There are many busy, self-regarding people running around Madison Square Garden on the day before the Concert for New York benefit, but none as frantic as the multitasking behemoth trailing a posse of cell-phone-wielding functionaries.
Sound checks are taking place, featuring rock’s most durable luminaries, but he has no time to listen. Someone from VH1 tells him that Elton John has agreed to donate the piano he’s playing for the auction. Lorne Michaels stops by, followed by the Capitol Records executive who asks him to tell Paul McCartney to play MTV’s Total Request Live, even though the former Beatle has no idea what the show is. The manager for the Who jokingly suggests he still owes the band money from his days as a concert impresario. Mick Jagger floats in, wearing a very rock ensemble of mostly lavender. Did he talk to Keith? A phone rings and a question comes up about the trailer for an upcoming movie. And then another phone rings and it’s learned that although Nobu will provide sushi backstage, they plan on delivering it as opposed to making it on-site. Everything stops.
For the next 35 seconds, Harvey Weinstein is completely focused. “It’s the Nobu presentation that makes it sooooo important,” he all but coos into the phone, waving off the person who walks up to tell him that U2 is canceling for sure. “Think of it. Backstage. Movie stars. Your staff making food for some of the most important, glamorous people in the world. I know you’re short of people, but it really is the presentation that is so winning. Okay. Good.” He hangs up the phone and rejoins Jagger.
September 11 changed everything. well, almost everything. Before ground zero became ground zero, Harvey Weinstein was ground zero. And since the center has shifted, he has moved to reclaim a piece of it. While other people struggled to regain equilibrium, Weinstein got busy calling his shortlist of fabulousness to throw a fund-raiser. He got Sir Paul McCartney to say yes, along with a Blockbuster’s worth of Hollywood stars. Now, 24 hours before the lights go up, he is brokering the end of the show, standing in a dressing room as McCartney strums a guitar while Jagger and Pete Townshend listen.
On the following night, Miramax co-chair Harvey Weinstein, along with John Sykes of VH1 and James Dolan of Cablevision, which owns the Garden, puts on a five-hour glamfest that includes a smashing performance by the Who, some speeches by smashed firefighters, and the junior senator from New York getting smashed flat by lusty boos from same. Some $30 million is raised for the Robin Hood Relief Fund, and all of it will go to victims of the attack since the Robin Hood foundation board members underwrote all the costs of the event. “I’m no fan of Harvey,” says someone who works in the music business. “But there is no one else—no one—who could have pulled this off.”
At the after-party at the Hudson Hotel, Weinstein sits at a long table. Sheryl Crow greets him with a squeeze; Harrison Ford stops by. Sitting next to his wife, Eve, Weinstein has three Diet Cokes on standby in front of him and a smile of accomplishment. Four months earlier, when I told Weinstein I wanted to write about him, he said it was a bad idea. “You’ll get fifteen people to say I’m a genius and fifteen people to say I’m an asshole. What’s the value of that?” Tonight, he looks over what he has wrought and decides there is a message in it for me: “I am not an asshole.”
There’s one spot left in Miramax’s cramped waiting room on the fourth floor above the Tribeca Grill: a narrow space on a love seat next to Hilary Swank. She’s sitting here because she wants to make a movie. I’m here to find out why people like her wait in line to work with Weinstein. She seems nice. I’d like to tell her that her performance in Boys Don’t Cry was transcendent, but I offer her a stick of gum instead. She thanks me as I’m beckoned back to see Weinstein.
Like a lot of rooms Harvey Weinstein inhabits, his office at Miramax seems on the small, uncomfortable side. Not that Weinstein isn’t friendly. On a day a few weeks before the planes hit the towers just south of his office, he’s in a fabulous mood, taking a meeting about Shanghai, a World War II noir that’s in development. Hossein Amini, Weinstein’s favorite writer—”I know it will get me in trouble, but go ahead and say I said it,” he says majestically—is there, along with Colin Vaines, a Miramax development executive.
Weinstein mentions that the protagonist—a broken-down loser who eventually stumbles across the truth—needs to have a job. “He should be a reporter,” Weinstein says, giving me a collusive smile.
