I’ve made no bones about it. I wanted to explore. And I explored a lot. I traveled to many countries. I’ve seen many things, forgot half of them, but the other half are there. oliver stone
I think it was the critic and filmmaker Rod Lurie who once said of Oliver Stone that he has made two of the greatest films of all time and two of the worst—which means he is the director with the world’s biggest balls. There is a little room for debate in there, if only on the numbers. The films to which I imagine he referred in praise, Stone’s early masterpieces, Platoon (1986) and Wall Street (1987), are indeed resounding and deserving favorites. But to any pile of best-of contenders, I would have to add at least Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Nixon (1995). And, for my money, Stone’s JFK (1991) is the best American studio film of the last 40 years.
In one of that film’s greatest scenes, Donald Sutherland, playing a kind of military-industrial complex Deep Throat, delivers a titanic monologue, recapping 50 years of American imperialism in about ten pages of script, coming to rest on the assassination on November 22, 1963, and why it took place. “Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it?” he says. “Why? The how and the who is just scenery for the public. Oswald, Ruby, Cuba, the Mafia, keeps them guessing like some kind of parlor game. Prevents them from asking the most important question: Why? Why was Kennedy killed? Who benefited? Who has the power to cover it up?”
That why is the impetus for and subject of Stone’s work. And many of his most memorable characters (be they based on real-world counterparts or wholly fictional) ask the question, seeking to make sense of the world, whether to remake it themselves or to reframe our understanding of it. From Alexander to Richard Nixon, from Gordon Gekko to New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison—whose case for conspiracy forms the narrative of JFK—Stone has always been attracted to conquerors, creators, and critics.
As a young man, Stone was, he says, conformist. Growing up in New York City, the son of a Wall Street man, an Eisenhower man, Stone took the path most expected until, after a year at Yale, he dropped out and went his own way. In 1965, under the spell of Conrad and Hemingway, and wanting to make for himself a grand and manly existence, Stone went to Vietnam to teach English in the Chinese district of Saigon. From there, he joined the Merchant Marine as a “wiper,” cleaning engine rooms and toilets on turbulent seas, before returning to Vietnam in 1967 as an infantry soldier.
Stone came home a decorated war veteran, with a Bronze Star for valor and a Purple Heart, but it was his experience in the Army that, he has said, pulled the wool from his eyes. The inefficiency, idiocy, and terror Stone observed in the systems of power at work around him in Vietnam gave him pause and sent him on his lifelong path in pursuit of greater, deeper, more meaningful truths than those he had been spoon-fed. Like James Woods’s war photographer in Stone’s Salvador (1986), Stone too discovered the power of images to shape a narrative—and a seemingly obsessive drive to go there.
And, at 69, he’s still going there, most recently with his 2012 Showtime series Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States (and its companion book), and with his new film about former NSA analyst and whistle-blower Edward Snowden, due out in September. In many ways, Snowden feels like vintage Oliver Stone, rippling with paranoia and grounded by an incredible performance (by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead), about a patriot in search of the truth. “Remember,” Sutherland’s character tells Garrison, “fundamentally, people are suckers for the truth, and the truth is on your side, bubba.”
On the day after the Super Bowl, I went out to Stone’s office in Los Angeles to talk about finding the truth, about football, and the many untold histories of the United States. On September 13, Abrams Books will publish a new tome titled The Oliver Stone Experience and edited by Matt Zoller Seitz.
CHRIS WALLACE: You must be a huge football fan.
OLIVER STONE: Well, I did Any Given Sunday , so, come on.
WALLACE: Among the group of people with whom I went to the Super Bowl, Any Given Sunday was the consensus pick for best football film.
STONE: Well, thank you. I got no cooperation from those bastards at all.
WALLACE: From the NFL?
STONE: They really fucked us any way they could. They called every team. They told the players not to cooperate. They tried to get all the owners to come onboard. We didn’t have any stadiums for a while. And we were lucky to get the Dolphin owner, was it Wayne Huizenga at that time? He gave us the Dolphin stadium. And Jerry Jones, the Dallas guy, was great. No uniforms, though, we had to design our own. What the fuck? I hate that league. When the film came out, there was no coverage of it from the NFL. They called the ESPN-type outlets and tried to get them not to talk about it.
