When director Ridley Scott adapted the Getty-kidnapping saga in last years All the Money in the World, he and screenwriter David Scarpa cast teenage Paul Getty as the clear victim—a pawn in peril brought on by his grandfathers fortune. But FXs Trust—which has 10 episodes worth of breathing room—portrays a far more complex picture. As Trust screenwriter Simon Beaufoy teased reporters earlier this year, “The truth is a complicated word isnt it?”
Trusts third episode “La Dolce Vita,” which airs Sunday, depicts 16-year-old Paul (Harris Dickinson) as an aspiring artist living a bohemian lifestyle in Rome with his girlfriend Martine and her identical-twin sister Jutta. Despite his family name, Paul is broke—he has not come into the titular family trust—and hawks paintings at a local bistro in exchange for dinner. While Paul is content struggling, his friends go behind his back and use his family name as collateral to fund their drug habit. When Paul finds out, he is heartbroken and unable to borrow the $6,000 he suddenly owes to a web of shady characters. The episode posits that Paul helped stage his own kidnapping to collect a ransom and pay off the debt.
Last month, the Getty family preemptively refuted this controversial narrative—with Pauls surviving sister, Ariadne Getty, threatening to sue FX over the series.
“It is ironic that you have titled your television series Trust,” wrote Gettys lawyer, Marty Singer, in a sternly worded letter to FX. “More fitting titles would be Lies or Mistrust since the defamatory story it tells about the Gettys colluding in the kidnapping is false and misleading, and viewers rightly ought to mistrust it.”
But screenwriter Simon Beaufoy has claimed that his belief—that Paul was initially complicit in the kidnapping—is rooted in research.
“The more research I did, the more I realized [Paul] arranged his own kidnapping,” Beaufoy told The New York Times this month. “It was a huge attention-seeking device; theyll pay because they love me. It became an extraordinary metaphor for the third generation [of this family] saying, pay some attention to me, show me some love.”
“Theres a very good book written by Charles Fox, [Uncommon Youth: The Gilded Life and Tragic Times of J. Paul Getty III], who interviewed everybody in the family, including little Paul Getty and Martine and Jutta, his girlfriend and her twin sister,” Beaufoy told press this January. “It became clear, reading in between the lines . . . that he actually kidnapped himself . . . Like all the Gettys, they were multi-millionaires but couldnt pay for a drink because they had no cash. And hed run up a debt, quite a large debt, and couldnt repay it . . . The only thing he felt he could use was his name as a Getty. So he cooked up a kidnap plot.”
What is irrefutable is that the kidnapping stakes escalated when Gettys grandfather refused to pay the kidnappers, explaining to reporters at the time, “I have 14 grandchildren, and if I pay a penny of ransom, Ill have 14 kidnapped grandchildren.” The old businessman—suspecting that the kidnapping was a hoax—waited out his adversaries. And Pauls kidnappers grew so frustrated over the ensuing five months of negotiations that some sold their share in the scion to Calabrian-mob members. The Mafia took more gruesome measures to ensure it received payment—even slicing off the boys ear and mailing it back to his family to prove the kidnapping was serious.
Explaining his understanding of the kidnapping, Beaufoy told press, “It was a hoax gone wrong . . . [Paul] was sold on to the Mafia in Southern Italy, a whole other, much more serious bunch of people.”
After the kidnapping, Paul went on to marry Martine at age 18 (in a decision which, ironically, disqualified Paul from his trust). And Martine admitted to her husbands biographer that, while struggling with finances in Rome before he disappeared, Paul had mentioned a kidnapping, but reversed course.
“At some point, when we were in love, Paul came to me and said, I know the right people, Im going to have myself kidnapped, then we can get a castle in Morocco,” Martine told Fox, explaining that the idea was short-lived. “After Paul told us he was going to get himself kidnapped, things changed. They started to go well for us. We became a little bit known.”
Speaking about the fringe fame the group found after posing for controversial photos—with Paul wearing a shirt that read “cocaine”—Martine explained, “After we made the cocaine pictures, we started to get work. Paul didn't want to be kidnapped anymore, but [the kidnappers] were following him.”
Once Paul disappeared, Martine found herself in a bind because of a promise she had made to Paul.
“When he had told us about his kidnapping, Paul had told us never to talk about it,” said Martine. “So after he disappeared, we were in this dilemma.”
Yet, in an interview with Rolling Stone the year after the kidnapping, Paul claimed that he always knew his grandfather wouldnt pay criminals.
“I never thought my grandfather would pay any kind of ransom. Because of the way he is,” Paul explained. “Besides, I realized I would probably do the same thing. Because I dont believe that somebody should work for 60 years to make his money and then have some little criminal whos too lazy to get a job take his money away from him. And anyway you have to show by example to criminals that they cant get their way all the time.”
Even after the traumatic ordeal, Paul claimed to still look up to his namesake.
“Im proud of my grandfather,” Paul told the magazine. “You have to be intelligent and clever to be what he is. You cant be drunk or something.”
“I wish money wasnt that important but its the most important thing in the world,” Paul continued. “Everything revolves around money.”
For his part, Simon Beaufoy has conceded that he did take some dramatic license with the series.
“There are huge parts of the story that nobody really knows about,” said Beaufoy. “I had to make educated guesses to dramatize what happened. But were trying to tell a Shakespearean epic at the same time as threading the facts through. So its a bit of both: its a dramatization of what happened, but with some Shakespearean flourishes.”
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Julie MillerJulie Miller is a Senior Hollywood writer for Vanity Fairs website.