After stiffing me for months, Harvey Weinstein has been nothing but accommodating, showing me the love as only the padrone of the New York glitzocracy can. He’s introduced me to Gwyneth Paltrow—”You’re the first person I ever asked her to do this for”—arranged a sit-down with Martin Scorsese, and had his friend Nicole Kidman call. I’m in—kind of, temporarily, a member of the downtown tribe of Miramax.
The development meeting is a convivial scene, but in the midst of it I’m distracted by a Jackie Chan poster over Weinstein’s shoulder: le poing de la vengeance. As I silently sound out the poster—Fist of Vengeance—he startles me into the present by proclaiming, “I’m back with a vengeance.”
Despite an illness that took him out of the public eye for three months last year, he looks robust, sitting behind a desk in a blue sport shirt divided by a parallelogram of suspenders. The neck is inferred, not seen.
His coal-hued eyes make me uneasy. They reflect—if the dozens of stories I have heard are true—mayhem in abeyance. But his eyes can also spot Zeitgeist long before it comes over the hill. Which is why a city full of incandescent fabulousness pivots around a man who looks like nothing so much as a bean-bag chair with legs.
Like most titans, Harvey has a legendary sense of self, an annunciatory way of speaking and moving that suggests he knows he’s a big deal. He wants to make it clear that his illness last year and his other hobbies may have pulled him out of his sweet spot, but he has returned to making a big deal out of small movies. We play cheery peekaboo around his hiatus—”I’m not going to tell you about the insanity thing,” he har-hars—
“I’m back full-time with no diversions. I’m doing all the edgy stuff that I want to do, and I am fucking going to hit some out.”
It’s meant as a promise, a charming one at that, but like a lot of things that come flying out of his mouth, it sounds like a threat.
“You know what? It’s good that I’m the fucking sheriff of this fucking lawless piece-of-shit town.” Weinstein said that to Andrew Goldman, then a reporter for the New York Observer, when he took him out of a party in a headlock last November after there was a tussle for Goldman’s tape recorder and someone got knocked in the head. Weinstein deputized himself and insisted that Goldman apologize. His hubris would be hilarious if he weren’t able to back it up. Several paparazzi got pictures of the tussle, but Goldman bet me at the time that they would never see print.
I mailed him his dollar a week later. I’d talk to Goldman about it, except he now works for Talk magazine, which is half-owned by Miramax.
In the wiring diagram of New York, no one’s juice approaches Weinstein’s. He’s got P. T. Barnum’s DNA and Walt Disney’s billions. Recall that on the night of the presidential election last November, Weinstein co-hosted a party for the Clintons at Elaine’s that juxtaposed Stanley Crouch with Sigourney Weaver, Bill Bratton with Uma Thurman, and Michael Bloomberg with J.Lo. What other captain of industry or culture could create those dyads?
It’s tough to get to the end of Weinstein’s self-assigned centrality, as Democratic candidate Mark Green recently found out. The Friday before Election Day, he hosted a Democratic Unity dinner, with everyone from Bill Clinton to Jon Stewart on the bill. But some Democrats weren’t buying. So three nights later, Weinstein was at the Four Seasons trying to engineer a cease-fire. Roberto Ramirez and Al Sharpton wanted people ousted from the Green campaign for what they believed were racist attacks. Weinstein suggested he’d hire a fired aide to work in the movie business with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow. When Green declined, Weinstein tried to cast Bill Clinton as peacemaker, but when Clinton was driven by the Four Seasons and saw the phalanx of cameras, he felt set up. Clinton’s car fled down 58th Street, cameras chasing its taillights.
“All I want to fucking do is fucking unite this fucking city, and you won’t let me!” Weinstein screamed, according to a Green source. With that, Weinstein called the Republican candidate and offered his support. “Bloomberg was willing to reach out to working-class communities Harvey relates to,” says a Miramax spokesperson.
A Green lieutenant saw it another way: “It’s what can happen when he doesn’t get his way,” the source says.
Weinstein is often compared to the moguls of old—the doughty Jew among Wasp elites—but the analogies don’t do justice to his broader cultural horsepower. Neither indie hustler nor studio boss, Weinstein is a different beast altogether, a New York City behemoth with avid fingers in all corners of the pie. He and his brother run a company that released more movies than any other in the U.S. in the year 2000 and had the eighth-largest box-office receipts. To say that the barbarian is at the gate is to miss the fact that he’s already behind the velvet rope and iterating access.
