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TV Series 'Trust' Revisits 1973 Kidnapping Of Oil Tycoon J. Paul Getty's Grandson


The 1973 kidnapping of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty's grandson in Italy was the subject of the recent movie "All The Money In The World." Now it's the center of a new TV series called "Trust." It debuted yesterday on FX. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans explores why Hollywood is so interested in the Gettys.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: To understand how exacting and cruel oil tycoon J. Paul Getty could be, consider this scene from "Trust" where Getty has breakfast with his four mistresses and his biographer. Donald Sutherland, who plays Getty, quotes a bit of Shakespeare to set them all against each other.


DONALD SUTHERLAND: (As J. Paul Getty) So which of you loves me best (laughter)?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As biographer) "King Lear." Very good, Paul, very good.

SUTHERLAND: (As J. Paul Getty) What?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As biographer) William Shakespeare wrote a tragedy called "King Lear" about an old king who divides up his kingdom between his daughters according to their love.

SUTHERLAND: (As J. Paul Getty) An old king? Old?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As biographer) I'm not suggesting you - I'm not - so - strange play. Not his best.

DANNY BOYLE: They're the emperors - aren't they? - of our world, really.

DEGGANS: That's Danny Boyle, Oscar-winning director of "Trainspotting" and "Slumdog Millionaire" who also directed the first three episodes of "Trust" and serves as an executive producer. Boyle says we're fascinated by the lives of rich clans because we see ourselves in them.

BOYLE: We know most of our lives we'll never be in that category. But in terms of interpersonal relationships, they're mirrors of our own. The circumstances, the wealth, the power are fantasy to most people. But there's enough connective tissue that you see your relatives or yourself in those people as well.

DEGGANS: With one wealthy family controlling the White House and another controlling a huge chunk of the world's media, interest in the dysfunction of rich relatives is in the zeitgeist, which may help explain why as Boyle was preparing his TV show Ridley Scott was working on his movie version. But Boyle says TV offered an advantage - enough time to burrow into the story's details in a way no movie could.

BOYLE: When you do a movie, you're really looking at two or three characters, really, because that's the way movies work. But on this long form it's amazing the number of characters you can develop.

DEGGANS: No character here is more imposing than Getty, the world's richest private citizen who was also so cheap he put a pay phone in his mansion. Sutherland used kinder words to describe him.

SUTHERLAND: He's a very rigorous man, John Paul Getty, disciplined, passionate, with a great intellect but most particularly of numbers. He knows numbers.

DEGGANS: In FX's series, Getty's grandson known as Paul initially arranges the kidnapping himself in 1973 to extort money from his grandfather. But he soon becomes prisoner of more serious criminals. Hilary Swank plays Paul's mother and Getty's ex-daughter-in-law. Brendan Fraser has a magnificent turn as James Fletcher Chase, Getty's Stetson-wearing head of security who figures out Paul's involvement.


BRENDAN FRASER: (As James Fletcher Chase) You see this movie?

HILARY SWANK: (As Gail Getty) No.

FRASER: (As James Fletcher Chase) Paul did. I did. It did have a fake kidnapping scene in it just like the one that Paul was writing in his movie.

SWANK: (As Gail Getty) Chase, no.

FRASER: (As James Fletcher Chase) I talked to our friends at the police station. Ransom notes go to the newspaper or TV station, or they go to the police direct. They're never, ever just left on a bed.

DEGGANS: In the first three episodes, "Trust" doesn't quite match the power of Sutherland and Fraser's performances. But Boyle takes risks in the storytelling, which he says would be tougher to do in film.

BOYLE: Everything's at risk on the one project whereas I think in this form, because they know people will have time to find it as well if it doesn't work at first, there's a boldness that's in there.

DEGGANS: Still, that boldness may not be enough to make TV audiences care about the tribulations of a wealthy family that doesn't care much for each other. I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF JESSE COOK'S "TOMMY AND ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.