After Kevin Spacey was replaced by Christopher Plummer, director Ridley Scott decided not to show Plummer any footage of Spacey in character, or even tell him how Spacey played the scenes. When finished, Scott found both performances to be quite different and equally effective in their own particular styles.
Christopher Plummer claimed he was prepared to replace Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty on short notice because he had previously been considered for the role and had read the script. He had less than two weeks to memorize his lines, but did have the advantage of having met Getty in London at a couple of his parties during the '60s.
Jean Paul Getty was eighty years old when his grandson was kidnapped. Kevin Spacey, at age 58, had to be prosthetically aged to resemble Getty, whereas his replacement Christopher Plummer, at age 88, needed no special makeup applications.
On November 8, 2017, Sony and the film's production team unanimously opted to replace Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty with Christopher Plummer. The decision was made just over a month prior to the December 22nd wide release. This was the second time Ridley Scott was faced with drastic re-shoots during his career. He had previously almost had to abandon Gladiator (2000) due to the untimely death of Oliver Reed.
Director Ridley Scott said that one interesting aspect of re-filming all of Kevin Spacey's scenes with Christopher Plummer is that Spacey played J. Paul Getty as a more explicitly cold and unfeeling character, while Plummer's take on the role showed both a warmer side to the billionaire, but the same unflinching refusal to simply pay off his grandson's kidnappers. Scott also stated that neither Spacey nor his representatives had called him since Spacey's history of sexual harassment was revealed, and added that he had no plans to release the footage with Spacey to any public viewing forum.
When the project was in development, Angelina Jolie was offered the lead female role of Gail Harris, the mother of John Paul Getty III, but declined. When the project was officially announced, Natalie Portman had been offered the Gail Harris role. However, she had to decline as she was expecting her second baby. Michelle Williams was finally cast.
Director Ridley Scott based this movie on the book "Painfully Rich: the Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty" by John Pearson, which documented the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III. The infamous Getty abduction was also one of the inspirations for the book "Man on Fire" by A.J. Quinnell, which was adapted into Man on Fire (2004) by Scott's late brother, Tony Scott.
Although it is extremely rare, this was not the only time a major character had to be recast in a Hollywood film after the filming was almost or entirely completed. For instance, after more than half of the movie Solomon and Sheba (1959) was done, the film's star and co-producer, Tyrone Power, who played Solomon, suddenly died and had to be replaced with Yul Brynner. All of his scenes were then re-shot save for the ones where Power is in the far distance and therefore can easily be mistaken for Brynner. Also, Michael J. Fox replaced Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly in the first Back to the Future (1985) movie, even though at least one third of the movie had already been completed with Stoltz in the role, because the filmmakers thought that Stoltz's Marty was simply coming off as too serious.
Jean Paul Getty's phobias and eccentricities are somewhat reminiscent of Howard Hughes's. Getty was probably the only billionaire who regularly washed his own underwear, not to save money on laundry bills, but because he didn't like the detergent the laundry used.
Michelle Williams was paid "over 1,000 times less" than Mark Wahlberg for the re-shoots. Wahlberg was paid $1.5 million, while Williams received just $1,000 for the week's work. Many of initial reports neglect to mention that Williams herself requested to go without pay entirely, or that Wahlberg shot many more scenes with Plummer than she did. After news of the discrepancy came to light, Wahlberg donated his entire re-shoot salary to the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund in Williams' name. His agency, WME (which is also Williams' agency), donated an additional $500,000.
In the opening sequence that shows J Paul Getty III walking down a street at night in Rome, some of the cars present would not be reflective of typical Italian traffic; there are two large US cars, a second generation Ford Thunderbird (1958-1960) and a mid-1960s Chrysler along with an Austin-Healey 3000 (1959-1967).
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The closing credits mention that some of the events depicted in the movie have been altered for dramatic effect. Some of these deviations include the fact that young Paul's father, John Getty Jr. (Andrew Buchan) was more involved in requesting the ransom money from grandfather J. P. Getty Sr. (Christopher Plummer) than the movie suggests (where his ex-wife does all of these negotiations). Paul himself was regularly beaten and tortured during the five months that he was held captive. After his release, he was found by the roadside by a truck driver (there was no chase through a village involving the mafia and his mother). On his mother's insistence, he called his grandfather to thank him for supplying the ransom, but the old man refused to come to the phone. Getty Sr. didn't die that same night; he lived on for another three years after his grandson's release.