Interview: P.J. Byrne chats about The Wolf of Wall Street
While there have certainly been those who have watched the film and embraced its excess and laughed at the absurdity, for actor P.J. Byrne, The Wolf of Wall Street is absolutely a warning and admonition.
“When you’re stepping into these roles, especially with guys who are sort of morally questionable, you’re constantly aware that this was a cautionary tale,” explained Byrne during a phone interview ahead of the DVD/Blu-Ray release of Wolf. “Coming from college with a financial degree, I just remember one of the rules: no one cares about your money more than you do. When you invest your money, you want to know whose handling it.”
The Boston College alum (who majored in theatre as well as finance, mind you), plays Nicky ‘Rugrat’ Koskoff, a fictional character (despite some claims) amalgamated from several real-life figures who followed Jordan Belfort to Wall Street riches and debauchery by swindling clients in the early 90s.
Most people may read the news and have a general idea of financial markets and what’s going on, and Byrne explained that while Bernie Madoff has become this sort of representation of a greed and deception, it may not be the crispest of pictures.
“You have a very visceral feeling and strong memory of exactly what they’re doing with your money,” said Byrne of the three-hour Martin Scorsese epic that is Wolf. “If you really watch it, we give you point by point of how we’re selling you, how we’re screwing you. I don’t know how more of a cautionary tale we can be than that. We do it in an artistic and interesting way so that more eyes will see it.”
Wolf did great at the box office and was lauded by many critics while dividing others due to the excesses of sex and drugs. Leonardo DiCaprio leads a cast of actors, including Jonah Hill, that were forced to endure some simply crazy scenes: massive parties, outrageous orgies, and lots of drug and alcohol trips.
“When they say action, you kind of want to leave your mental morals at the door and really go into the part,” explained Byrne. Still, though, the actor looked for a sympathetic part of a character that was greedy, selfish, inconsiderate, and felonious. Rugrat, nicknamed so because of a poorly-chosen hairpiece, and others were trained as persistent salesmen. Jordan would keep them motivated by celebrating whenever they weren’t on the clock – and also having them spend all their money so they would be eager to make more and do it all over again.
“[Jordan] is morally questionable, but so they are very young, they have lots of money, and they spend like crazy,” said Byrne of Rugrat and others. “They’re caught up in this whirlwind of excess and craze, so at times I don’t even think they know what up or down are anymore.”