WALLACE: I think we’re realizing now just how intertwined the networks are with the NFL …
STONE: It’s worse than that. It’s just everything. They have so much money, those 32 owners. It’s really a well-devised monopoly.
WALLACE: Let’s start there. [Stone laughs] The NFL is a good illustration of the economic disparity in our country. In response to the widening awareness of CTE and the effects of concussions, Obama recently said, “These guys, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’re buying into.” Which is outrageous on so many levels. By and large, the players are not coming from wealth, whereas the 32 owners—well, 31, and Green Bay, which is publicly owned—many of whom are billionaires, profit off a sport while their employees suffer horrific, often debilitating damage …
STONE: Look, I’m old enough to remember when the league was just scraping by, and the owners were taking a bath. Some of the owners were great. [Longtime Raiders owner] Al Davis hated the league. Eddie DeBartolo loved his team, loved San Francisco. DeBartolo put a lot of money into the team because he really wanted to help the players feel like they were well taken care of. Like in the studio system: At one point, it was well-known that Steve Ross at Warner really liked talent. He made the best deals, and he made people feel comfortable. You felt like you were in the movie business; there was a glamour to it. I don’t know if that exists anymore.
WALLACE: Your relationship with Hollywood—
STONE: It’s been hard. The only home I had was with Warner Bros. during the ’90s. I made four movies with them then. Natural Born Killers , JFK, Heaven and Earth . Any Given Sunday was the last. And that was the end of the Terry Semel/Bob Daly regime.
WALLACE: What about Nixon? No.
STONE: No, they wouldn’t do that. That was at that time Arnon Milchan was my partner. [Billionaire producer Milchan, who most recently produced The Revenant, has admitted to working as an Israeli intelligence operative and arms dealer.] He was known as a tricky guy. [Wallace laughs] He came into the JFK deal, and we made three films together. He got a lot of credit for being involved with JFK, and he has gone on to make billions. But, yeah, my home in Hollywood is not a home. I do a film here, a film there, as they want it. I don’t have a relationship. Like, Warner Bros. has a great relationship with Clint Eastwood and takes care of him. Warner distributed Alexander , but they weren’t really my partners. It was a tough experience with Alan Horn, who didn’t like anything that was R-rated. [laughs] So you can imagine he hated some of it.
WALLACE: I recently heard that your latest revision of Alexander has become the most profitable DVD or streaming title in their library.
STONE: I don’t know the figures, but I know they’ve done very well with the new versions. There are a few versions of the film on video, only two that matter. One is from 2007, and then the one from 2014. It’s called “the Ultimate Cut.” That is the best version in my opinion. I was unsatisfied with the original theatrical release. It was rushed. It was my fault. I accepted it. I always felt it should have been done the way Tarantino did Kill Bill. I thought, we should release this in two parts with an intermission. But at that time, in 2004, it was impossible.
WALLACE: There was no model for that, no.
STONE: I believe in intermissions. I lived through this experience with JFK and Nixon. JFK should have had an intermission. It should have come right after the Donald Sutherland scene, because then there’s just too much information flooding in. You need a break. Same on Nixon. It was a long film, but I couldn’t help it, with that kind of subject. I should have really fought for Alexander.
WALLACE: Revisiting, revising, and reconsideration seems to be a big part of your work. You want to go in and look at how history is being told to us, how we’re looking at stories, and revise it.
STONE: That’s a part of it. History and Ptolemy in Alexander—Ptolemy’s history disappears from the library. He was the closest to Alexander in that period. And Ptolemy wrote his history right after Alexander’s death, while he was pharaoh of Egypt. All of the existing accounts of Alexander are from more than 200 years later. There are shards of soldiers’ stories, diaries that came up all through time. All these stories become a bit mythological, you know—there is legend, and there’s also some fact.
