Every time disgraced former pharmaceutical tycoon Martin Shkreli hosted online chats to clap back at his critics, the infamous price gouger — universally detested for jacking up the cost of a life-saving drug — appeared to delight in his own obnoxious behavior.
The Brooklyn native, who boasted about his supposed good looks on national TV, would grab his crotch, cackle like the Joker and hurl obscenities at followers trying in vain to interrupt the one-sided conversation.
“He thinks that it [the goading] is fun,” she adds.
Brent Hodge, the film’s director, told The Post that his interest in Shkreli was sparked by damning headlines published in September 2015. Nearly all of them branded the then-32-year-old businessman “public enemy number one.”
The media was incensed by the news that Shkreli, then CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, had dramatically increased the cost of its anti-parasitic drug Daraprim. The price of a single pill skyrocketed overnight from $13.50 to $750 — a staggering increase of 5,500 percent.
Many people who’d been prescribed the medication could no longer afford it. The most vulnerable patients affected by the hike were cancer sufferers, pregnant women, newborns and those with HIV.
Most companies would have hired a crisis management team to deal with the fallout, but Shkreli insisted on doing his own p.r. “It was a car crash,” said Hodge.
For example, when he was asked in December 2015 if he would have done things differently if he could “rewind the clock,” his response was infuriatingly glib. “I probably would have raised prices higher,” Shkreli said, with his trademark smirk.
As Hodge understatedly points out in his 90-minute documentary: “The whole thing wasn’t helped by Martin being a jerk.”
In truth, he believes the convicted felon — who is currently serving seven years for securities fraud unrelated to the drug’s price hike — is thrilled with his reputation as “America’s Most Hated Man.”
“It’s all a performance,” Hodge said. “He likes to play up his position as a supervillain.”
Still, it’s virtually impossible to dissect Shkreli’s true character. “We set out to explore his personality and motivation, but didn’t totally figure him out,” added Hodge.
As part of his efforts to understand his psyche, the “Pharma Bro” director took the unusual step of moving into Shkreli’s apartment building in Midtown. He lived there for 12 months to keep close tabs on his subject.
Hodge spent no fewer than five years working on the film. The process involved watching endless recordings of Shkreli’s livestreams, questioning his former associates and ex-girlfriends and speaking to a patient burned by the Daraprim price scandal.
Among the key interviewees he secured was defense attorney Benjamin Brafman, who represented Shkreli at his 2017 fraud trial at Brooklyn Federal Court, and Ghostface Killah, leading member of the New York hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan.
The collective was unwittingly drawn into the Shkreli saga in 2015 when the wealthy entrepreneur spent $2 million on the only copy that exists of its album “Once Upon A Time in Shaolin.”
It was sold at auction this summer to an anonymous buyer by the US government. The proceeds were used to pay off a proportion of the $7.4 million fine imposed on Shkreli by Brooklyn Judge Kiyo Matsumoto, who presided over his trial.
In “Pharma Bro,” Killah, whose real name is Dennis Coles, says Shkreli’s purchase of the album — which he claimed to use as a coaster — was disrespectful of his music.
As for the Daraprim price gouge, he adds: “That move he [Shkreli] did was a fake-ass gangster move. You wanna jump from $13 to $750 for one f–king pill? That shit better make you live for a million years.”
Veteran attorney Brafman makes it clear in the film that Shkreli, now 38, was a tough client to represent before his 2017 fraud conviction.
“There were times I wanted to wrap my arms around Martin and hug him and there were times I wanted to punch him in the face,” he says in the documentary.
Meanwhile, former Bloomberg employee Smythe, who reported on Shkreli’s trial, found herself irresistibly drawn to the fraudster. They later began an affair that destroyed both her marriage and career.
“I’ve had kind of a unique relationship with him,” she says in a Fox News segment which resurfaces as a clip in “Pharma Bro.” “It hasn’t been like [the one he has] with other journalists. He trusts me and takes what I say seriously.
“He’s open with me in a way that he is not with most people.”
Back talking to Hodge, Smythe confirmed that Shkreli embraced controversy and reveled in his notoriety.
“You can’t really cage Martin Shkreli,” she continues. “You can’t tell someone who thrives on conflict to not create more conflict.”
In the Fox interview, she recalls a pivotal moment in the couple’s romance after Shkreli was jailed.
“I visited Martin in prison and I just simply told him that I loved him,” Smythe says on camera. “He said that he loved me, too.”
When the reporter asked her if she once told Shkreli: “I want to have children with you,” she answers: “Yes.” She also shows pride in being “the only woman he ever introduced to his parents.”
As for the future, Smythe says she would “love Martin to get out” of jail and is confident that, as a reformed man, he’d then use his razor-sharp mind for good.
“I would love him to start working on something productive that helps the world,” she says on Fox. “And I’d like to play some kind of role in helping him to get there. That’s my dream.”
But their love wasn’t enough for Shkreli to turn over a new leaf.
After she wrote and published an article about their affair late last year, he appeared to unceremoniously dump her via a press statement to the magazine.
And yet Smythe still stands by her former love.
Just this week she tweeted the message: “Find someone who clings to you like the media clings to Martin Shkreli as evil incarnate. (He is not. He’s a messy guy. There are a lot of messy people walking this planet. For the record, I like complicated people a lot more than sanctimonious ones.)”
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