Indie movies, once a quaint province of grad students and industry losers, became a cash machine for the Weinstein brothers. His competition credits him with nothing more than being a skanky bargain shopper backed by gobs of Disney’s money. They suggest that after Disney paid $60 million for Miramax in 1993, Weinstein spent his time buying his way to the Oscar platform and getting in touch with his inner thug by screwing over far more delicate artistic sorts.
From Weinstein’s perspective, it’s spitballs against a battleship. Miramax—largely on the back of the genre films produced by his brother Bob’s Dimension division—clocked a profit of $145 million in the fiscal year that ended in 2000. The profits have enabled his polymorphous interest in all forms of content. He now owns half of Talk; a piece of Jason Binn’s celebrity flip books, including Gotham; a measure of The Producers; the burgeoning Talk-Miramax books division; a menu full of be-seen restaurants; and the attentiveness of both U.S. senators from New York.
Theoretically, Weinstein now possesses the capacity to send product up a single synergistic axis—the Talk-Miramax book is excerpted in Talk magazine and optioned for a movie, with an opening party at Man Ray attended by famous politicians who are featured in Gotham, before it becomes a hit on Broadway. That’s the theory, anyway. So far, synergy just means that movie profits are funding a variety of other endeavors.
In becoming a producer of all forms of content, Weinstein has performed jujitsu on the assimilative process. While his antecedent moguls madly strove to become remade Wasps when they traveled to Hollywood, Weinstein believes the world should curve to him. After a decade on the A-list, he is still an unreconstructed Jew from Queens who wears power like a giant pinky ring.
With his wife, Eve, the 49-year-old Weinstein is the father of two young girls. He has houses in Manhattan and Martha’s Vineyard and no substantial hobbies beyond running a company that company officials say kicked up $800 million in all of its businesses last year.
His ability to pick winners has allowed Weinstein to do business with Disney without wearing the mouse ears.
“The reason that we’ve been left alone was because our success was so overwhelming that if they didn’t leave us alone, we wouldn’t do it,” Weinstein says plainly.
His dearest friends admit he can be a tyrant, and one of his many enemies recommends Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as required reading. He’s been known to tear marketing posters in half while explaining that “these all suck and you guys are morons for coming up with them.” Sometimes he seems to rant just to stay in shape.
In 1996, The English Patient won Best Picture, setting off a delirious celebration at the Mondrian among the Miramax folks, many of whom had worked 24/7 to push the movie over the top. “We worked for five days straight, we were really busy, and finished by throwing this huge party,” recalls someone involved in the effort. “Finally, at five in the morning, four or five publicity assistants were sitting in the lobby exhausted with our shoes off and Harvey came through and said, ‘Don’t you people ever fucking do anything?!’ “
But all the legendary bad behavior cannot obscure an objective fact: Harvey Weinstein is a cultural good. Pulp Fiction, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and Shakespeare in Love have all become a part of the national narrative, framing the way people dance, talk, and fight. More people see more good films because Harvey and his brother Bob left Buffalo to taste-make for the snootiest moviegoers on the planet. Unlike his precursors in moguldom, Weinstein has exquisite sensibilities, an ability to be just enough ahead of the curve to make edginess and transgression sell. But just when you cozy up to his soft spot for tiny French movies, you notice that his M.O. is more like that of one of the cartoonish bad guys in an action movie. Like the titans he emulates without admitting as much, he chooses ends over means, and God help you if you happen to be standing between him and something he wants.
“Is this man a son of a bitch? Yes,” says someone who worked closely with Weinstein. “Does he make fantastic movies? Yes. Is he willing to do whatever it takes to win? Yes. Is he unbelievably hard on staff? Yes. He has a hungry, massive ego that cannot be sated. I don’t know what he is making up for, but he wants everything. I think that for all his dysfunction … his brilliance intoxicates people.”
Weinstein pleads guilty to being a son of a bitch but says he’s in recovery.
