Simon Baker Gets His Hands Dirty as Corporate Scam Artist in 'Margin Call'
Holding court in a regal suite at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, reclining in a throne-like red armchair and sharply dressed in a gray three-piece suit and thick, horn-rimmed glasses, Simon Baker looks the part of the suave investigative consultant he plays on the CBS drama The Mentalist.
But Baker is eager to forget about Patrick Jane, the cerebral mind-game player he brings to life Thursday evenings. He’s here to discuss Jared Cohen, the soulless master of the universe he plays in J.C. Chandor's fascinating new financial thriller Margin Call, now playing at the AMC Metreon and the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.
Cohen is a departure of sorts for Baker, 42, who worries that audiences have become too familiar with his image as one of TV’s good guys – a clean-cut, quick-witted family man desperate to avenge the murders of his wife and child.
In Margin, he’s no less smooth – his corporate overlord is cool and morally flexible enough to finesse himself out of harm’s way, even as the world seems to be collapsing around him. But much as we admire his bloodless ingenuity, it’s hard to sympathize with Cohen, who has no trouble plunging America into financial ruin so long as he protects his own assets.
By rights, he should be the villain. But the movie, which invites us to cringe at the naked greed of sharks like Cohen yet casts their sins in a recognizably human light, isn’t about good vs. evil. It’s about irresponsibility and moral indifference.
“Everyone can identify with the hierarchy of a workplace,” says Baker. “Here, we discover a problem at a lower level, take it up to the top floor and work our way back to the bottom. At every step, the only concern is how the people involved are going to cover their asses.”
One of the movie’s ironies is that executives atop the corporate ladder seem more mystified than the lowly office drones by their firm’s creative math. It takes Zachary Quinto’s rocket scientist, lured to the financial sector by the promise of riches, to explain the dire ramifications of their recklessness.
Baker, a native of Tasmania, Australia, who relocated to Los Angeles in 1991 to jumpstart his acting career, thinks the idea is amusing – and that it’s not far removed from reality.
“It’s not like the rocket scientists are growing up and working for the government,” he says. “They go where the money is, and that’s the market. The best of the best don’t go into research and development. They’re not looking to building anything. They’re looking for the fastest way to beat the system while staying within it. But I think we’re going to see a revolution on that front.
“When capitalism grows up, it becomes a monster. It has to be capped, it has to be governed. Football clubs are capped, aren’t they? But big business seems to be afforded much more leeway. So there has to be transparency. When you did math in seventh grade, you couldn’t just come up with a number – you had to show your work. The government should be regulating how these corporations arrive at their numbers.”