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Why Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer ‘Hesitated’ to Play Bernie and Ruth Madoff in ‘Wizard of Lies’

Variety logo Variety 5/12/2017 Addie Morfoot
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Becoming one of the most hated couples in America wasn’t easy forRobert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer.

The actors, who completely morphed into Bernie Madoff and his wife, Ruth, for HBO’s upcoming “The Wizard of Lies,” were at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on Thursday to celebrate the completion of the film — six years after executive producer Jane Rosenthal optioned Diana Henriques’ book of the same name.

“I had a lot of hesitation after I signed on,” Pfeiffer admitted. “That’s when it really dawned on me the full impact of playing a real person who is still alive and who had been through so much trauma, loss, and had been victimized over and over again.”

The thesp was adamant that she did not want to contribute to Ruth’s suffering, which she made clear to director Barry Levinson.

“We had many discussions about how important it was to me that the takeaway was that she and this family were victims in the whole thing and I think we did that successfully,” Pfeiffer said.

For De Niro, scheduling almost got between him and the billionaire con man.

“Everybody was in a rush to get it started and I didn’t want to start in the late summer,” he explained. “We finally compromised.”

That “rush” had nothing to do with the 2016 ABC mini-series, “Madoff” starring Blythe Danner and Richard Dreyfuss.

“We were looking at (the story) from a different perspective, so I felt that however others were handling it, we would be in our own place,” Levinson said.

While exec producer Berry Welsh agreed, he did admit that the job had its share of anxiety.

“I won’t say that there were no worrisome nights,” Welsh said. “But when the cast finally got together, it just didn’t seem like anyone could pass up the opportunity to see Robert De Niro as Bernie Madoff.”

Except maybe De Niro, who said that he never fully understood his character.

“Everybody has their reasons and he had his,” the star said. “I don’t know if anybody will ever understand [what he did]. Maybe he will write a book and explain his logic, but when it comes to each scene, I just followed the task at hand.”

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