“What would make smart people give him their millions?” actor Richard Dreyfuss asked himself when he was preparing to portray Bernie Madoff in the February ABC miniseries, “Madoff.”
“He had to be the most comfortable, menschy, honest, sweetest guy in the world with a very strong opinion about who deserved to be in his exclusive investment company,” Dreyfuss told attendees at the Monday working lunch.
“He made you want to beg him to be in it. But personally you had to love him. You could never suspect,” he said. “Anybody who ever asked Bernie Madoff, ‘What’s your secret?’ ‘He would say, ‘It’s proprietary.’ And if they continued to ask, he would say, ‘Look, you want to know my secret? I’ll write you a check for your investment and goodbye.’ No one ever did that.”
Dreyfuss said he realized that “a guy who makes solar panels his whole life and becomes a millionaire … knows how to make solar panels, but when it comes to making his money make money he’s not so sure. He wants to look into the eyes of someone who has the same confidence as he has when he talks about solar panels and Bernie had that … they wanted to believe that Bernie could deliver what he said he could.”
In preparing for the Madoff role, Dreyfuss said he interviewed many victims and they were all still incredibly damaged. “Some had been in their early 80s — wealthy beyond their wildest dreams — who were now maids in the homes of their former friends. … No one deserved what they got. … You don’t just take [the money] in front of them. You take their children’s children’s children’s hopes."
Dreyfuss said that he didn’t think Madoff grew up wanting to be a criminal. “He used his own funds to cook the books, and he realized that he had made that little step over the line, and he never looked back. And then like Iago in ‘Othello,’ he looked up at the gods and said, ‘This is so much fun!’ He did it for the basest of reasons: He stole the futures of bat mitzvah girls whose tables he sat at just so he could get his shirts made in London. … He did it for his own hedonistic shmuck reasons. And he never ever regretted it. And he hurt more people than I can count.”
He said Harry Markopoulos — a Certified Fraud Examiner who for years told the Securities and Exchange Commission that Madoff’s operation was fraudulent to no avail — was the real hero of this story. “And the fact that he was met with indifference made him the Gary Cooper character — the only man of moral substance left standing. Were he here today I would say I salute him with all the respect I can muster.”
Dreyfuss said he wanted to help make sure Wall Street, Congress and the Treasury Department fear the attendees and “don’t take your work and undo it.”
He said that many want to right wrongs such as Madoff’s crimes and they wish they had a shot at sending “those respectable toxic disgusting thieves to the places of public shame. … We are all suckers to let this get so despicably out of whack. You have a shot at restoring the honor of this country and saving America.
“I want you to remember that you work for me,” he challenged attendees. “Me as in ‘We the People.’ You are our agents who represent our only means of finding villains and stopping them,” Dreyfuss said.