The Race to Erase Kevin Spacey

LOS ANGELES — The sun was setting on Nov. 7, when Christopher Plummer arrived at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan for a secret, hastily arranged meeting.

He had intended to be resting in Connecticut after a whirlwind month. But Ridley Scott had flown in from London with an urgent plea: Would Mr. Plummer help expunge the disgraced Kevin Spacey from Mr. Scott’s latest film, one set for theatrical release by Sony in just six weeks?

It would mean refilming 22 scenes in “All the Money in the World,” about the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III and his grandfather’s refusal to pay a $17 million ransom. “I admire you very much, but I still have to read the script,” Mr. Plummer, 88, recalled telling Mr. Scott, 80, as they met in the Terrace Boardroom on the hotel’s 11th floor.

By the next morning, Mr. Plummer had agreed to replace Mr. Spacey as Grandpa Getty.

“At my age, which is enormous, you get worried that your memory won’t hold up,” Mr. Plummer said. “But this was too damn good to pass up.”

And so began a race to pull off something never before attempted in Hollywood: revisiting a finished movie, reassembling major members of the cast, refilming crucial scenes, re-editing many sequences, retooling the marketing campaign — and doing it all at the last possible minute. Mr. Scott and others worked 18-hour days as they rushed to finish in nine days what would typically have taken at least a month.

“You can sit there and let something kill you, or you can take action,” Mr. Scott said in his no-nonsense way. “I took action.”

Over the last three months, sexual harassment scandals have impacted nearly every corner of Hollywood. As men like Mr. Spacey, Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. have been accused of vile behavior, entertainment companies have mostly responded by shelving or delaying movies and TV shows associated with them. In wake of the allegations against Mr. Spacey — he apologized for one incident and has not responded to other claims — Netflix halted production on “House of Cards” and abandoned “Gore,” a completed film starring Mr. Spacey as Gore Vidal.

Release plans were canceled for Louis C.K.’s film “I Love You, Daddy” after women told The New York Times that he masturbated in front of them. He later confirmed the accounts and has been trying to buy back the film’s rights. Fighting to stay afloat in the aftermath of sexual harassment and rape allegations against Mr. Weinstein, the Weinstein Company was forced to sell distribution rights to “Paddington 2,” delay a period film called “The Current War” and watch as television networks terminated contracts for planned series. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Weinstein has repeatedly denied “any allegations of nonconsensual sex.”

But “All the Money in the World” presented unique challenges. A trailer was already on heavy rotation in theaters. Awards prognosticators (nudged along by Sony publicists) had also been touting Mr. Spacey’s performance as Oscar worthy.

Sony and Imperative Entertainment, which produced and financed “All the Money in the World,” held a series of emergency meetings starting on Oct. 30, a day after Mr. Spacey apologized for making unwanted sexual advances toward the actor Anthony Rapp in 1986, when Mr. Rapp was 14. As more men came forward with similar allegations, outrage poured onto the internet, with some people vowing to organize a boycott of “All the Money in the World.” At that point, the movie’s scheduled premiere was two weeks away.

Hitting the pause button was the obvious move. But Thomas E. Rothman, Sony’s movie chief, said he was adamant that pushing back the release would tarnish the film even more. There was no better release window for a sophisticated drama than the Christmas holiday, the biggest ticket-selling period of the year. And they needed to stay ahead of a mini-series about the kidnapping in the works at FX.

It was decided that “All the Money in the World,” which also stars Michelle Williams as the kidnapped boy’s desperate mother and Mark Wahlberg as a Getty family fixer, would arrive on Dec. 22 as planned. (Sony eventually settled on Dec. 25.) “I didn’t think there was any solution,” Mr. Rothman said. “We would have to muddle through the best we could.”

Sony marketers scrambled to shift gears. The studio had been leaning heavily on Mr. Spacey’s performance to generate interest for the film. The trailer climaxed with images of him as the elderly Getty, a transformation that required facial prosthetics and heavy makeup. But suddenly the studio’s messaging to entertainment journalists switched — Mr. Spacey’s role was only supporting, the real stars were Ms. Williams and Mr. Wahlberg. Sony also rushed to distribute new posters in theaters, replacing ones that played up Mr. Spacey’s character.

A few days later, two of the film’s producers, Dan Friedkin and Bradley Thomas, unexpectedly arrived at Mr. Rothman’s office. They told him they were determined not to let the wrongdoings of one person damage a film that had been worked on by more than 800 people. And they floated an audacious idea that they had privately discussed with Mr. Scott: What about replacing Mr. Spacey with another actor? Mr. Plummer, perhaps.

“That would theoretically be fantastic,” Mr. Rothman said he responded. “But I have supervised 450 movies over the course of my career. And what you are saying is impossible. There is not enough time.”

