Off to see the Wizard

Alessandro Nivola on The Wizard Of Lies, Robert De Niro, One Percent More Humid and Weightless

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Willem Dafoe and Alessandro Nivola on the Tribeca International Narrative jury with Peter Fonda, Tavi Gevinson, and Ruth Wilson
Willem Dafoe and Alessandro Nivola on the Tribeca International Narrative jury with Peter Fonda, Tavi Gevinson, and Ruth Wilson Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Tribeca Film Festival 2017 Best Actor Award winner Alessandro Nivola (for his performance in Liz W Garcia's One Percent More Humid, starring opposite Juno Temple, Julia Garner and Maggie Siff) has some interesting films coming up. Alessandro will play a rabbi in Gloria director Sebastián Lelio's latest Disobedience, based on the novel by Naomi Alderman, starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams; Jaron Albertin's Weightless with Julianne Nicholson, screenplay by Enda Walsh, produced by Greg Shapiro (Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), and Lynne Ramsay's adaptation of Jonathan Ames's You Were Never Really Here, with Joaquin Phoenix and Ekaterina Samsonov, screening at Cannes in competition.

Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Nathan Darrow, and Nivola play the Madoffs in Barry Levinson's The Wizard Of Lies, based on Diana Henriques' book The Wizard Of Lies: Bernie Madoff And The Death Of Trust.

Alessandro Nivola's grandfather Costantino and Robert De Niro's father knew each other.
Alessandro Nivola's grandfather Costantino and Robert De Niro's father knew each other. Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: Tell me about The Wizard of Lies, the Bernie Madoff film that you are in.

Alessandro Nivola: I shot this movie with De Niro in 2015. I play Mark Madoff, Bernie's son who hanged himself.

AKT: All the sons are dead, aren't they?

AN: Yes. The younger one [Andrew, played by Nathan Darrow] died of cancer several years later. The older one, Mark, committed suicide two years to the day after the father revealed the fraud. It's a tragic story. He was an insecure guy who always wanted to be given the keys to the kingdom. And his father would never allow him into the office one floor below where he ran the whole operation. He didn't want to let him in on what was going on.

As a result the son was driven crazy, feeling that his father didn't think he was good enough to run the company. Bernie had a subtly abusive relationship with him where he would always make him feel that he was not up to the task. He couldn't tell him what the real reason was.

AKT: Which period of their life is covered by the film?

AN: It begins with Madoff, De Niro, Bernie, telling the family what he has done. The time of the movie jumps around all over the place.

AKT: Michelle Pfeiffer plays your mother?

On Robert De Niro in The Wizard Of Lies:
On Robert De Niro in The Wizard Of Lies: "It was thrilling to work with him. We were in [David O Russell's] American Hustle together but ..." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AN: Michelle Pfeiffer plays Ruth, yeah. She is brilliant, she is just brilliant. I can't wait to see her in it. Barry Levinson directed it. I think it's going to be some of De Niro's finest work for a really long time. It was thrilling to work with him. We were in American Hustle together but we didn't have any scenes together. It turns out, my grandfather and his father were friends.

AKT: The art connection?

AN: My grandfather was an abstract expressionist sculptor from Sardinia and his dad was an abstract expressionist painter from Italy.

AKT: I spoke with him briefly about his father [Robert De Niro Sr] at a lunch at La Grenouille for (David O Russell's) Joy.

AN: They were part of the same community and knew each other.

AKT: I believe I do have a photograph of you in front of your grandfather's painting - the one with the acrobats?

AN: Yeah - that's my grandfather's. He was primarily a sculptor but he also painted … The way Barry was telling the Madoff story was as a family tragedy - it's Greek or Shakespearean where you end a play with just no one left standing. Complete devastation. It's a great character study for all of them.

AKT: Tell me about your role in One Percent More Humid?

Tribeca Film Festival US Narrative Best Actor Alessandro Nivola
Tribeca Film Festival US Narrative Best Actor Alessandro Nivola Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AN: It's a coming of age story about two very close friends in their early twenties who had a tragic accident where a third friend was killed in a car accident. One of the two girls was driving. It takes place over the course of a summer where each of them is coming to terms with what happened in different ways. One of them has an affair with a professor and falls in love and then it all turns sour.

I play the professor who is this sort of poet who is very talented but feeling stifled in a small town academic setting. He suddenly has this adoration coming at him from the student and finds it irresistible and then, of course, is disgusted by himself and full of remorse.

AKT: You have another film coming up?

AN: Then I did an independent film [Weightless] that was produced by Greg Shapiro, who did Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker. It's directed by a young guy named Jaron Albertin, starring me and Julianne Nicholson and a twelve-year-old boy. It's about the relationship between a father and his obese son whom he hasn't known until the son comes to live with him.

The Wizard of Lies premieres on HBO this Saturday, May 20.

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