WALLACE: I recently saw these ancient Buddhas from the Afghan region, where Alexander left a group of his soldiers—similar to the Ptolemy line in Egypt—and these Buddhas are very clearly part Greek and part Himalayan or something.
STONE: Yeah. There’s a word for it—Gandhara Buddhas. There is a Greco-Buddhist school of architecture and sculpture that you find everywhere in the world. It’s fascinating, because Alexander died in 323 [B.C.] and Buddha existed around 500 [B.C.]. But Alexander met Buddhist-type sages. And they had a different view of the world, as you know. They saw it in circular terms. They didn’t need to conquer any land. It’s actually the Afghan region, the Pakistan region, north of Multan, where he was in the last years of his life. And there are blond people who live in that region who are said to be descended from the soldiers who stayed. He left garrisons all over the world as he went. We could go off on Alexander for a whole hour.
WALLACE: That’s the thing about your movies, your characters—they are sources of obsession. The historical figures are like nodes around which so much energy and interest gathers. So I wonder if you think of yourself as a historian, a dramatist, somewhere in between?
STONE: I’m not in between. I definitely love history. I’m not formally trained or educated in history, but you could say I did go back to college in 2008 to do Untold History of the United States. That took five years. Co-author Peter Kuznick has been teaching history for something like 35 years, at American University and other places. His group of researchers brought me into contact with a lot of books. Very few people know that there is a whole school of historians that have existed in the United States from the 1940s and the early ’50s that were revisionists. They were attacking the whole basis of the history of the Cold War. People like D.F. Fleming, William Appleman Williams in ’59 …
WALLACE: Oh, so contemporaneously?
STONE: This is what I’m saying. This is a whole school, an academic branch that exists in this country at the top universities who are teaching graduate students progressive history. You can’t get that in any high school. And I didn’t realize the importance of it until I was already pretty deeply involved. I was trying to find out what happened in my lifetime, because I was an older man. We lived through two terms of George Bush, and I was wondering, “Is he an exception to the rule, or he is a continuation? What is driving all these wars? What is driving this attitude of aggressiveness and militarism?” I got my answer—and it was a shocking answer. I wasn’t by any means the first to ask this question. But what I found is this whole strain of history, this whole school has been denied by the media. It’s not like I’m nuts. You might think I have a crackpot history. No. What Peter and I did is very much accepted by progressive historians. But you don’t get any mention of it in the establishment media—which, to me, is the right-wing media. It is a bizarre blindness, because we are such an intelligent country. It’s bizarre that we can’t get our own history straight.
WALLACE: Well, is not part of your conclusion that that blindness is purposeful? That it behooves those in power who are profiting from our blindness?
STONE: This movie is a part of that.
WALLACE: Is that why you’re making a contemporary story? Because we’re now able to take the reins of how our history is written as it is being written?
STONE: You know, you’re progressive in comparison to most editors. The people at Time magazine don’t think like this. They’re not willing to accept another interpretation of World War II, to begin with. But it’s very important to understand that World War II is at the base of this new policy. From the 1890s on, the U.S. was always imperialistic. We went after the Philippines, and we did the same in Cuba, in Hawaii. We controlled South America. Woodrow Wilson was not what he was supposed to be. He was very much a white man first. “The world must be made safe for democracy.” It really accelerates after World War II. And Roosevelt is one of the great leaders because he does get along with other people. He makes this huge effort. He’s a very charming man. He tries to bring Stalin and Churchill into this tripartite agreement to run the world. And he really was close. If he hadn’t died in April of ’45, the whole history would be different. Basically Truman was a small-minded man who didn’t know what was possible, unlike Henry Wallace. Roosevelt saw the world as a possible alliance, with the UN involved, of course, where we would never have these kinds of wars again. And he was equally opposed to the British Empire as he was against the Communist Russians.
WALLACE: So is this the point where I tell you that Truman is my great uncle? Though, growing up, I was very persuaded by Gore Vidal’s assessment of Truman, at least in regards to dropping the bombs—that they had nothing to do with forcing Japanese surrender and everything to do with intimidating Russia.
