February 08, 2017 at 06:36 AM EST

HBO’s long-awaited Bernie Madoff movie now has a trailer that features star Robert De Niro — in his first-ever HBO role — as the Ponzi scheme mastermind who stole billions from unsuspecting investors. The film is directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man) and costars Michelle Pfeiffer as Ruth Madoff and Hank Azaria as Madoff’s top lieutenant Frank DiPascali.

“No studio wanted to make it,” executive producer Jane Rosenthal told reporters at the Television Critics Association’s press tour on Saturday. “We would have had to go the independent film route and it would have been a struggle to get it made and ultimately would have had a smaller audience [than on HBO].”

The project is based on the 2012 book The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust by New York Times journalist Diana B. Henriques, who also served as a consultant on the film and appears as herself. Henriques marveled at De Niro’s ability to become Madoff and told reporters about an improvised scene where she interviews De Niro-as-Madoff while he’s in prison. Henriques said the scene was simple for her to film as asking financial questions is what she does for a living (plus she has interviewed Madoff in real life) — and De Niro’s spot on portrayal of Madoff helped.

“It was so convincing,” she said. “He was able to occupy a character and walk outside the script. Bob answering those questions as Madoff was utterly convincing. It was astonishing to watch as a civilian.”

One aim of the film, Henriques added, was to sympathize more with Madoff’s investors, noting that people have a tendency to blame the victims of financial crimes. “You could make an argument that they are to be pitied because all of us trust people in our lives and only someone you can trust could truly betray you,” she said.

Wizard of Lies premieres in May. Watch the teaser above.

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