'Wall Street' antihero's legacy looms large
The crimes of the real-life Bernard Madoff make “Wall Street’s” Gordon Gekko look like a three-card Monte dealer. But Gekko would never have been perp-walked before a phalanx of New York photographers in a baseball cap and windbreaker. If anything, he would have worn a Brioni suit. And we would have loved it. Because even on Wall Street, we want our pirates to be swashbucklers.
And that’s why few cold, calculating and ruthless characters have been as incongruously romantic as Gordon Gekko.
“Gekko continues to be a larger-than-life character,” says director Oliver Stone, who, like Michael Douglas, will be reprising his role on the “Wall Street” sequel, “Money Never Sleeps,” currently in pre-production. “Like Tony Montana, even 20 years later, I get more reactions to him than most characters in my films.”
That Stone would compare Gekko to the hero of “Scarface” is not insignificant: He and co-writer Stanley Weiser created their corporate raider at the height of the go-go Reagan ’80s, as a reflection of that avaricious era and its rogue’s gallery of predatory financiers (Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken, Carl Icahn). Stone says people continue to describe Gekko to him in various ways: “Pathologically evil.” “Heroic bandit.” “Financial cowboy.” All spell “outlaw,” which is how Douglas played him, earning the 1987 best actor Oscar in the process.
Douglas captured the same two traits that have made villains from Iago to Michael Corleone irresistible: an outsider status imposed by birth (which he can’t control), crossed with superior intellect and cunning (which he can). Gekko is supposedly a graduate of New York’s City College, working in an Ivy League world; that he has gone bad is partly seen as an issue of class, which makes Americans reflexively love him.
“The consistency between Gordon Gekko and Michael Douglas was in their charisma and passion,” says Stone, “except that Gekko’s motives were malevolent. But both are survivors — men who find a way to succeed, who have willed themselves to second acts in their lives.
“Here’s a guy who fell from grace but never lost his ambition and voracity for success,” Stone adds of Gekko. “He’s a quintessentially American story. And seeing how he manages to survive in this new shark tank 22 years later is a fascinating and challenging proposition. So much has changed. Not just Gordon Gekko. The world, too.”