The producers conceded that reworking the movie was risky. Even if executed perfectly, the plan would cost roughly $10 million, raising the total production budget to more than $50 million — a huge amount for a period drama aimed at older adults, especially considering that most of Hollywood has long left that market for dead.

But impossible? Not with the experienced and indefatigable Mr. Scott in the director’s chair, Mr. Friedkin maintained. “Twenty years from now, I want to be able to pull this film off the shelf and be proud of it,” Mr. Friedkin said.

This is where the story of “All the Money in the World” becomes about, as Mr. Rothman colorfully put it, “two octogenarians kicking absolute ass.”

With Sony’s blessing, Mr. Scott sprang to action, convincing Mr. Plummer to take on the challenge. (Why Mr. Plummer? Mr. Scott had considered him during the initial casting process but went with Mr. Spacey for reasons that included scheduling.) The director said he did not tell Mr. Spacey that he was being replaced because Mr. Spacey had never contacted him to discuss the misconduct allegations.

“A phone call would have been nice,” Mr. Scott said. “At first I was disappointed. Then I was mad.” (He added that nothing in Mr. Spacey’s contract prohibited his replacement; he got paid.) Representatives for Mr. Spacey did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Scott, who called the assertions about Mr. Spacey’s behavior “shocking,” also managed to bring back Mr. Wahlberg and Ms. Williams, both of whom agreed to work through Thanksgiving due to the severe time constraint. Production on “All the Money in the World” resumed on Nov. 20 in London, with the cast and reassembled crew moving to Rome a few days later.

The actual kidnapping had taken place in Italy. Operatives in the ’Ndrangheta crime syndicate held the teenage Getty hostage for five months, even chaining him to a stake in a cave. At one point, the kidnappers cut off Getty’s ear and mailed it to a Rome newspaper. He was ultimately released for a payment of roughly $3 million.

“It’s almost a grand documentary, a blow-by-blow look at how and why a family — one blessed with so much wealth — disintegrates into tragedy,” Mr. Scott said.

Since the original scenes had all been filmed on location, no sets needed to be reconstructed, saving a lot of time. Also making the situation more manageable: Mr. Plummer was nearer in age to the character, making it possible to forgo the kind of facial disguise that Mr. Spacey had donned.

“There was no digital trickery required, either, contrary to the speculation,” Mr. Scott said. “A little bit of good-morning makeup and some front lighting and he was ready to go. It was quite simple.”

Mr. Plummer said that memorizing lines at lightning speed also turned out to be relatively easy. “Thank God for my training in the theater,” he said, adding that he soon forgot that he was replacing another actor. “Very quickly I put that completely out of my mind,” he said. (Mr. Plummer declined to comment about Mr. Spacey. “I’m not going to discuss him, because everything I have said so far has been misinterpreted,” he said. In November, Vanity Fair quoted Mr. Plummer as saying he felt “awfully sad” for Mr. Spacey.)

Long hours may have been their biggest challenge.

For nine days, Mr. Scott arrived at filming locations by 6:30 a.m. to eat a quick breakfast and finalize planned shooting angles with his longtime cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski. (Together, they have made six movies, including “The Martian,” which was nominated for best picture at the 2016 Academy Awards.) Filming usually continued straight through lunch. As sequences were shot — Mr. Scott typically does very few takes — footage was digitally shipped to the film’s editor, Claire Simpson, who would start stitching it together. In the evening, Mr. Scott would make adjustments.

“I’m kind of like a funny battery that never wears out,” he said.

Despite their efforts, “All the Money in the World” faces an uphill battle at the box office.

Multiplexes will be chockablock with competing movies, including “Downsizing,” a social satire starring Matt Damon; “The Greatest Showman,” an original musical starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum; and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Sony lost crucial weeks of marketing time as it waited for footage of Mr. Plummer to splice into a new trailer.

Of course, the publicity generated by Mr. Scott’s race to scrub Mr. Spacey from the movie may prove helpful. The effort has been cheered online in some of the same forums where boycotts were brewing. “Mr. Scott is an inspiration!” wrote one commenter on EW.com.

And it is possible that Mr. Plummer, an Oscar winner for “Beginners” in 2012, turned in a performance that eclipsed the one given by Mr. Spacey. In a surprise, Golden Globe voters, who saw a not-quite-finished version of “All the Money in the World” last week, nominated Mr. Plummer for best supporting actor and gave nods to Mr. Scott for his directing and Ms. Williams for best actress.

“I think it’s a fantastic change,” Mr. Scott said. “Kevin’s performance was colder. Christopher has enormous charm — a twinkle and a smile — that makes this coldly logical character feel even more dangerous.”

Will the original version of “All the Money in the World” ever be released, perhaps on DVD, so that viewers can judge for themselves?

Mr. Scott let out a huff. “I doubt it,” he said.