“I used to blow my stack, the first five years in Miramax. I was a complete, you know, moron,” he says. “I’ve gotten better and better and better. But there are still moments … I always rationalize it and say it’s the insanity of the industry, the tension of day, but …”
Harvey makes nice to his staff in the meetings at which I’m present. But after saying good-bye one afternoon, I glance over in the direction of his office. He has a phone jammed to his ear and is summoning his assistant with explosive, thunderous snaps of his meaty fingers.
The Weinstein brothers’ show began during their college years in Buffalo, where Bob renovated the dilapidated Century Theater and booked concert films while Harvey hustled as a concert promoter.
Patrick Lyons, who owns a string of restaurants and nightclubs in Boston, was running a nightclub in Buffalo in the seventies when he caught Weinstein, whom he described—really—as a “tall, thin, handsome man” putting flyers on cars in his own clubs’ lot for a competing show.
“I collared him and explained that he couldn’t do that, but he could talk a hungry dog off a meat bone,” Lyons recalls. “We ended up doing business together.”
In 1979, the brothers moved to New York, stumbling along on the edges of the movie industry, a business they were just learning. They got a huge bump from the timely purchase of the concert film The Secret Policeman’s Ball, produced a number of small films through most of the eighties, obtained timely funding with the success of sex, lies, and videotape, and went on steroids after The Crying Game and Pulp Fiction. Largely on the surprising success of the genre division—Dimension did $350 million in box office in 2000 while Miramax did $157 million—Miramax is a major studio. No one knows the tendencies of the academy better than Miramax—in just two decades, it’s had 42 wins and 159 nominations.
But Weinstein is finding that making a living as a cultural outrider is complicated when you know the Man on a first-name basis. The little indie that could now confronts a problem of scale. Dogma, a cherished project from Miramax franchisee Kevin Smith, was kicked to the curb fairly quickly when the Catholic community was not amused by the prospect of its release.
Remember that Weinstein was an enthusiastic supporter of the Gore-Lieberman ticket. Actor-director Tim Blake Nelson had the misfortune of delivering M O, a bloody, teen-inflected update of Othello, at the same time as Columbine and right in the middle of the campaign. According to a now-sealed complaint filed by the producers of O against Miramax, Eric Gitter, one of the producers, met with Weinstein in the Peninsula Hotel in March 2001. “Harvey Weinstein overtly threatened plaintiff that unless plaintiff agreed to allow Miramax to assign the Film to a third-party for release … he and his brother, Robert Weinstein, would see to it that the Film was released on 1000 poorly venued screens at inopportune times with no public relations support,” it states. The suit has since been settled.
Shortly after beginning work on this profile, I stumble across a trip wire that fires conspiracy and fomentation. Something in his unalloyed nature brings out the storyteller in people, as long as no name is attached. It’s all sex, lies, but no videotape.
>”Are you on a land line?” says one.
“Has he threatened you? Offered you a book?” says another.
“I love talking with Harvey,” says one reporter. “He knows movies. But at the same time, there’s always this concern that he really does throw babies in the pond.”
Another reporter insists that Miramax put a tail on the whole time they worked on a story about Miramax.
“He is a diabolical personality combined with a relentless drive and an understanding of mass appeal,” says a director of small movies. “With that combination, the danger becomes enormous and limitless.”
Not all of it is table talk on steroids. Throughout the story process, Weinstein seems to have near-perfect visibility into my notebook, ticking off a list of people I’ve talked to and what we talked about and then taking pleasure as my eyes widen. Sources, some of whom whisper heinous things about Weinstein, turn around and drop a dime to Miramax, seeking a measure of inoculation. When a leak has occurred, the company has been known to go through e-mail, and the offender is warned.
As the keeper of star-making machinery, Weinstein has re-engineered the media process so that he lives beyond its downsides. His other assets—a book-publishing company and a working knowledge of the frailties of most reporters—mean that when Weinstein acts like a numbskull at Cannes, he gets a pass.
A. J. Benza, who held Weinstein harmless when he was a gossip at the Daily News, has a book on Talk-Miramax that will become a movie. Liz Smith calls him the Irving Thalberg of our age, and Weinstein reciprocates by giving her a steady taste of star quotage. Rush and Molloy can’t blurb one of his actors without mentioning how “critically acclaimed” his last project was.