STONE: That’s a huge deal. There are other things, too. From ’45, the moment Roosevelt dies, we’re running ratlines with the Germans, helping Nazis escape. Allen Dulles and that group …
WALLACE: The creation of the CIA-squashing the left in Greece.
STONE: Greece is crucial. Turkey, early on. And Churchill’s speech … You look at the Russian side: They’re defending their territory from the beginning. They move west to destroy the Nazis. And they take out the guts of the German war machine per Churchill, who said that they won the war. From the beginning, we were hostile to the guys who had saved how many American lives by their repulsion of the Nazis?
WALLACE: Is that correct that more Soviet soldiers died in the Battle of Stalingrad …
STONE: Than Americans in the whole war. They lost 500,000 people there, at least. And I think the Americans lost 400,000 in the whole war. And the Americans knew it at the time. They gave Stalin credit. He was the man of the year, cover of Life magazine in 1943; he was a hero. But there was a certain faction in America that had always been pro-Nazi, including the Dulles people. These were businessmen, Wall Street men. So, going back to the bigger issue, what’s wrong?
WALLACE: Who is profiting?
STONE: Well, this is a huge issue. And it’s controlling our lives today with this so-called election—we really have no choice. We’re really just onlookers. The national surveillance state has not been debated by any candidates, Democratic or Republican. Our wars, our repeated wars—our new war in Syria has not been brought up because everyone agrees essentially that we have to continue doing what we’re doing. And maybe even now go back to Libya. The issue of Wall Street … I don’t agree with Sanders that the banks should be broken up at this point. But Clinton’s acceptance of huge contributions from Goldman Sachs and others… And we don’t debate what Clinton has done. She has a public record. She’s been Secretary of State. She’s basically a candidate of Wall Street, for Wall Street. You’ve also heard stories about how the military-industrial complex really does prefer her because they know that she’s not nuts like some of the Republicans. She will do what they bid. And what they want is basically to stay healthy.
WALLACE: There’s a line in Snowden that what all of it comes down to is “military-industrial happiness.”
STONE: I like that line. And there’s no debate, nothing. On the Republican side, they only talk about how much stronger we have to get. And we’re the strongest empire ever, with the largest military. We spend ten times what the Russians do. And they have equal nuclear ability as we do, because they’re precise. Clinton has been for every war we fought. She was for the bombing of Belgrade and the Iraq War, she was all for it, during all the lives lost. It cost her the 2008 nomination. She was happy when Libya fell, which was a mess. You know, these were secular regimes in Syria and in Libya, where the excesses were nothing compared to what’s happened to that region since her policies were implemented. She was happy when Gaddafi was buggered and killed. She was happy and joking about it. It’s brought us disaster, including, for her, the Benghazi shit. Kagan [Robert Kagan, a neocon historian and self-proclaimed “liberal interventionist”] said the neocons couldn’t get a better president than Hillary Clinton, who would enforce the neocon foreign policy. No one’s questioned it. At least, I haven’t seen it. Maybe you read more than I do. I gave up on America. I read the Times just to find out what they’re thinking. I read blogs. I get most of my best information from people who are there, people who write independently. And there’s actually very few of them.
WALLACE: Robert Fisk.
STONE: Pepe Escobar. I like Robert Parry in Washington.
WALLACE: But you seem to me the opposite of somebody who has given up. You seem engaged, your shirtsleeves rolled up.
STONE: I tried. I tried with the History. But I’m not an activist. I know activists; they are really full-time people. I’m a filmmaker. I’m a dramatist. My strength is to tell a story, to find a way to tell a story that makes it exciting. Our Untold History was a huge challenge. Snowden was no piece of cake, because writing code and breaking code is some of the most boring stuff you’ve ever seen.
WALLACE: There is a very Oliver Stone moment in Snowden when I felt the scope of this thing just swallowing me. It is this pivot from what I think we take for granted—that the last half century of American empire has been all about blood and money and oil in the Middle East—to another, perhaps bigger stage, with bigger stakes: surveillance, cyber-warfare, malware, infrastructural security. Is this the new battleground for the military-industrial complex?
