Richard Dreyfuss on His Role as the “Despicable” Bernie Madoff: “I play him as likable as possible”
There are few names that inspire anger like the name Bernie Madoff. The one-time investment marvel was revealed to be a total fraud whot was behind the largest Ponzi scheme in American history. Perhaps the only good that come out of a situation like that is prime material for a dramatic movie. Earlier this month, ABC aired a television miniseries, Madoff, starring Academy Award-winner Richard Dreyfuss as Madoff.
In a conversation with NPR, Dreyfuss discussed what it’s like to portray such a despised figure and why he had to find something charming about him in order to play him.
Though Madoff is considered one of the most hated men in modern American history, Dreyfuss points out that the key to portraying him is finding that worst part of yourself. He says, “Madoff is universally despised, as well he should be. All you have to do is find that part of you that has been despicable, and you can find it if you look hard enough.”
However, Dreyfuss adds that he had to portray Madoff as a likable person because obviously many people trusted him at first. Dreyfuss explains, “He has to be a guy who you really like or else he wouldn’t have been successful, you know, taking your money. Everyone liked him … until they hated him. That’s one thing that actors sometimes make a mistake — where they wink at the audience and say, ‘I’m not gonna be fool enough to play him so that you always like him.’ Well, if you didn’t always like him, you wouldn’t have given him your money. So I play him as likable as possible.”
Nonetheless, Dreyfuss admits that it was still very difficult for him to have any sort of sympathy for the character he was playing. He says, “Once you read about him, you can never empathize with him again, and you do want to ride back and forth over his inert body. I mean, he was a completely despicable human being, but in order to achieve that he had to be lovable.”