'Wizard of Lies' author gets ready for her close-up

wizard of lies henriques photo
Robert De Niro, Barry Levinson and Diana B. Henriques

After selling her book rights to HBO, Diana B. Henriques and her husband would joke over dinner about who would play her in the movie. Then came the call asking her about auditioning to portray herself.

The veteran New York Times financial journalist and author of "The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust" does indeed appear in HBO's "The Wizard of Lies," conducting prison interviews with Madoff, played by Robert De Niro.

In an interview with CNNMoney, Henriques described shooting scenes where she essentially reenacted her two in-person exchanges with the notorious Ponzi scheme operator as a "surreal" experience.

Henriques had known and interviewed Madoff when he was a respected pillar of the financial community. Given the enormity of his crimes -- bilking investors out of billions -- she described the revelations that followed his 2008 arrest as "sort of like knowing Dr. Jekyll and then meeting Mr. Hyde."

Henriques said she harbored relatively few misgivings about the book becoming a movie thanks, in part, to fellow Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin's experience with the 2011 HBO film "Too Big to Fail," which also tackled complex financial issues.

The author acknowledged that the script engaged in some artistic license, but added that the filmmakers respected her input and were responsive on those few occasions when she voiced concerns.

Related: Bernie Madoff Fast Facts

Still, she thought she was being pranked when she was asked about appearing in the film.

The scenes were scripted, but under director Barry Levinson's guidance she and De Niro also improvised dialogue -- her coming up with questions, him responding as Madoff -- yielding exchanges that made it into the movie.

Having met De Niro to discuss the role before production began, Henriques described the actor's transformation into the character as "remarkable" and "jaw dropping."

Henriques has been in contact with Madoff, including additional reporting in conjunction with the movie, which presents him as closely following the coverage of his case and sounding wounded about the way he's being characterized.

"To this day, he is reading everything that is written about him," she said.

Henriques has another book coming out this fall, "A First-Class Catastrophe: The Road to Black Monday," delving into the 1987 stock market crash. She called working with De Niro "unforgettable," but having experienced her first taste of acting, she stressed that she's not looking to make a habit of it.

"I just made my film debut opposite Robert De Niro," Henriques said. "I think I'll rest on my laurels."

"The Wizard of Lies" premieres May 20 at 8 p.m. on HBO.


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