STONE: It is huge. I mean, cyber-warfare is obviously the future. It’s a real concern, but we lie so much about what we do that it’s hard to know what’s going on unless you really follow it. You know the Pentagon formed a new division? A new branch of the armed forces—Army, Navy, Air Force …
WALLACE: Really? They have a hacker army?
STONE: Cyber Command. And, of course, the next war will be electronic.
WALLACE: One of the things about these new developments is that war and peace and profit could become extra-national. Future organizations, like present-day corporations, won’t necessarily be nation-based. I mean, the Koch brothers have their own private intelligence network, their own CIA, essentially. Why would they submit to federal law? Ditto Anonymous or even terrorist hacker groups. I think the future will transcend nation-states.
STONE: Well, there’s still a fundamental divide, though, between the U.S. and many of these other entities. The U.S. ultimately decides what the national security threat is. They put Russia one, Iran two, China three—the terrorists are down the list. But it’s amazing to me that we can still consider Russia a threat. On the contrary, they’ve been very helpful in the Middle East, trying to calm the situation and respect the rights of sovereign countries to exist. It’s the U.S. that hasn’t—whether in Serbia, the old Yugoslavia, in Africa, and now, Iraq.
WALLACE: And Syria.
STONE: And Syria, and don’t forget Libya. I think Kennedy was the last great hope. And that’s why I dwell on that subject. He was someone who could stand up to the militarist element in our society.
WALLACE: Obama was obviously the hope for my generation, but a real defining moment for him, and for us, was the bailout of the banks and the auto industry. Where we expected some Roosevelt-ian New Deal sort of commitment to the domestic economy, we instead made the banks even more dependent on welfare …
STONE: So you’d break them up.
WALLACE: I would have nationalized them at that point. [laughs] Or at least brokered a deal that was more regulatory.
STONE: Bernie Sanders is a disappointment on foreign policy, totally doesn’t think about it. But he has the possibility to be more isolationist, which would be good for us actually. We manage to kill several million people on this planet without taking any credit for it or blame. It’s a heavy karma we have.
WALLACE: The “Mr. X” speech in JFK is the most concise summation of this—it is the CIA book Legacy of Ashes condensed into like ten pages of screenplay.
STONE: Well, let me tell you, Fletcher Prouty [chief of special operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Kennedy] had a tremendous influence on me. Garrison agreed with him. But Fletcher was the guy who really wrote this stuff up. And he’s not the first either, but Prouty saw it all. He dealt in this shit. He was close to Dulles—John Foster and Allen. And he knew what they were doing. He was in Colorado, training the Tibetan freedom fighters to parachute into China. He was flying the airplanes that took them in. He was all over the world. He saw the way this empire was formed. And when John Foster Dulles became Secretary of State, and Allen became head of the CIA, Prouty’s operations grew by the dozens. There must have been a hundred interventions of some kind or another. And now with the drones, we have made so many enemies.
WALLACE: The drone-assassination campaign will be the worst and longest lasting of Obama’s legacies, I think.
STONE: It’s not going to be good. In the 1950s, C. Wright Mills said America is run by “crackpot realists.” He said, in the name of their reality, they keep on inventing bigger and bigger threats and putting more and more money into it. Dulles believed that Communism was the worst thing in the world, and it would be infectious, like a virus. He gave up the policy of containment—which was already tough; that was an Acheson policy—and he made it into a policy of liberation.
WALLACE: So are you generally tending towards isolationism?
STONE: Of course. I mean, if America had not gone on this militaristic rampage after World War II … And part of that reason was, again, the Republicans—the Wall Street crowd—were very worried about a depression coming back. They hated Roosevelt in that crowd, my father among them. And there was a great fear in ’46 that we’d fall back into the pits. And they always wanted to break up the Roosevelt legislation. I can’t tell you how many times at the breakfast table my dad would curse out Roosevelt. [laughs] I love my father. He was an intelligent man, but he really didn’t like regulations of the Roosevelt style, or the taxes. He was an Eisenhower man. And that’s what Eisenhower did, committed to breaking down the program. It was Reagan who completed it. Well, Bush wanted to privatize Social Security. It’s an ideological thing.