“He owns you guys, all of you,” bitches one West Coast film executive. “All media is controlled out of New York, and he is the king. He has the kind of Teflon none of us can understand.”
Having had my own torturous negotiations with Weinstein, I’ve gained an understanding of his ability to maintain custody of his image.
“There is one story that needs to be told about this guy, and you are not going to tell it,” hisses a New York film executive. “You’re going to write another story about this amazing indie genius, and if you think I am going to participate in the lionization of that fat fuck for even a second, you are out of your mind.”
Weinstein buries me in star power and testimonials, making sure that I know he’s possessed of a broad streak of altruism. As I’m walking through the Village one day, my cell phone rings. It’s Paul Newman, calling to tell me that when he mentioned to Weinstein that the kids at his Hole in the Wall Gang camp needed a gymnasium, Weinstein agreed to pay for it without asking how much it would cost.
When Nicole Kidman calls and says that Weinstein paid attention to her “back when I was just Tom Cruise’s girlfriend,” it’s going into the story, as is her observation that “I like that he gets down in the trenches. He thinks nothing of flying to London for dinner and trying to talk you into a role.”
His loyalty prompts reciprocation. When Talk magazine launched, pal Gwyneth Paltrow ended up posing in S&M garb that didn’t fit either her career arc or any of her personal needs. Paltrow says that “there were certain favors that he asked me to do that I felt were not exploitive but not necessarily as great for me as they were for him. I brought this to his attention, and he said, ‘I will never do that again.’ And he’s been true to his word.
“I think that for every bad story you hear about Harvey, there are three great ones,” says Paltrow. “People are complicated, and nobody’s all good or all bad. And I think Harvey is a prime example of somebody who has a temper and is also incredibly loving … He’s a human being, and all of his acts can be just sort of magnified. He’s larger-than-life in every way, so his good qualities are maybe more pronounced—as are some of his bad qualities.”
’Any suggestion that we’ve lost our edge will be erased by the first five minutes of Gangs of New York,” says Harvey Weinstein. “Make that the first fifteen minutes,” says Scorsese, “although I’m not done editing it yet.”
Gangs is Weinstein’s spendy—it was budgeted at $90 million and has $11 million in overages—signal to the rest of the industry that he has the wherewithal to muscle his way back to the vanguard of American film. And Miramax sources point out that $70 million worth of international-distribution rights have already been sold.
The movie was scheduled to be out in time for Oscar consideration, but after the events of 9/11 it’s now being aimed at Cannes, which takes place in mid-May. The movie jumps up and down on all of Weinstein’s buttons: It’s a statue-ready project (Helloooo, Best Cinematography) made by a legendary director on an Italian location depicting Weinstein’s hometown, a place where immigrants used brute force to set their own place at the table.
“America,” the trailer intones, “was born in the streets.”
The romance of that line isn’t lost on the grandson of an immigrant (“from the border of Poland and Russia”) fishmonger on the Lower East Side, a neighborhood that was defined in the throwdowns depicted in Gangs.
“The only way that you could get this film made was through Harvey Weinstein’s energy and contributions,” says Scorsese in August.
While Weinstein and Scorsese may be hugging and mugging for the cameras, a source who worked on the set recalls a meeting between the two where a phone went flying through a window and out onto the piazza. Weinstein was not the guilty party. Asked about the meeting, Scorsese smiles wanly and begins talking about his relationships with phones.
“I really, really don’t like phones. I don’t like phones ringing. I get very irritable about cell phones and mobile phones,” he says. “You could have had airborne phone over Taxi Driver, over New York, New York. Certainly Raging Bull.”
When shooting was already under way, Scorsese decided he needed to build a church so he could shoot the Five Points neighborhood in the round. Weinstein balked for a time but eventually relented.
Although he categorically rejects analogies to the moguls of old—save the aesthete Irving Thalberg—Weinstein feels a need to reach back into industry history to put his outlay in perspective: “I built them the entire fucking place. I mean, I built two miles worth of sets, like in the days of MGM.”
