LOS ANGELES – When Danny Boyle heard Ridley Scott was also doing a project about J. Paul Getty and his family, he unleashed a particularly choice four-letter word.
“He’s one of my favorite directors and I immediately thought I was going to be compared to him,” the Oscar-winning director says. “Then, seriously, I relaxed and realized we were telling a different story.”
Scott’s “All the Money in the World” was a theatrical film; Boyle’s “Trust” is designed as a long-form television drama. “We have more time to tell the story. We can go into detail and let you know what else was going on.”
In “Trust,” Getty isn’t just a penny-pinching grandfather, hesitating to pay a ransom to his grandson’s captors. He’s a “very powerful man with a harem of women,” Boyle says. “Although these people are dealing with huge sums of money and their world appears to be about bragging rights, it’s really about power. Power, for me, is about shaping the world the way you want it. (Donald) Trump does it through his tweets. He won’t behave in the way conventional wisdom says he should, so he makes his own world.”
Reminding viewers of Getty – the richest man in the world at one time – is a good way to get them to look at other titans of industry as they pop up in the news. “When he describes his company to the kid, he says, ‘We don’t make any profit.’ Well, that’s Apple. That’s Google. That’s all these companies who insist they don’t make profits. There are reasons why you get drawn to these stories. It felt right to tell it now.”
Landing on FX, “Trust” doesn’t have the restraints a network production might. That allows Boyle to show the seedier side of Getty’s life, complete with language.
“When they first told me they wanted boldness, I thought, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that before.’ And comes the day, I discovered they actually are committed to that. Their business model is hand-in-hand with their artistic model, which is, ‘We want to stretch.’”
To play Getty, Boyle realized there was really only one choice: Donald Sutherland. “He’s one of the world’s great actors and he’s still doing it at 82. He wants challenges. He wants long speeches to learn. He wants to do things in Italian. ‘I’ve got time and I’ll learn it.’ It’s like a daily crossword puzzle. His brain is going all the time.”
Sutherland was so committed to the role, he arrived before anyone, just to chat with crew members and prep for work.
Boyle says Sutherland proved to be a great role model for Harris Dickinson, the actor picked to play his grandson. “Kicking off his career, he doesn’t know what this is all going to be like – and then he sees someone like Donald with this monster conviction.”
Add in Hilary Swank (who’s “metronomically accurate”) and Brendan Fraser and the job of director is that of cheerleader and juggler. “You’re there to support the actors,” Boyle says.
Fluent in all media (in addition to winning an Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire,” he created a sensation on the London stage with a production of “Frankenstein” that featured Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller sharing the roles of the doctor and the monster), Boyle says the director wears different hats in each.
In theater, “you rehearse with them for six weeks and, as soon as they get on stage, they wave goodbye. You literally feel yourself floating off into the background.”
In film, “there’s an obsessiveness about this singular vision – which doesn’t suit television. On film, the director is the storyteller. On television, it’s the writer.”
That’s why Boyle handed off “Trust” after completing three episodes. “You need to let the actors be refreshed by different directors coming in.”
Once in the editing room, Boyle says, the story comes together. “Occasionally, you say, ‘I really liked that,’ but you shut it down quite quickly because it doesn’t get you anywhere.”
After his first big-screen successes, producers sent a lot of scripts, hoping he’d direct. “I didn’t do any of them, so they stopped. They’re not stupid. They don’t want to waste the postage. After ‘Slumdog,’ they gave up because we tend to generate our own material.”
Now in that deciding phase, Boyle says there are several things he might attempt. A film and a play are in the offing. (The next James Bond film has been rumored.) But the work on “Trust” has gotten him intrigued with long-form television. “There’s a boldness to guardians of long-form storytelling,” he says. “Unless you’re at Marvel doing those $200 million films, this can be as bold as you like. I find that extremely exciting.”