WALLACE: Is it really, though? Or is it profit-based?
STONE: It goes back to the workers. It goes back to 1870s, ’80s, all those strikes. They freaked out the robber barons. And they called them Communards in those days. In France, the Communards in 1871, right? What does that mean?
WALLACE: Yeah, collectivists. But, in a way, we’re worse or more economically disparate than the robber baron Gilded Age. It’s Pharaonic these days. But I’m curious about your stockbroker dad, and what you were like as a kid growing up in New York City …
STONE: You don’t want that. That’s a frigid kind of story. That was a different time. My schooling was very conservative. I went to Trinity School, and then to the Hill School, which is a boarding school, then to Yale. My parents got divorced in that period, and I realized I didn’t have a life anymore. I was the only child, so a three-person family breaks apart. I ended up very conformist, very scared, very lonely. I couldn’t go on with Yale, just couldn’t do it. I’d been doing too much of that for too long. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want, which was to go to Wall Street and join the crowd there. I didn’t like my classmates. You realize, Bush was in my class. I didn’t know it then.
WALLACE: I don’t imagine you were hanging out with the cheerleaders.
STONE: [laughs] I wrote a novel about this time. It’s called A Child’s Night Dream. It’s got some chapters about Vietnam. And it goes into the life of the ’60s in New York, which was changing socially. It was tough for me when I went to Vietnam. I went as a teacher the first time. And then I went back in the military because I thought I had to go all the way.
WALLACE: You’ve said that you were in the thrall of Conrad …
STONE: War, yeah. Conrad, Hemingway. Well, I wrote that novel when I was 19, coming back from the Merchant Marine, but before I went to the military. So it was written almost pre-war, but it has some very vivid sequences about war. I wrote Platoon as a result, ultimately. It’s a different reality, Platoon compared to the war in the novel. That’s a romantic young man who goes out to the world.
WALLACE: So were you going to be a novelist?
STONE: At 19, yeah, I wanted to be Norman Mailer, James Joyce. But it was clear after the novel, which was punishing to write, that I just didn’t like that world either. I didn’t think it was possible to make a living as a writer.
WALLACE: Yeah, it’s still not. [laughs]
STONE: And by that time, I’d moved on to the Vietnam War, and photography was the only means of communicating. That led to the film school after the war. I always liked writing. But I never wanted to write another novel again, ever. Filmmaking was a compromise. I thought I had a good eye, but I wasn’t making great films. I had several years of rejections. I wrote screenplays every year. I believed in the screenplay. I thought it was a sacred form of writing. But I found out, in life, that it’s not much respected [laughs].
WALLACE: And then you write Midnight Express  and win an Academy Award.
STONE: Then I won an Academy Award. [laughs] When I did Scarface , I think I was the highest paid screenwriter in town. I got a record sum. I was hot, but I didn’t want to stay there. I wanted to move on to Salvador. But I have to tell you, there were many heartbreaks, too. For every success, there were three failures. I wrote a lot of screenplays.
WALLACE: Have you felt singled out by critics? It seems like after JFK, you sort of had a bull’s-eye on your back.
STONE: I think I was always controversial, provocative. But I can’t help it. I have to go there. It’s my nature. It’s my father’s nature, too, to probe, to want to know the truth of a situation. And that’s not to say I’m right, but I have to ask some questions. I mean, I never made a movie for the money.
WALLACE: After JFK came out, there was a public outcry that resulted in the unsealing of documents …
STONE: There was Assassination Records Review Board. That was important.
WALLACE: Was that the greatest success possible?
STONE: Best public acknowledgment of it, yeah, in the sense that it did lead to a lot of files being opened. Not all, by any means, but a lot of information came out of that. And that law has filtered down to all the communities, not just the JFK community. I keep seeing references to it in different history books. Some of the files are just so deep, so heavy. And our government is still in secret. Obama has been prosecuting all these whistle-blowers. He promised transparency—far from it.
WALLACE: You’ve called Snowden a Garrison—like figure.