The movie is bloody and long, and, according to someone involved with the making of the film, Weinstein is pressuring Scorsese to come in with a shorter film. As a measure of his seriousness, Weinstein has ordered the sound and film crews to cease working on the movie. Gangs is far and away the biggest bet Miramax has ever made. “Amélie won’t pay the interest on the money we’re spending right now,” said someone connected to the movie.
On the day this story went to press, Weinstein and Scorsese went tactical and called together to say that the reports were untrue. “I worship Marty, it’s like going to film school … the final cut of the film belongs to him,” Weinstein says.
“The person that I am fighting with over the length of the film is me, not Harvey,” says Scorsese. “This is the most painful part of making a movie, cutting it down.”
Given that it’s Scorsese and Weinstein wrasslin’ at the edge of the cliff, it’s like trying to figure out whether Rodan or Godzilla will bite the dust when the credits roll. But many in the movie industry have a prurient issue in the process. Weinstein “has done so well for so long,” says Variety editor Peter Bart, “that people would inevitably be delighted to see him eat it.”
’You are talking about a case of arrested adolescence,” says director James Ivory, who felt compelled to buy Merchant-Ivory’s The Golden Bowl back from Miramax when Weinstein demanded changes based on a screening in Clifton, New Jersey. “He is a bully who feels that if he screams and yells and punishes you enough, he is going get his way,” says Ivory. “And he has the adolescent appetites to go with it.
“He’s both a genius and an asshole, and unfortunately those things seem to go together.”
When I bring it up, Weinstein knows it’s coming and emits a big sigh.
“They are great filmmakers,” he says, sipping a Diet Coke in an empty dining room at the Rihga Royal. “But there’s nobody outside the cocoon. The numbers are frightening, how badly the film did. They need another person—and it ain’t me, because they don’t trust me—that they listen to.”
Merchant, who had a drama with Weinstein over Mr. & Mrs. Bridge ten years before, amazed himself when he linked arms with Miramax anew, only to have it turn out even worse. “The enthusiasm that he showed early on convinced us he would leave us alone. But he ended up wanting to dismember the film,” he says. “I think he is a bully, he is uncouth, and he has no finesse whatsoever.”
“He is a pushcart peddler who is more than happy to put his thumb on the scale when the old woman is buying meat,” says producer Saul Zaentz. “He has no qualms about it.” Zaentz produced The English Patient, which won Best Picture for Miramax and did almost $80 million in business. But he’s still waiting for the big payout; so far, he’s seen $5 million.
“When I talked with him about it, he says, ‘I am a filmmaker; I’m not an accountant,’ ” Zaentz recalls.
A grindingly magnanimous Weinstein understands completely: “He knows the math is right, because it’s the Disney corporation, but if I were Saul, I’d be just as pissed off. I think that in a year or two, I might just do something about it.”
Sydney Pollack, the longtime producer and actor who has happily done business with Weinstein, says Harvey hasn’t mastered the art of being on top.
“I think that people are angry at his success. He is not a humble person. There is in Harvey a kind of confidence that people construe as arrogance. People want you to be a little humble about your success, and he doesn’t do that,” says Pollack.
Weinstein’s tendency to physically menace people on occasion hasn’t always helped matters. Jonathan Taplin met an enraged version of Weinstein at Sundance after he sold Shine to Fine Line. (Weinstein denies he ever laid a hand on him.)
“It was very unpleasant to have this guy strangle you in a restaurant, but I give him credit for being passionate enough about Shine to hunt me down and confront me,”
Taplin recalls. “He was totally out of control and had to be thrown out of the restaurant, but you would have to put me down on the side of people who are passionate and crazy about movies.”
Bingham Ray once ran October Films, one of a number of “the next Miramax” indies that didn’t make it out of the nineties, and is now heading United Artists, the specialty-film unit of MGM. “What frustrates me is that they are still able through his craft and genius to spin Miramax as this little, small, underdog independent company when everybody and his uncle knows that this is a major studio,” Ray says.
Tom Bernard, co-head of Sony Pictures Classics with Michael Barker and Marcie Bloom, who scored big with Crouching Tiger, credits Weinstein with buying film in bulk, nothing more: “The main goal is to market the brand, and he has forced the rest of the world to take out bigger ads to be recognized, profits be damned. He has made the cost of doing business catastrophic, and because of that, a lot of independents have gone out of business.”
