The FX series, executive produced by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, has a three-season plan in place for tracking the story of the Getty family, one that will trip back and forth in time to document different eras. And the 82-year-old Sutherland told IndieWire that given his age, he had “warned” FX’s John Landgraf that if they wanted to ensure that he’d appear in future seasons, they should go ahead and shoot scenes with him now.
Because here’s how he feels about being recast, should the worst happen and he not be able to return: “If I’m dead and there’s a possibility to come back from Heaven — or hell or the other side — and kill whoever they might cast, I would.”
Fingers crossed, it never comes to that, because especially in the first hour of “Trust,” Sutherland is a powerful force, not shying away from Getty’s bullying tendencies while also revealing the vulnerability that led to the infamous kidnapping that marked the beginning of what we now refer to as “tabloid culture.”
The impressive cast assembled for the drama also includes Hilary Swank, Anna Chancellor, Norbert Leo Butz, Harris Dickinson, and Brendan Fraser (who only briefly appears in the first episode, but about whom we’ll have a lot more to say next week). Below, Boyle, Beaufoy, Sutherland, and Swank go into what’s planned for the show’s future, the struggle to come up with the right title, and why they’re not worried about the fact that Ridley Scott technically told this story first.
The Three-Year Plan
When “Trust” competes at this year’s Emmys, it will be entered in the drama series category, not in the limited series category, because Boyle, Beaufoy, and executive producer Christian Colson developed the idea as a three-season narrative.
“Originally it was five and then it got crazy and we thought no, we can’t do that,” Boyle said. “And then it came down to three, which feels like a very strong way of doing it.”
According to Beaufoy, “Season 2 goes back to the 1930s, that shows the making of a monster. How did John Paul Getty become like this, and what was his childhood like? What was his mother like?”
And then the third season, theoretically, will jump to the last days of Getty I, and the ensuing drama surrounding his will, which Beaufoy said “was almost deliberately designed to create chaos in the family.” It was a scenario Beaufoy compared to the classic George Eliot novel “Middlemarch”: “There’s a fantastic scene where the entire family gathers to try and make sure they get the money. It’s really funny and beautifully written.”
“It’s FX’s decision effectively,” Boyle said, “but it depends on how much people relish what they’re seeing… We would bring the same style, because you want the coherence of the style. And that kind of sense of humor in it, and that kind of risk-taking as well.”
“He Took Over”
It’s always fascinating to talk to actors about the characters they play, because the way in which they talk about what they think about the character can reveal a lot.
For example, Sutherland told IndieWire that while he did a lot of preparatory work, “then Getty took over. He just wouldn’t allow me to be two-dimensional. He wouldn’t allow me to be black and white. He was insulted by it. It was very painful to bear that insult, so we repaired it.”
And later, when talking about Getty’s relationship with his grandson, which the first episode depicts with a surprising amount of tenderness given later twists, Sutherland’s use of pronouns began to blend: “Young Paul irresistibly made me laugh, made him laugh, made Paul Senior laugh. He was fearless. I say it — I don’t know in what episode — I say he was fearless like I was when I was his age. I loved him. I loved him, but he betrayed me and it was so easy.”
Said Beaufoy, “The great privilege is working with a legend like Donald, who’s immensely humane, witty. He brought layers to what could be apparently a monster. He made him humane and understandable, albeit deeply troubled.”
Boyle told IndieWire that the casting process was largely him making offers to his first choices, as he felt emboldened by how television was a lot more open to risk-taking. “In film, everybody wants to be screen-tested and everybody wants to see what the product is before it arrives, whereas I think TV is much more about ‘no, you’re going to run with that character. You’re going to spend a lot of time with him over many weeks or months depending on how the story unfolds.'”
Swank recalled getting the call from Boyle while working on an indie film, and while he was clear with her that she wouldn’t play a major role in the show until Episode 4, her response was still, “Danny, you had me at hello.”
Here’s what Boyle told her about how he was approaching the character: “He said she’s really the emotional anchor of the whole story — all these things really happened that you can’t even believe or fathom, but truth is stranger than fiction, and she’s the thing that grounds everybody.”
Added Swank, “He was saying the story in itself was almost ahead of its time… He said he felt like that was the beginning, the real beginning of tabloid culture, because people were so fascinated by this story. The paparazzi, and they were in Rome, and where the paparazzi were born, that whole fascination and relentless onslaught of people wanting information about what was going on.”
A Rose is a Rose is a Rose
Beaufoy told IndieWire that he’s struggled with titles in the past, reflecting on both good and bad moments in his filmography. “Titles are the trickiest thing because they either appear and are perfect, or you can never find the right title,” he said. “I came up with ‘The Full Monty’ like that, without even thinking about it. And everyone before the film [came out] was going ‘no one in America, no one in England, understands what that means,’ and we came up with a list to change it. But for once it stuck, and now it’s part of the language,” he said.
Meanwhile, another project he wrote never managed to land with audiences, because of the name. “We never got the right title for ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,'” he said of the 2011 drama starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt. “It’s just not a good title. I’ve met many people who say ‘I didn’t see it, because I thought it was a fishing documentary.’ Really failed with that title.”
For “Trust,” Beaufoy credited Colson with coming up with the title — he said, according to Beaufoy, “‘If this is all about money, and all about the fact that the richest family in the world didn’t have any money, any cash, why? Because it was all in the trust fund.’ And it’s kind of a story about trust and mistrust — this word ‘trust’ kept cropping up.”
So Yeah, About “All the Money In the World”…
When the subject of Ridley Scott’s recent take on the J. Paul Getty III kidnapping came up, the “Trust” cast and creators seemed relatively zen about the film’s existence. “I don’t worry about that,” Swank said. “If anything, I am fascinated, I want to see it. I like the idea of a story and how differently it can be told by the people who are embodying it and writing it and directing it. I’ve always thought it would be interesting to tell the same exact story, written exactly the same, through three different directors. I’d love to see something like that, to see how different it can be through the vision of a director.”
And Beaufoy noted that for him, the complexity of the story lent itself to being told with a lot more screen time. “It’s such a complex story that I think it needs 10 hours to tell. I don’t know how you tell it in two hours,” he said. “The complexity of why no one would pay when they could was not a question of money, it was a question of the most warped principles that they all had — ‘It’s not my job to pay, it’s your job to pay.’ They didn’t care that there was a little kid in a cave somewhere in southern Italy who thinks his whole family has forgotten about him — which they effectively had. The complexities of that story take a while to tell.”
And ultimately, the complexities of the story were fascinating for Beaufoy. “There’s a boldness in television at work in the moment where you’re encouraged to take risks and tell stories in different ways and push the limits of storytelling, which is very exciting. This was my first proper attempt at television, and I would be happy to write TV for the rest of my life. You’re not in the freeway of narrative that movies have, that kind of forcing forward with the story all the time. You can step off the freeway in TV and go down some back alley and stop the car and look around.”
“Trust” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on FX.