty good drama. That’s good drama, right there.” And then, you realize the kid’s in a ménage à trois with twin sisters, who were seven or eight years older than him. He’s 15, at the very beginning of the story. We don’t say that, but apparently he was 15, at the beginning, and yet, he looked 23. Like Harris [Dickinson], he was tall and handsome and a free spirit, in a way. He wanted to be a free spirit, but he wasn’t quite a free spirit, of course. He’s trying exercise his will.  

And then, it’s about, can you trust anybody with this kind of wealth? You can’t trust anybody. You can’t trust each other, so there’s no family trust, which is where you look for trust, as a counter to paranoia or suspicion. You look to family for a base of trust, but there wasn’t any. The only one who really tries to live without it is Gail, Hilary Swank’s character, who literally turned her back on it, or tried to. Big Paul, who she married and had children with, was very charming before his heroin addiction kicked in. He was uber charming, apparently, so she was seduced by that. Unimaginable wealth, like pharaoh-style wealth or emperor-style wealth, is attractive. It’s an age-old story.  

It’s funny how that much money can do really weird things to people.  

BEAUFOY:  Yeah, it’s really fascinating. Everyone, at some point in their lives, in their head, goes, “God, I wish I was as rich as that,” but it’s actually a terrible curse. 

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Image via FX

It seems like it would be very isolating and lonely. 

BEAUFOY:  I think so. I think lonely is a really good word to use because who are you real friends? What do you have to do, in your life? Nothing. You don’t have to do anything, so why bother doing anything? You become isolated. When you play with all your toys for a bit, and then you get bored, what do you do next? It’s interesting that a lot of the Getty family’s weakness ended up in heroin addiction, which is a drug that makes you feel loved and wanted, and not lonely.  

Simon, how did you find the experience of writing this? 

BEAUFOY:   I loved it! I would be happy to never write another movie again. Movies eat up plot. They’re so hungry for what happens next. Television is the opposite of that. It wanders. It meanders. It has time for you to go, “Wow, this is interesting.” Questions pop up and you’ve got time to answer them. You can examine things through character. That’s such a luxury and a privilege, as a writer. You’re not just pounding through story. You’re encouraged to be bold. You don’t even need to ask permission to be bold in TV. They say, “Please, stand out from the crowd!” If you want to go strange, you can go strange. We’ve got a character in Episode 2 who talks to the camera. Episode 8 is all in Calabrian. It’s not even in Italian. It’s in some weird southern-Italian dialect. They’re allowing us to be really quite experimental with storytelling. There’s a whole episode from the point of view of the kidnappers, and how difficult it was. They thought it would be a two-week hit, where they’d get a huge amount of money, send him back home and everyone would be happy. Instead, five months later, they cut his ear off. He was dying because he’s allergic to penicillin, which they’d been giving him, and they had this terrible mess on their hands. They had this dying boy that they couldn’t get the family to pay for. It was all about how it affected their community. You can never do that with movies. You can never just go around the back and say, “Let’s tell this story from the back door and not the front door.” It’s fantastic! Television is beautifully nuanced because it has time to be nuanced.  

Did you ever worry about people being able to relate to a family like this? 

BEAUFOY:  Well, it’s my job to make them relatable. They’re a really extreme, dysfunctional family, and of course, those are always the most fun to write about. What great actors bring to parts is a humanity and recognizability. Even Donald, as John Paul Getty I, who I wrote as this monstrous character because he was, brings huge humanity to this man. I think it’s relatable. Albeit it’s an extreme version of what all families do, when they fall out and get back together, and then fall out again. Maybe yours doesn’t. Maybe you have a lovely family. I don’t know.  

Danny, how did you come to decide to direct three episodes?  

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Image via FX

BOYLE:  It felt natural. You can only really do three at once, and then you have to stop and do more prep. In terms of our story, it’s when the narrative timeline corrects. By the end of three, it’s correct. In fact, after three, it’s more dimensionally straightforward, with a few flashbacks. That felt natural, as well. It also introduced pretty much all of the major characters. That way, we established them under the one director. That felt like a very natural way to do it, really. 

Do you think you would do that again, in future seasons? 

BOYLE:  You try to let what it is dictate it, rather than dictate it beforehand. If all of the major characters were established in one episode, maybe you’d just do one. But in this case, it felt very natural that that was the break point, and then you let somebody else in. They travel to Calabria, and Calabria is a whole different world and took a lot of time to set up. We filmed in Calabria, itself. It’s a huge trip. It’s a six-hour drive from Rome. It felt like a different world, and it was good to let somebody else establish that. 

How was the casting for this?  

BOYLE:  That was one of my best pleasures with it, funnily enough. 

Were you nervous about casting any of the roles, in particular?  

BOYLE:  Well, you’re nervous about an 82-year-old man, who has an enormous part and is shagging, and there’s a lion, and he has scenes in Italian, which he has, later on. You wonder who can do that ‘cause there’s not that many of them around and there’s not that many who have the appetite for an enormous part like that. Donald [Sutherland] is extraordinary. He’s still got that appetite. He wants to keep pushing himself. It’s amazing! I loved the Italian actors, and got on really well with them. I had great fun casting them. I think we cast it really well. They were electric actors. I don’t remember any issues. Obviously, you solve any problems, and then you try to erase the problem, but I don’t think there was a big issue with any of the parts. One of the pleasures of doing it is casting. There was a huge bunch of actors in Britain, and then in America, and then in Italy. It was really pleasurable, going back and forth to Italy for the casting. By then, we’d gotten a very good English and American cast, and I just wanted to build the Italian cast to be as strong. 

BEAUFOY:  I think it’s very difficult to commit, as a really great actor, to something that goes on this long and where it’s still being formed. They had to commit to the show before I finished writing. That was tricky. I wondered whether actors would sign up, but we got a wonderful cast. They’re really fabulous. Hilary [Swank] is so extraordinary. Her part gets bigger and bigger, as the episodes go on. She occupies this appalling place in the story, of being the only one who really cares, and yet, she’s the one with the least agency. She’s got no money, whatsoever, and yet, she’s the one hanging on for her son. It’s a very interesting role, of a woman who’s emotionally invested, but powerless to do anything ‘cause she can’t. 

At what point, in the process of making this, did you find out about All the Money in the World? 

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Image via FX

BEAUFOY:  It was out there. We knew it was bubbling away, and they knew we were bubbling away. We were both shooting Rome, at the same time, and going, “Oh, it’s you guys! Hi!” By that stage, we realized that we were telling such a different story. Their story is the story of the kidnapping, and we were telling a story through three generations of this family, only one of whom gets kidnapped. It wasn’t really a threat, in the end. If we had both been making movies about it, that would have been problematic, but because we were telling ten hours of the story, it’s so different.  

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