6 Ways The Wizard of Lies Visually Recreates Bernie Madoff's Downfall

From Madoff's penthouse to the penitentiary, Oscar-nominated production designer Laurence Bennett discusses using FBI evidence and more

Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as Ruth and Bernie Madoff for The Wizard of Lies on-set.

By Elizabeth Stamp, Architectural Digest

It’s been nearly ten years since the name Bernie Madoff went from being associated with wealth and success to becoming synonymous with deceit and corruption. 

[post_ads]The shocking revelation of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme and the tragedies that would follow—both for his family and his victims—are chronicled in the new HBO telefilm, The Wizard of Lies, premiering Saturday, May 20, and starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer as New York’s most hated couple, Bernie and Ruth Madoff. The financier’s lies unravel and pressure grows as the market dives, and no matter where he goes—be it his Manhattan duplex, Hamptons home, or Palm Beach getaway—no escape can be found. Oscar-nominated production designer Laurence Bennett took AD through the process of recreating the world of Bernie Madoff.

The Production Designer Researched the FBI's Evidence
Though the Madoffs were private about their holdings, Bennett found a treasure trove of information courtesy of the FBI, which meticulously documented the couple's real estate assets. “In the case of the penthouse, the FBI photographs of the properties were actually a great source for decor and some specific objects,” he says. “Some of the rooms were still dressed when they photographed them; the office certainly was.”

The Madoff Homes Got a Design Upgrade
Despite their wealth, the Madoffs' decor wasn’t as over-the-top opulent as most people would imagine, so Bennett worked to add more character and texture to the Manhattan penthouse sets. “Adjusting for the audience's expectations was important,” he says. “It was a very mundane, impersonal style. What I tried to do was just give him a minor upgrade.”

A Few Replicas of Madoff’s Possessions Were Included
Bennett added a few specific items that he noticed in the FBI photos to give the sets historical accuracy. “In Bernie's study at the penthouse, there was a stuffed leather bull—sort of a footstool slash piece of decoration,” he says. “He seemed to have a fascination with bulls. And we were able to get one exactly like it.” The designer also worked with the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation to recreate the artwork in Madoff’s office, which was also bull-themed. “It was so iconic to me because I imagine Bernie thinking of himself as a bull, just a little stocky ex-lifeguard, Queens-raised broker.”

The Production Team Knew They Couldn’t Film in the Actual Locations
“Because the damage was so extensive and so deep, it's still a pretty bitter topic in New York," Bennett says. “So there was never any chance of being able to shoot anywhere in the Lipstick Building, where Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities was, or the building where they lived. So we needed to find good stand-ins.” A building on Riverside Drive acts as Madoff's co-op building on East 64th Street, and the South Shore of Long Island was used in place of the Hamptons. The house that was the backdrop for a beach party scene was actually added in post-production.

The Production Designer Also Relied on One of the Cast Members for Help
Who better to help guide the design of the prison visitation than someone who had visited Madoff in prison? Journalist Diana Henriques, author of the bestselling book that shares its title with the movie, plays herself in the film. “One thing that was really important to me was having Diana Henriques as a resource,” Bennett says. “I was able to talk to her about her experience of interviewing Bernie. I really wanted to get her sensory recollections at that moment. What it felt like, what the light was like, and the sounds that were in the place were really important to me in building that set.”

Windows and Mirrors Play into Nearly All the Sets
“The main visual thing that I felt we had to work with was exposure and concealment,” Bennett says. To highlight these themes, the designer chose locations with large expanses of glass, such as the New York mansion used for the Palm Beach Country Club and the city loft that served as Mark Madoff’s apartment. Bennett also installed a salon wall of sunburst mirrors in the Madoff penthouse.


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Lifestyle Magazine: 6 Ways The Wizard of Lies Visually Recreates Bernie Madoff's Downfall
6 Ways The Wizard of Lies Visually Recreates Bernie Madoff's Downfall
From Madoff's penthouse to the penitentiary, Oscar-nominated production designer Laurence Bennett discusses using FBI evidence and more
Lifestyle Magazine
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