Weinstein points out that more small films are playing to big audiences than ever before. Listening to a litany of complaints from his competitors during a 90-minute interview at the Rihga Royal, Weinstein starts to smile. “It always reminds me of the scene in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly when the three banditos burst in on Eli Wallach and he’s in the tub,” he says, his eyes narrowing.
“He’s got soapsuds on him and they come in,” he says, hands beginning to float above the table. “So just imagine, Michael Barker, Tom Bernard, and Ismail Merchant, the three of them, they walk in and they see Eli Wallach and he’s playing Tuco, he’s the ugly. And they go, ‘Tuco, you bastard,’ in dubbed Italian. ‘You killed the neighborhood, you shot up this guy, you got our gold, you got our this, you got our that, you got everything … You have to die. You will die now.’ “
Weinstein pauses to make sure he has my full attention. The hands form pistols.
“And then they reach for their guns, but he comes out of the bathwater with the gun and he shoots all three of them and says, ‘When you talk, you talk, when you shoot, you shoot,’ ” his revolver-shaped hands cracking off round after round.
“These guys are busy talking like old ladies about ‘What is Harvey going to do? What is he going to do?’ ” he says. “While they are talking, I am shooting.”
Harvey, as I’ve taken to calling him, is working Dave, as he’s taken to calling me. I hate the name Dave, but I’ve never figured out a way to politely tell someone that. Stylistically, we aren’t all that different—big, noisy guys who bully people into liking them or hating them. It’s just that he can okay a $100 million film with a flick of the wrist and I type for a living, a business Weinstein knows well.
“Harvey is all about content, he responds to great content. He has a fantastic eye for things that are culturally interesting,” Tina Brown says in a phone call. “He is very much of a polymath. He’s Joseph Papp crossed with Max Perkins crossed with Samuel Goldwyn.”
When the must-have editor got hitched to a marketing behemoth, everybody expected it would explode into a publishing juggernaut. But Talk magazine—which is owned in partnership with Hearst—all but capsized after a huge launch, beset by editorial cluelessness and a dearth of ads.
By his own admission, he’s $40 million in, and Talk’s second year is going off in the midst of a hellish storm of cratering ad spending, heinous distribution quandaries, and, as is always the case with Tina, costs beyond what had been hoped. The magazine has picked up editorial momentum, but it remains a long way from profitability.
“It’s been a hard road for the magazine,” he says. “I think it’s making progress slow and steady.”
Weinstein has been stunned by the costs, and he’s not always pleased with the editorial execution. He took the reconfigured post–September 11 issue home, and, when his wife reportedly didn’t think it properly reflected the gravitas of the time, the magazine was torn up at the eleventh hour for yet another redo.
According to someone who was asked if they’d be interested, Hearst is shopping their half of the magazine. Calls for comment from Hearst went unreturned, but sources at the company say that “everything is on the table” given the current publishing environment. Reports that publisher Ron Galotti was seen at Condé Nast, his old employer, were written off as social engagements, but sources at Condé Nast say that the company has made it clear it would love to have him back. Editors of other titles at Hearst are always bringing up Brown’s party budget when they are asked to hack jobs at already lean titles. And it’s hard to picture Disney—whose stock price has dropped from $35 a share to $20 in just the past six months—lining up for a bigger share of Talk.
Talk-Miramax Books has had the opposite trajectory, debuting to low expectations and growing in credibility with each passing book. It’s one thing that Weinstein and Brown can agree on. The imprint’s most recent get was a two-book deal from Rudy Giuliani, a Weinstein antagonist who nuked his effort with Robert De Niro to build a studio in Brooklyn. “You’d certainly have to put me in the top ten of public figures who have had fights with Rudy,” says Weinstein. “But I think he’s done a remarkable job for New York. Remarkable.”
Before Giuliani became Saint Rudy, back in August, Weinstein was reportedly nickel-and-diming him about the $3 million, two-book contract. A source close to Giuliani says that the argument heated up and that threats flew on both sides. Giuliani reportedly felt that his contract seemed like small potatoes next to Hillary Clinton’s $8 million, while Weinstein felt it was a lot of money to be paying to a washed-up mayor who only made headlines when his marriage came up.
