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Pasadena, Calif. — Makers of an upcoming HBO movie on Bernard Madoff initially wanted to make a feature film for theaters but quickly realized that today’s movie industry had little interest in an intricate tale about a financial swindle.

Major studios have their sights set on action heroes or comic books. An independent studio would have required a time-consuming effort to raise money and less exposure, said Jane Rosenthal, executive producer of “The Wizard of Lies,” on Saturday. The film, with Robert DeNiro in the starring role, debuts in May.

“As screens are all blurring and … the business is so radically changing, this was the best place to make the film and to ensure that we would have an amazing audience for it,” she said.

The film is based on a book by the same title by Diana Henriques, who advised HBO. Filmmakers said it differs from other projects on the Madoff case, like an ABC miniseries, in that it delves more into what happened with his family.

“What he did is beyond my comprehension,” DeNiro said. “So there’s a disconnect somehow in him that I still would like to understand. I did the best I could, but I don’t understand … The only things I do feel strongly about is that he didn’t tell his kids and he didn’t tell his wife. But everyone around him probably had an idea. They just didn’t want to look too deeply because they knew something wasn’t quite right.”

Henriques, a financial reporter, had used Madoff as a source in the years before his Ponzi scheme was uncovered, and trusted him back then.

She said it was a strange experience seeing DeNiro totally inhabit the character. At one point, director Barry Levinson thought of having Henriques, who had conducted jailhouse interviews with Madoff, improvise by interviewing DeNiro as if he were Madoff. Some of that ended up in the film.

The performance was so effective, she said, that “I made the vow right then and there never to take investment advice from Bob DeNiro.”

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