STONE: James Woolsey, who was the CIA chief under Clinton, said that not only should Snowden be executed, he should be hung by the neck. Hillary Clinton’s been hard against him.
WALLACE: So, what’s the best outcome for this film?
STONE: For him? I think Ellsberg is right: I don’t think it’s going to be possible for him to return unless our government changes entirely.
WALLACE: What would you like to see as a response to the film?
STONE: Cut the bulk. Don’t go after bulk surveillance. It’s useless. It hasn’t proven itself. Keep it targeted, which is reasonable and what smart countries can do. We’re overwhelming ourselves with bureaucracy and money now. So many agencies are now involved in security. But I do think those principles are crucial. You don’t read other people’s mail. You don’t look at their e-mail. You don’t listen to them. You know the younger people better than me, what do they feel? Is there any sense of privacy?
WALLACE: No, but they don’t care.
STONE: They don’t care. Well, I think the young people don’t realize, we all have something to hide. We don’t want to share all our lives.
WALLACE: Something that I think about a lot, with Scarface and Wall Street anyway, is the almost ironically reverse reception of them. In the way that, say, Mario Puzo writes The Godfather, and the Mafia then imitated the behavior of the Corleone family, Scarface has become an aspirational signal for the way that gangsters behave, at least in the rapper—Mafioso version. And Wall Street, of course, is turned into a paean to greed.
STONE: Certainly. When I made the second Wall Street [Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, 2010], so many brokers who are now in their forties and fifties said, “I really came to Wall Street because of that movie.” It just goes to show you that movies are addicting. People see a form of behavior, and they go for it. It’s dangerous. There’s no question that Nixon was influenced by Patton . No question that George Bush, in my mind, was influenced by Black Hawk Down . It’s a well-done movie, but not accurate any more than Mark Wahlberg running around killing Taliban is. Pearl Harbor  is another one. And after JFK, the CIA got more interested in coming out to Hollywood. There is a book about their involvement here by James DiEugenio. It’s called Reclaiming Parkland, a wonderful book. There’s a section about how, after the movie came out, the CIA opened an office here. And the military did, too. They really influenced the television and film business. Homeland and 24? Those are CIA propaganda shows where they do such a great job to stop terrorism. And the military got very involved in promoting its services, providing aircraft carriers and this and that. They wanted to do that with Platoon, but I said no, because they wanted to change the script.
WALLACE: I never thought about the name of your company, Ixtlan. Is that a reference to Carlos Castaneda?
STONE: Yeah. I knew it as a place we’d never get to. Ixtlan is a journey. Kind of like the end of the rainbow, you never arrive. That’s what I thought of when I named the company in ’77—a secret place, a place where hopefully no one would ever get to. IRS among them. [both laugh] I met Castaneda. I liked him very much. It was toward the end of his life. He’d been pursued for many years, by Fellini and people like that, who wanted to make a movie. But he’d been very elusive, that was his style. I think they’d be fabulous movies in a way.
WALLACE: You’ve made movies that are, let’s say, hallucinogenic. Were drugs and Castaneda-y vision quests a part of your life?
STONE: For many years. I’m not a person who’s done a thousand trips of acid, but I have taken a number of trips, of different things. [laughs]
WALLACE: You were a seeker.
STONE: Very much, in the ’60s, ’70s mode. You know my history. I’ve made no bones about it. I wanted to explore. And I explored a lot. I traveled to many countries. I’ve seen many things, forgot half of them, but the other half are there.
WALLACE: [laughs] You dramatize paranoia as well as anyone. Do you get paranoid?
STONE: I did. I think I got through it on this one. We did half the show in Germany, then we came back for a week to D.C., which is the heart of the beast. Nobody was helping us. We were worried. And then our phone calls … We went offline to make this whole movie. We did it all with codes with secret encryption we used. We had to start going back and forth from Moscow; it was very tight. But my paranoia over time, at my age, has allowed me to say, “Look. My career is fucked anyway.”
CHRIS WALLACE IS INTERVIEW‘S SENIOR EDITOR.