Brad Grey, CEO of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, negotiated the deal on behalf of Giuliani and says that no such throwdown occurred. “I was involved in every element of the deal, and I don’t recall any conversation that was basically relooking at the deal,” he says.
Weinstein doesn’t always have to be front and center to be happy in a business. He is a substantially silent partner in both his Broadway endeavors and the restaurants he’s partnered in. “I think that theater fits very well with his metabolism,” says Rocco Landesman, president of Jujamcyn, principal producer for The Producers. “You can go from a reading to a show within a year.”
Both of the plays Weinstein put money on—the other was a revival of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing—came in. “I do think he has a warped view of the business, making the money back in six months,” Landesman says, laughing.
Weinstein laughs at this, too, although not for the same reason. “Well, I’m a guy who’s got ten Best Picture nominations in nine years,” he says, dropping the humility like a used napkin. “Rocco might not quite understand who he’s dealing with.”
We’re riding in from a screening in new Jersey in the back of a Mercedes. I’m not exactly drunk on Weinstein, but I’m feeling a little tipsy. Tonight, there’s no Gwyneth, no Nicole, just a test screening of director Walter Hill’s Undisputed, a palooka of a movie that’s going nowhere big or fast. Hill had his fifteen minutes back when he made 48 Hrs. and has been mostly skidding his way through various genre flicks since. Undisputed will not change that trajectory, but Weinstein seems completely content to be out in Jersey finding a way to make this dog hunt.
“I think it’s an amazing experience watching a movie with an audience … the laughter, inappropriate beats, the groaning, everything you can sense and feel,” he says after we pile into the car for the trip back through the tunnel. “Irving Thalberg used to take movies out to Santa Barbara and test movies and have people fill out cards. Four hundred strangers in the dark are a lot more honest than your friends who are always telling you how great it is,” he says.
It’s plenty dark as we head back to the city. What scant light there is comes from the glow emanating from the commercial strip lining the highway. I like this guy, the one who schleps out to Jersey to see a crappy movie. I mention that it seems like pretty small potatoes for a big-deal movie guy.
“God, if I have dominion over New York, I don’t understand how the days begin so early and end so late. That doesn’t seem like a king’s life to me … It’s not like I’m going to Moomba or fucking Veruka every night. I mean, I don’t go anywhere.”
And just about the time I’m ready to hop into his lap and tell him what a misunderstood genius he is, the other Harvey shows up, dropping names left and right while excusing his own behavior on the grounds that he’s surrounded by other maniacs.
“People say, ‘Are you tough?’ I say: Facing Barry Diller, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen, you know, Steven Spielberg … Why the hell would you have to be tough in this industry to survive? Those guys are just a walk in the park? Martin Scorsese says never to use irony in interviews, but the basic concept is, people are tough in our industry.”
We’re in the middle of the Lincoln Tunnel, and the car is instantly suffused with light. It’s late, but his eyes are very much alive. It’s beginning to feel a little tight in the back, even though it’s a big-ass Benz.
“I’m preparing to direct a movie about the Warsaw Ghetto. About Jews killing fucking Germans in great numbers,” he says with enthusiasm.
True to the cliché, what Weinstein would really like to do is direct. He plans to get behind the camera for Mila 18, Leon Uris’s epic portrayal of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto who used guile and ruthlessness to attack much better-armed opponents. Scorsese and Spielberg may executive-produce. Look for Matt, Ben, Gwyneth, all his pals, to clear out their calendars. There’s a line in the Weinstein-backed Producers that suggests “it’s good to be king.” It’s even better to be Harvey Weinstein. Just ask Harvey.
“You know what happened?” he says. “The outsider came in—you know, he rode into town. And he sized up the town and said, ‘You know what? This town is corrupt.’ The studios are all in bed with each other … and some New Yorker comes in and levels the playing field.”
Harvey Weinstein believes this. To be Harvey Weinstein, you may have to believe it.
I’ve parked my car in midtown, so we pull to a stop at a nondescript corner somewhere on Tenth Avenue near the tunnel outlet. We finish with a little man-on-man talk, off the record, no bullshit, just us guys. I shake his hand quickly, step out onto the street, and wonder which way to go.