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Too Big To Fail premiere: The stars align



Warren Buffett and actor Ed Asner at Too Big to Fail

Hollywood, Wall Street and New York media converged last night at the premiere of Too Big to Fail, the movie.

Michael Douglas, Brian Williams, and Regis Philbin met Warren Buffett, uber-analyst Meredith Whitney, and CNBC’s Becky Quick at the Museum of Modern Art, where HBO’s screening took place, and at a swishy after-party at Manhattan’s Four Seasons restaurant.

Hank Paulson is indisputably the hero of the film based on Andrew Ross Sorkin’s book about the global financial meltdown. The former Treasury Secretary wasn’t there last night, but William Hurt, who plays him in the film, hobnobbed through the evening — and told me that he spent several days with Paulson to prep for the part. Hurt went fishing with Paulson and did some birdwatching as well. What you see in the movie, sure enough, is a full-bodied, very human Paulson who suffered physically and emotionally during the 2008 crisis while he kept the system from total collapse.

Many of the actors got to know, or at least meet, the masters of the universe they portray. Tony Shalhoub, known as Monk on TV, told me that he spent time with former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack. The two men found plenty in common, Shalhoub said, since both their fathers immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon — Shalhoub’s to Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Mack’s to Mooresville, North Carolina.

Matthew Modine, who plays John Thain, told me that he and the former CEO of Merrill Lynch, who sold to Bank of America mid-crisis, had planned to get together. But last minute, they mutually decided not to. Fine with Modine, who went with it, portraying the bespectacled Thain with just the right dose of stiffness and selfishness.

Amy Carlson wanted to but couldn’t meet Erin Callan, who was Lehman Brothers’ CFO and practically disappeared after she got ousted in June of 2008. Carlson learned about Callan, she told me, largely by reading my Fortune profile, “The fall of a Wall Street highflier,” last year. Carlson also mentioned that the Lehman scenes in Too Big to Fail were shot on the 30th floor of midtown’s Citigroup Center. That’s interesting trivia since Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit comes across in the movie as one of the least likable characters among the big bank bosses.

The most revelatory character in Too Big To Fail, as I see it, is Ben Bernanke, the wise Federal Reserve chairman who calmly guides Washington’s and Wall Street’s honchos to do what is right. Sorkin told me that Paul Giamatti met the Fed boss before playing the role — and Giamatti, who is consistently great no matter the movie, plays Bernanke beautifully.

As for Buffett, who flew in from Omaha for the screening, he met Ed Asner, who plays him, for the first time last evening. The two hearty, gray-haired men posed for pictures and laughed about their lookalike status. Though one is much beefier and the other is richer. “We’re going to remake the movie Twins together,” joked the Berkshire Hathaway chairman. Buffett’s on-the-spot review of Too Big to Fail: “Terrific.”

The movie premieres on HBO next Monday, May 23.