"I’ll just reiterate this for the record.”
It’s 8:42 on a Wednesday morning, and Harvey Weinstein is beginning his first monologue of the day. About ten minutes earlier, he greeted me in the lobby of the Stanhope Park Hyatt on Fifth and 81st by saying, “Let’s get a room.” He pointed to the hotel’s half-filled first-floor dining room by way of explanation. “That way, you know what I mean, we’ll be able to talk without worrying,” he said in a voice at once hurried, even-toned, and surprisingly high-pitched.
Weinstein is talking with me in a sixth-floor suite at the Stanhope because both his life and his company are very much in transition. All summer, he’d been making preparations to leave Miramax, the film company he and his brother Bob founded in 1979 and sold to to Disney for about $70 million in 1993. For the last several years, he’s been in an escalating conflict with Michael Eisner, Disney’s thin-skinned, hypercontrolling CEO, a battle characterized by vicious off-the-record sniping and occasional barely hidden salvos; this past year, that conflict has erupted onto the front pages of the Wall Street Journal and both the New York and the Los Angeles Times, as Eisner publicly questioned Miramax’s profitability and Weinstein and Eisner fought bitterly over Miramax’s right to distribute Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Recently, Weinstein began meeting with Wall Street machers and independent financiers to discuss raising money—up to $1 billion a year—to fund a slate of movies as an independent producer. Under this scenario, Bob Weinstein would remain with Disney and continue to run Dimension Films, the hugely profitable genre division within Miramax that’s responsible for the Spy Kids, Scream, and Scary Movie franchises.
As summer stretched into fall and Bob and Harvey Weinstein plotted their futures, the rest of Miramax’s employees waited anxiously for word about their own fates. In August, the company laid off 65 employees, or about 13 percent of its workforce, an effort, according to a spokesman, to get staffing levels in line with a smaller release slate. In September, another 55 employees were canned. The mood at Miramax’s downtown headquarters was uncertain and grim as the remaining employees wondered why the Weinsteins weren’t even giving them a clue about what to expect.
The answer is, they’re not quite sure themselves. Indeed, over the summer, Harvey Weinstein’s life reached a turning point—what some might call a moment of crisis. The tough guy, infamous for putting reporters in headlocks and for public screaming fits, had become oddly vulnerable. He was thinking about what he would do for the rest of his life. Had Miramax run its course?
On this Wednesday morning, a healthy dusting of gray and brown stubble covers the lower half of Harvey Weinstein’s fleshy face. He’s been living in lower Manhattan as of late; Weinstein and his wife, Eve—who began work as his assistant in 1986—separated earlier this year.
Weinstein has with him a duffel bag and a metal briefcase he’s used since his days as a rock promoter in the seventies. HALLIBURTON is stamped on the top of the briefcase, near the handle—“It reminds me of this corrupt fucking administration, you know what I mean?” he says. He’s wearing a white dress shirt. A pair of black suspenders holds up his slacks, which these days have a little extra room around the waist. We’re sitting at a smallish table in a sixth-floor suite, Weinstein on one side, me on the other. Matthew Hiltzik, Weinstein’s quick-talking and long-suffering spokesman, and Emily Feingold, one of his four full-time New York–based assistants, get comfortable in easy chairs.
“The Fahrenheit 9/11 deal not getting done had only to do with trying to screw Bob and Harvey,” said a lawyer. “It’s bizarre.”
It takes Weinstein several minutes to settle in. First he sits down. Then he gets up to take off his blazer. Then he sits down again, but not before taking two soft packs of Vantage cigarettes out of his pocket and throwing them down on the table. He pulls out a cigarette and places it down on the table, too. He gets up, walks over to the bathroom, gets a glass, fills it with water, sits down, lights his cigarette, flicks some ash into the water, and starts to speak. I’ve barely said a word. The interview has begun.
But this morning’s most pressing topic isn’t Michael Eisner, or Miramax’s legacy, or even Weinstein’s own future. What Harvey Weinstein is so eager to get on the record—what he waits for me to turn on my tape recorder for—is his theory about the correlation between his blood-glucose levels and his infamous temper tantrums.
“You know, for years I used to read about myself. They’d say, ‘He has a temper’ or ‘He’s a bully’ or something like that, and it always bothered me,” Weinstein tells me. “You know, I always felt guilty about it. Somebody said, ‘The flower bill that is written by Harvey could have’—you know what I mean—‘because he needs so many apologies, could fund a small nation.’
“And, you know, Meryl Poster, my head of production and also a dear friend, sent me to anger-management specialists. Of course, they always ask me about my mother, Miriam. And the trick about Miriam is, my brother and I love her. She was widowed maybe 30, 40 years ago, so we grew up, you know, with Mom. She was incredibly supportive and tough on the both of us. She’s still, you know, the one person you, we have to toe the line with, you know.
“But I found out, and I just share this with everybody, is that the relationship to sugar in my body . . . There’s a . . . where my thing went from 50 to 250.
“What happened was, I was never an eater of breakfast or anything. In the morning, I used to just have a cup of coffee in the morning, went out to work, and then forget breakfast, sometimes lunch, and then make up for it with an overturned packet of plain M&M’s in my suit coat. And I would just eat M&M’s all day, sweets, you know, for what I thought was energy, which is not energy at all, now that I’m off of it. And what happened was the glucose level would go from 50 to 250 in my case. It’s not in everybody’s case. Some people handle sweets better.
“And I would hit the adrenaline. So that’s what caused these outbursts, you know. We had to find out through a specialized doctor. I had to go to a doctor. We found out I have adult-onset diabetes too as a result of this, so in the last year, I’ve lost 60 pounds eating a low-carbohydrate diet, you know, and exercise, and, um, in the last two, three years, as soon as I started to recognize the sugar thing, there have been no outbursts. There’s been no anything at all. Zero. There’s been nothing. Not a word to anybody.”
There’s a knock at the door: Breakfast has arrived. The Stanhope is out of soy milk, so Weinstein makes do with a splash of low-fat milk in his coffee. He extinguishes his cigarette in the water glass and then mutters to himself, “That’s disgusting.” His meal—an omelette—comes with a side of home fries, which he shovels onto a small plate and puts over by the television.
When talking with Weinstein, it’s important to remember that he’s both an expert showman and an inveterate story whore. He gets off on good narrative and becomes frustrated when the pieces don’t fit together the way they should. It’s part of what makes him such a successful studio executive. It also means that in real life, away from the celluloid screen, he’s not likely to let the messy realities of the world get in the way of a good anecdote. For instance: Max Weinstein died 28 years ago, when Bob and Harvey both were well into their twenties and no longer living at home. The Weinsteins didn’t “grow up, you know, with Mom.”