There are very few people who would be sanguine about delivering bad news to Robert De Niro -- especially first thing in the morning. But at 8:30 a.m. on a recent Tuesday, Jane Rosenthal, sitting in the back of her chauffeur-driven black SUV, cheerfully answers her cell phone ("Hi, Bob, you're up early") and cuts without apology to the chase: The script for Analyze That, the sequel to the blockbuster comedy that starts filming in less than a day, is still a work in progress. "The beats are still off on some of the jokes," she tells him evenly en route to drop her 7-year-old daughter at Brearley. Scenes between De Niro and Billy Crystal, reprising their respective mobster-shrink roles from Analyze This, are still being cut or reshaped by Harold Ramis, the beleaguered director-screenwriter. "It's better," she adds diplomatically. "We're not there yet. But we've got 24 hours."
She switches seamlessly to the other high-profile, high-anxiety production she and De Niro are collaborating on at the moment, the Tribeca Film Festival, also debuting within days. "Did I tell you that Oliver Sacks has agreed to be on a panel? Hey, Bob, I gotta go, I gotta walk Juliana into school, I'll call you later."
It was Jane Rosenthal who, in the anguished weeks after September 11, suggested to De Niro that they jump-start a long-standing plan for a film festival in their traumatized neighborhood.
"I said, 'Yeah, let's go for it, let's commit to it,' " says De Niro, an eighties pioneer in putting Tribeca on the map as both a downtown destination and the unofficial capital of the New York film community. De Niro, whose office in a converted coffee factory directly overlooks ground zero, says of the festival, "If there was ever a time to do it, it was now."
Better brace for limo gridlock in Tribeca starting May 8: Their idea has morphed into a Cannes-style film festival south of Canal, with premieres of the summer's hottest movies, including the latest installment of Star Wars and the chick flick Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood; parties with the likes of Hugh Grant, Sandra Bullock, and Al Pacino; a free rock concert to be broadcast on MTV; a children's street festival; and 155 films screening at seven venues. To plan an artsy film festival typically takes a year, but Rosenthal and De Niro have created this event in a mere four months. And ever since April 3, when filming started on Analyze That, De Niro has been tied up on location. "I told Jane, 'Just tell me what you want me to do, and I'll do it,' " he says.
So Rosenthal has tapped her unparalleled Palm pilot of entertainment-political names: enlisting Ben Stiller to perform for free in TV ads, asking Richard Holbrooke for advice on landing Nelson Mandela as a speaker, calling on Deputy Mayor Patti Harris to slice red tape. "Jane cuts a swathe through New York City. She can rally the troops," says Harvey Weinstein, the co-chairman of Miramax. "She has political connections all the way to the top, whether it's Republicans like George Pataki or friendships with ex-president Clinton. She can also rally the mommy brigade. Do not underestimate that group. They can work you and blackmail you and get anything done."
Rosenthal's husband, real-estate financier Craig Hatkoff, has also been working full time on the festival, lining up insurance and landing sponsors (American Express signed a multi-million-dollar, three-year deal). These days, the couple, who moonlight as major Democratic Party fund-raisers, talk on the phone or e-mail each other several times an hour (yes, an hour) on festival or family business. As Paula Weinstein, Rosenthal's co-producer on Analyze That, says, "This is the moment when all the parts of Jane's life have come together."
And all parts of her personality, too: In the countdown to the festival, Rosenthal switches personas from sarcastic New Yorker to pragmatic producer to manic hostess-with-the-mostest. Urging a Los Angeles agent to attend the festival, Rosenthal told him she'd arranged hotel and airline discounts. "I feel like a used-car salesman," she says, hanging up the phone. "I've got deals!" Her friend Jennifer Maguire Isham, a former CNN executive recruited to supervise the festival, says, "When Jane chose the jurors for the festival, she said it was the equivalent of trying to cast the perfect dinner party." Which is why Holbrooke, Julian Schnabel, and Isaac Mizrahi will be judging the films, along with Frances McDormand, Helen Hunt, and Barry Levinson.
As she careers from her trailer on locations for Analyze That in Manhattan and New Jersey back to her office to handle festival business, Rosenthal is worrying simultaneously about everything from filmmakers' time slots to transportation between events to toilets and phones at the hospitality center. "Janie has a go switch," says her friend Wendy Wasserstein, marveling at Rosenthal's stamina. "I have a go-to-bed switch."
