F rom a couch in the Soho Grand Hotel, James Woods foretells doom. “I think that the economy, and the political system, has literally become such a disaster I don’t know if it’s possible to save it,” he says. “I think we’re headed toward the worst double-dip recession ever in the history of this country. They say the recession is over. Tell that to all the people who are out of work.”
He sounds like much of the America riled up with throw-out-the-bums fever this election season. Unlike many gloomy 63-year-olds, however, he’s seated next to a beautiful blonde 24-year-old who’s his girlfriend of five years, and who goes by the name of Ashley Madison. She sits patiently by and lets him do the talking, as if she were quite used to patiently sitting by. Woods is in town to play Richard Fuld, the last CEO of Lehman Brothers, in the HBO movie of Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail. The film, he says, opens with the camera zooming up a tower to find Woods as Fuld sitting all alone. “I mean, he was the guy who just completely did not see it coming,” he says, with certain glee. “He was Nero fiddling as Rome was burning.”
These days Woods can often be found in Rhode Island, helping out his 85-year-old mother. He tried to sell a house he’d built there, but, frustratingly, the buyers couldn’t get a loan. “We gave the system all this money—my money, your money, the taxpayers’ money—to save these banks,” he complains. “And now they won’t—and quite frankly, this administration won’t allow them to—come help us. I’ve always said that the next Obama slogan should be, ‘Barack Obama: Putting America Out of Business,’ because that’s what he’s doing.” (Woods has fond memories of George W. Bush.)
The couches Woods is holding forth from are reserved for Kristen Stewart, and the party is in honor of her movie Welcome to the Rileys, in which she plays a teenage stripper. She’s changed out of her red-carpet dress to jeans and a knit cap, and slouches opposite him, nodding and fidgeting as Woods dissects Rileys. Stewart goes to the balcony for a cigarette. They have the same agent, Woods explains, and for the past two years he’s been trying to direct her in a movie called An American Girl, which involves Stewart’s character enlisting in the Marines and losing her legs.
The thing about making a movie, though, is that you need investors, and he needs more; maybe tranches in a legless cinematic Stewart aren’t the easiest things to be peddling. Woods is introduced to a series of young, well-dressed men, potential backers, apparently. Of course, nothing in Hollywood is too big to fail.