Friday, December 16, 2011

Why actors make such good bankers

This morning I went to a screening of Margin Call, the Kevin Spacey/Jeremy Irons drama about the coming apart of a Wall Street firm over a 36-hour period in 2008. It begins with a corporate cull, as over 70% of a dealing floor are "let go" in a few hours. The human resources people move in to state the severance terms, the Blackberrys are switched off, computer access codes changed and security men escort the 70% off the premises with their personal possessions in a cardboard box.

Once they've gone Spacey gathers his remaining troops and reassures them that because they have survived they are a lot nearer to their boss's job than was the case a few hours earlier. They may miss the people who've gone, he says, but they know that ultimately they're the beneficiaries of the cull.

It's quite a shocking scene and the young actors (Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgley among them) manage to look shocked on our behalf. So this is how the world of finance works. This is the brutal downside to those big bonuses. How foreign that is to the lives the rest of us lead.

But then another thought stole over me. If there's one section of the population for whom this shouldn't be a surprise, one bunch of professionals who have spent huge parts of their young lives finding themselves on one side or another of an uncaring cull, who know what it's like to be figuratively escorted off the premises, who know that the difference between success and failure can be the flip of a coin, it's actors.

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