Richard Dreyfuss plays Bernie Madoff, one of the most successful con men in history in ABC’s “Madoff” miniseries, but the actor says he passed up the chance to meet man he’d be portraying on screen.
“I had the opportunity, I guess to speak with him on the phone, but I turned it down,” Dreyfuss said in and interview with TheWrap. “I figured, what was he going to do? Tell me the truth? I doubt it. And I already had a Queens accent, so he couldn’t help me there.”
The miniseries, which is based on the book “The Madoff Chronicles: Inside the Secret World of Bernie and Ruth” by ABC News correspondent Brian Ross, tells the story of a man who was ruthless in his financial scam, taking people for millions of dollars without a batting an eye.
Dreyfuss describes Madoff as a “sociopath” who didn’t care about anyone or anything, but he also says there’s one thing about the con that he can’t figure out.
“He never let his sons into that part of the business,” he said. “He kept them out of knowing or participating in the sin. Did he do that out of love? Or because that would’ve messed things up in his family? I don’t know.”
Read the full interview below:
TheWrap: What is it about Bernie Madoff and his crimes that make for such a compelling story?
Dreyfuss: Well, it was not only the most successful Ponzi scheme in all of history by a factor of 20, but it’s also something that we’re told addressed the largest villains [of the 2008 financial crisis]. But in fact it did none of those things. Bernie was nothing more than a distraction. He was a guilty as hell distraction, but he had nothing to do with the villainy and bad ethical behaviors of Wall Street.
How did he become so successful?
Because he was Uncle Bernie. He was the sweetest, nicest, friendliest, most comfortable guy in the world. You couldn’t imagine that he would ever do anything illegal or unethical.
Have you spoken to him at all throughout this process?
I had the opportunity, I guess to speak with him on the phone, but I turned it down. I figured, what was he going to do? Tell me the truth? I doubt it. And I already had a Queens accent, so he couldn’t help me there. So I didn’t think there was any reason to talk to him.
What is your sense of who he is as a person?
I think he’s a sociopath who didn’t have a care in the world for anyone. Including his victims, including his family, including the bat mitzvah girl down the block. Including anybody. I think he just was interested in living the life of Riley, and that’s what he did.
Do you think he ever stopped to consider what might happen to his victims?
I don’t think it was a concern. It wasn’t a concern what would happen to others, just as he wasn’t concerned about what would happen to him. He never once thought of an exit strategy. He never once said to himself, “I’ll put $15 million aside and create an exit strategy.” He didn’t do that. He just loved scamming people. And like Iago in “Othello,” he loved doing it for its own sake and he was going to do it until Hell froze.
What about his family? He’s portrayed as a bit of a family man on the series, did he ever really care about them?
I don’t know. It’s hard to think that he did. Because when he dropped the bomb, he dropped the bomb on all of them. At the same time, I think he cared about them when they were in front of him. He was one of those strange mental cases where if you weren’t directly in front of him, he forgot that you existed.
He did one thing that I cannot explain away. He never let his sons into that part of the business. He refused to drag them into a worse position. At the same time, he kept them out of knowing or participating in the sin. Did he do that out of love? Or because that would’ve messed things up in his family? I don’t know.