Trust is the story of the Getty kidnapping.
Stop us if you heard this one before — like in December 2017 with the movie release All the Money in the World.
J. Paul Getty (Donald Sutherland) was the wealthiest man alive. His grandson John Paul III (Harris Dickinson) gets kidnapped while living in Italy. Despite his wealth, Getty Sr. refuses to pay the ransom.
John Paul’s mother Gail (Hilary Swank) wants her son back, but she doesn’t have access to her father-in-law’s money since the divorce. Getty did send James Fletcher Chase (Brendan Fraser) to help Gail in Italy.
Oscar-winner Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) spoke with Rotten Tomatoes about adapting the Getty story for television, the differences between Trust and All the Money in the World, and the Getty family secrets the TV show will reveal.
In some episodes, Chase will turn to the camera and talk straight to the viewer. It’s a technique that’s been used since even before Ferris Bueller, but Boyle thinks it doesn’t just remove Chase from the story. Boyle says Fraser’s Chase is not even of the time of the events surrounding the kidnapping.
“I think of him as a time traveler,” Boyle said. “If you actually look at what he says in the beginning about 1973, he says it’s too old for rock & roll and too young for disco. How does he know it’s too young for disco? It is 1973. He knows about disco coming in 1976. How does he know that?”
That would make Chase from the future if he knows when disco begins, right?
“Not necessarily,” Boyle said. “He’s certainly a time traveler, which means where he comes from originally, I don’t know. He’s seen the future.”
“I went to see it, and I enjoyed it very much,” Boyle said. “It’s a very bizarre experience, watching a film made by somebody else but the same subject. I’ve never had that experience, and also by one of my heroes, Ridley Scott. It’s very enjoyable watching what he did with it.”
Over the holidays, Boyle was rooting for Scott’s success.
“In fact, you want the other film to be a success, because I think if people are interested in the story, they’ll seek out this other version of it,” Boyle said. “Listen, I think in 10-, 20-years time, maybe there’ll be another version.”
Trust can cover way more ground in 10 hours than All the Money in the World could in two. Nevertheless, both productions ended up in the same location at least once.
“We use this place Hatfield House, which in London is one of the places you just go to,” Boyle said. “It’s the perfect house. It’s got this gold ceiling, so we both ended up using that location for a couple of scenes. So there’s a direct overlap as well.”
Trust will go all the way up to J. Paul Getty’s death in 1976. All the Money in the World ended with his death too, only the film suggested he died shortly after John Paul III was returned.
Trust keeps it vague, too, but implies that three years have passed.
“It compresses that,” Boyle said. “By the end, you’ve got to that point, but it’s obviously not taken three years. It’s just a compression, noticeable compression, a passing of seasons rather than specific years. We start off and say it’s 1973, but it’s a time traveler talking to you. It’s taken with a slight pinch of salt.”
All the Money in the World suggests that one of the kidnappers, Cinquanta, befriended John Paul III and helped to keep him safe. John Paul III has a different ally in Trust.
“You will see, in our story, he’s a lawyer — that’s the main conduit for negotiations between the kidnappers [and Gail],” Boyle said. “The main one is played by Luca Marinelli. Those are inventions really. We’re not trying to literally portray the kidnappers. They’re inventions really.”
One of the most well-known aspects of the Getty kidnapping is that the kidnappers cut off John Paul III’s ear and sent it to the Gettys. It’s shown explicitly in All the Money in the World. Trust does it in episode eight.
“As you’d expect, something that is as well known as that, obviously that’s an element in the story, yes,” Boyle said. “Episode eight. That’s what everyone knows. When you mention the story, that’s what everybody jumps to straightaway.”
In All the Money in the World, she’s going by Gail Harris, and she’s single. Trust shows Gail in another relationship, but still using her ex-husband’s name.
“Actually, I think it was probably both, because she spent a lot of time as Gail Harris as well,” Boyle said. “She used the name Harris, as well, and she worked. She had a job where she’s one of the few people who was not beholden to the money. She’s one of the few people who seem to be able to resist it.”
One of the details All the Money in the World couldn’t focus on too much was the possibility that John Paul III faked his own kidnapping. At the very least, a ransom note dated days before he went missing suggests he had at least considered conning his own family.
“A lot of people said that he was involved really,” Boyle said. “You’ll see if you watch the other episodes exactly how it does unravel eventually, constantly being thrown back against his grandfather’s pitiless rationality about dealmaking. His commitment to dealmaking, as he sees it, is one of the joys of looking at it.”
Like any biographical drama, Trust is based on true events, but can’t claim to be 100 percent historical. The kidnapping hoax is a tad ambiguous.
“It’s speculation, of course, because nobody quite knows, but there was a lot of evidence that led us to that way of thinking,” Boyle said. “Then he was seen in a nightclub two days later [after the date of the ransom note].”
The Gettys may be the closest family America has to royalty. Boyle thinks even bigger than kings and queens.
“I thought the emperors of Rome,” Boyle said. “That kind of unparalleled wealth puts you in a position almost of emperors really, which is you think you have control of the world really. You must do if you get to that stage. What are you interested in every day? Making the five billion [dollars] turn into five-and-a-half billion? Maybe. I don’t know, maybe that exercises him. I don’t think he does.”
Once money gets boring, people like Getty move on to power. World domination begins at home.
“I think what exercises them is can they dominate?” Boyle said. “Can their willpower dominate the world? Can their worldview be accepted by the maximum number of people? ‘I see it like this. I think everybody should see it.’ I think that’s what exercises them. That’s power.”
One of the ways J. Paul Getty was able to hold onto so much wealth is he expertly avoided paying taxes. All the Money in the World touches on this a tad, but Boyle was fascinated by the way Getty set up his businesses.
“He tried to actually control that through this trust — the literal trust, the money trust, the Sarah Getty Trust — through which he operated the companies and prevented any of them going into profit so he could avoid taxation around the world,” Boyle said. “He must have been one of the pioneers of that, which is now used by any powerful company if it can.”
FX may have another American Crime Story–style anthology series on their hands. While Trust covers the John Paul III kidnapping in 10 episodes, Boyle has two more Getty stories planned and each one would take a whole season.
“There are two more series planned, one of which is like an origin, to go back and see where he made his money and his own relationship with his father and mother which is very critical,” Boyle said. “And then a later story, which is how the family, after his passing, dealt with the trust.
Trust premieres on Sunday, March 25 at 10 p.m. on FX.