IN HIS LATEST turn as a TV spokesman for an FBI initiative against insider trading, actor Michael Douglas is doing penance for playing his best-known film role all too well. In the 1987 drama “Wall Street,’’ the corporate raider Gordon Gekko famously intones that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good.’’ And if Gekko’s reptilian surname didn’t make it clear that he wasn’t a figure to be emulated, the criminal case facing him at the end of the film surely should have.
Yet Douglas has made an art of portraying besieged, defiant, audacious alpha males, and his iconic performance in “Wall Street’’ didn’t just win him a Best Actor Oscar; it also helped inspire a generation of aspiring investment bankers. For years afterward, economics courses at big-name colleges abounded with swaggering young men for whom “greed is good’’ was, if not a creed, then at least a clever inside joke. But all the thank yous and high-fives Douglas received from financial workers came as a frustration to him, recent news stories suggest. “I’m a criminal in the movie,’’ an FBI official quoted him as saying. “Don’t they realize that?’’