Truth really can be stranger than fiction and Matthew McConaughey's latest film is a case in point.
Gold is the story of the biggest mining scam of all time, resulting in a $6 billion fraud.
An employee of Canada's Bre-X Minerals, prospector Michael de Guzman, and John Federhof, a businessman down on his luck, banded together in 1993 and emerged from the jungles of Borneo, declaring its soil to be full of gold. Without any due diligence, Wall Street poured money into the company, and Bre-X stock surged from pennies to $280 a share.
But there was just one problem: There was no gold.
McConaughey, who plays the character Kenny Wells, based on Federhof, explains the story that shocked the world.
"The most surprising thing was that no one checked the validity of the gold. But I understand that phrase 'buy the rumour, sell the news'. Agents can make something sound great and you're on board. Before you know it, you're going, 'I'm in!'
"So I understand people that buy on the story. You're made to feel if you don't get in now, you're going to miss out," he tells
The scam was so outrageous, so brazen, that no one called into question the credibility of the gold strike. McConaughey nods. "The fact that it went that far and so many people on the top floors of Wall Street just blindly invested at that level, and that amount of money, without actually going, 'Let's look at the product; let's look at the gold,' that was incredible."
It wasn't only Wall Street that was duped. A multitude of gullible investors lost a fortune. "I actually met a lot of people in Texas who had invested in the company and lost a lot of money. It was kind of touchy ground to be talking about it at all," he says.
In order for the scam to be realised, de Guzman filed down his wedding ring, extracting enough gold to insert into the rock samples (a process called salting) and convince geologists his find was authentic.
In 1997, when de Guzman's scheme began to unravel, he reportedly threw himself out of a helicopter (though the film's depiction is very different) in Busang.
A week later, Australian geologist Colin Jones, who worked for a prospecting company in developing Busang, proved there were "insignificant amounts of gold" in the core samples.
Although de Guzman was declared dead, many years and several sightings later, his whereabouts remain a mystery.
Director Stephen Gaghan says, "If you believe the news reports, the main characters in the movie are ostensibly dead. One of the things that drew me to this story is the duality of whether or not de Guzman lives or dies, and whether McConaughey's character is a good guy or a bad guy. There was an account of de Guzman sitting in a cafe in Rome five years ago, happy as a clam drinking coffee," he laughs.
It remains to be seen whether Federhof (Kenny Wells in the film) was in on the scheme from the beginning, and if he knew about the salting.
Edgar Ramirez, who plays the character loosely based on de Guzman says, "It's not only Matthew McConaughey's character we don't know about, but there are a lot of other things we don't know, including whether de Guzman was the mastermind of the operation or maybe just a player in it. We will never know."
The character, an ordinary man who followed some extraordinary dreams, resonates with McConaughey. "I wrote down 10 goals in 1990. And I shut them in my diary and I never looked again. I forgot about them. I opened up that diary two years ago, I just came upon it, and I realised I had achieved those 10 goals. So somehow they were in my subconscious; from back in 1990 I've been chasing my dreams," he says.
No stranger to physical transformation, McConaughey grew a pot belly and sported a rather unattractive comb-over for Gold.
How did his wife of four-years, Camila Alves, enjoy his latest look?
The now slim-downed star responds, "Actually, she misses the extra-full Kenny Wells. She liked it." He laughs. "There was a lot to love."