Robert De Niro, who plays Bernie Madoff in the upcoming HBO film “The Wizard of Lies,” shied away from labeling the con man as a sociopath, saying he couldn’t even begin to understand what made Madoff tick.
“What he did was beyond my comprehension … I did as best as I could but I don’t understand,” De Niro said at the Television Critics Association press tour on Saturday, adding that the only thing he does believe is that Madoff’s family wasn’t aware of the fraud.
“Everybody around him probably had an idea, but they didn’t want to look too deeply,” he said.
“The Wizard of Lies,” based on the book of the same name by Diana Henriques, is a look behind the scenes at Bernie Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme, how it was perpetrated on the public and the trail of destruction it left in its wake, both for the victims and Madoff’s family.
Henriques, though, did not hesitate when asked if she believed Madoff to be a sociopath. “Yes,” she said, with a caveat.
“It doesn’t explain anything to say he’s a sociopath,” she said. “I think what you’ll see in Bob’s performance is how plausible con men like this are … how they can seize your imagination and make you believe.”
“I hope folks won’t get tangled up in what kind of label you put on him,” she continued. “What it boils down to is how he treated people and how magnetic he was.”
Henriques, a longtime journalist for the New York Times, said that even she was taken in by Madoff, whom she had used as a source for years before his scandal erupted.
“It isn’t crazy to trust Bernie Madoff. It wasn’t a leap of faith by any means,” she said. “As I’ve often said, if you can’t inspire people’s trust and keep it through thick and thin, you need to find a different crime … it’s a non-negotiable job requirement.”