In Hollywood, the long-running working relationship between Rosenthal and De Niro is a subject of great curiosity. "They are such an odd couple," says Stacey Snider, chairman of Universal Studios. "She is Miss Glam, this fund-raising, producing person. She puts it all out there. He seems to keep it all inside and use his feelings for his profession."
The pair have produced seventeen films together, a mixture of monster hits and art-house movies. She has edged the actor, known for brilliant, brooding performances, into more comedic roles, a career-enhancing move that has brought him a new generation of fans. The script for Meet the Parents had been floating around Hollywood for several years when Rosenthal made it a go by first suggesting to Universal that De Niro would be ideal for the father-in-law-from-hell, and then convincing the actor to take the part.
Harvey Weinstein, who rents office space in De Niro's Tribeca Film Center and has had an entertainingly volatile relationship with the duo, says, "Jane can make Bob do things the right way, the polite way, and Bob will listen to her in a way he'll never listen to Marty Scorsese and me. He has the ultimate respect for her."
How does she handle Mr. Raging Bull? As Rosenthal says flippantly, "I have a talent for dealing with difficult men."
Rosenthal has sought to broaden Tribeca Productions' output by deliberately making movies that do not star De Niro, including the soon-to-be-released screen version -- starring Hugh Grant -- of Nick Hornby's best-seller About a Boy.
"A lot of people who work with actors have the need to make themselves important, and want to be the bridge between the actors and the world," says Paula Weinstein, who first worked with the pair on Analyze This. "Jane has none of that. Her identity is not caught up with him in that way. Only a very secure person can do that."
That said, the Bob and Jane Show could win at least a Golden Globe for playing off their disparate identities. Jay Roach, the director of Meet the Parents, describes his first encounter with the pair in a hotel suite: "Bob is quite a warm guy, but he creates anxiety in the hearts of most people who meet him. He's an intimidating presence, which he kind of enjoys perpetuating. Jane is incredibly comforting, and she helps you through those moments." Denis Leary, who was in their Wag the Dog, says, "Bob is confident in her, because she handles everything. He can just show up and do his work. He doesn't have to stand there and fight for his things, because it comes out of Jane's mouth."
De Niro is notoriously reluctant to reveal much of himself in interviews -- he's the master of the inarticulate, sentence-drifting-off riff -- but he is eager to praise his partner of fourteen years. "She will tell me what she feels, and she'll disagree with me and stuff. Sometimes I'll want to do it this way, and she'll say, 'Let's stop and think for a minute.' She has been a very good complement for my, uh, thinking."
On the morning of September 11, Rosenthal was in a Town Car with her driver Henry Kumi. They had dropped off her daughter at school and were pulling out of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel as the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Trapped in the chaos downtown, they had made their way by car to the South Street Seaport when the first tower collapsed. Even now, she tears up at the memories. In the midst of a completely unrelated conversation in her office one afternoon, she stands up abruptly and says, "Come with me," marching two doors down to De Niro's handsome corner office decorated with leather couches, movie posters, a wooden bar counter, and a direct view of ground zero. Pointing out the window, she begins talking about what it was like to work amid the noxious smells and heartbreaking sounds. "The fires didn't stop for months. There were days it felt like Apocalypse Now. We still hear fire trucks racing down with sirens on every time they find a new body."
The site is located to the left of the Tribeca Film Center, and the harried festival staff has come up with an unofficial mantra, muttered as a motivator to deal with the long hours: "Look left." In the neighborhood, merchants have been economically devastated; the prospect of some 40,000 people arriving for high-voltage fun is considered a godsend. "Jane and Bob are downtown heroes, an over-used word, but it applies to them," says Carl Weisbrod, the president of the Alliance for Downtown New York. "A lot of people have clout, but very few exercise it so selflessly."
Clad casually in a black T-shirt and green khakis, Rosenthal works the phone this afternoon, trying to lock in celebrity panels ("If we can get Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep, let's make it a conversation") and line up musicians for the free concert. ("We have Sheryl Crow and Wyclef Jean and a guy who's really buzzy," she tells a record exec, "but I haven't heard his tape yet because I had to listen to Sesame Street in the car yesterday.")