"You know, when people meet me, a lot of times they don't realize that I'm a warm person. Or that I'm friendly and mellow. Or that I can be vulnerable. They just see me as a villain, because all they know of me is through my characters."
That's actor Giancarlo Esposito talking about perception versus reality during the interview we had for his upcoming film Money Monster. Our conversation ranged far and wide, but that question kept bubbling to the surface: Just how much control do we really have over our own lives? This is an idea that Esposito, along with the rest of the cast, attempts to tackle in his latest film.
Jodie Foster's most ambitious directorial effort yet, Money Monster is centered around the dark side of Wall Street and the fallout caused by the corrupt and shady practices that led to the financial and subprime mortgage crises of the late 2000s. As television financial analyst Lee Gates, George Clooney clearly models his character on real-life TV analyst Jim Cramer, who copped plenty of flak during the crisis for peddling dangerous misinformation to viewers.
In the movie, Gates and producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) are taken hostage during a live taping by an erratic investor (Jack O'Connell), who has lost everything. Bursting into the TV studio armed, he straps Lee into an explosive vest. As the clock ticks down, Lee and Fenn must race against time to uncover the conspiracy behind how the world's financial markets are being manipulated by the ones in charge.
The movie was shot in real time, utilizing both film and broadcast cameras, and Esposito loved the timeliness of the project.
"It was incredible," he says. "It's just so relevant to today and it echoes the world in which we live now. Security cameras are watching us all the time. We live our lives online. Everything we do is recorded. It really echoed that idea of our every move being recorded now, of always being on a camera, without even realizing it."
It's this idea — that we're not in control of our own lives, that other people pull the strings — that is at the heart of Money Monster. The tagline for the film is "Not every conspiracy is a theory," and the actor mused on why the idea of conspiracy theories has captured public interest so strongly.
"Well, look at everything that's happened. We've lost so much faith in our leaders, politicians and corporations. We can't really trust them anymore because they have their own agendas, manipulating things behind the scenes. And lately, so many of these conspiracies that once seemed crazy have been proven real. So, you know, I think we're really interested in conspiracy theories now because people have learned there's more going on than we're aware of."
But Esposito is quick to blame not just those in power, but also the individual.
"It's also on us to find this stuff out, too, though. People have stopped questioning things. We take everything the media tells us at face value, and we no longer take it upon ourselves to research a situation for ourselves. We don't accept that responsibility anymore because it's easier to just be spoon-fed information than to really dig and uncover the truth on our own.
"So it's up to us to educate ourselves about these things, to really put in the work and do the research. The only reason conspiracies like this flourish in the first place is because we let them, because we're too busy accepting exactly what we're told, rather than thinking for ourselves."
It's a strong statement from an actor who has never taken the easy path in his career. Just like the independent thinking he champions, Esposito has forged his own way through Hollywood, chasing the projects that intrigued and challenged him most. It's how he's managed to created such a disparate life in front of the camera. Ironic, considering our conversation about our every move being recorded. But he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I love the unformattable career I've had."
Plus, check out these exclusive images from Money Monster, shared with us by Sony:
Money Monster is out in theaters today.