Zurich 2012 - Jerry Weintraub Q&A
Posted on Tuesday September 25, 2012, 19:58 by Simon Braund in Under The Radar
Tonight, legendary producer Jerry Weintraub, a genuine larger-than-life Hollywood showmen in the mould of Mike Todd or Sam Spiegal, will celebrate his 75th birthday by accepting the ZFF’s Golden Eye Career Achievement Award.
Famed for producing Robert Altman’s seminal 1975 film Nashville, as well as the Karate Kid franchise (including the 2010 remake) and the Ocean’s Eleven blockbusters, Weintraub, began his remarkable career in the music business, promoting tours for, among many others, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin. He switched to movie production in the early 1970s. Forty years on, he remains very much in the game with an HBO biopic of flamboyant Vegas star Liberace in the can and a big-budget Tarzan project in pre-production at Warner Bros. The Liberace project is based on the book Behind The Candelabra, a memoir by Liberace’s lover Scott Thorson, and stars Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Thorson. It was directed by Ocean’s helmer Steven Soderbergh. Tarzan is currently at the casting stage.
A fabulous raconteur with an inexhaustible store of anecdotes, Weintraub granted Empire an all-too-brief audience - anything short of a weekend is all-too-brief with Jerry Weintraub - on the eve of his big day.
You and Las Vegas go way back. Did you know Liberace well?
I knew him quite well wen he was performing in Vegas. He was a tortured guy. He had this whole life that he had to hide, because in those days you couldn’t come out of the closet. It’s a fascinating story. He was a huge star but he had to live this secret life, out of the spotlight.
How did Michael Douglas and Matt Damon come on board?
It was Steven Soderbergh’s idea. We went to them and they both wanted to do it. Richard LaGravenese wrote a great script, so when you’ve got Soderbergh directing and LaGravanese writing the script, you’ve got a pretty good package.
Was part of the draw for you working with Soderberg and Matt Damon again?
I got involved because of the story, that fascinating dichotomy, [Liberace’s] double life, in and out of the spotlight.
You had stellar success in the music business. How did you make the switch to movies?
Well, back in the seventies, George Bush Senior was the ambassador to the United Nations. I was doing a John Denver concert at Carnegie Hall and he wanted to bring all the United Nations ambassadors to the show. So they came to the show and we had a party at my house. We invited a load of celebrities so we’d have some fun, not just these ambassadors (laughs). And Altman was there. We were sitting in the corner smoking a joint -
Just to get that visual image fixed, this is you and Robert Altman at a party for George H.W. Bush smoking a joint.
We smoked plenty of joints in those days. So Altman says to me, ‘Why don’t you become a movie producer, that’s what you should do. What are you messing around with music for?’ I said, ‘Well, I would if I get something I like.’ Next morning he sent me Nashville.
As simple as that.
As simple as that.
Why did it strike you that Ocean’s Eleven was ripe for a remake?
Well, I was there when Sinatra and those guys made the original. They were doing a show at The Sands at night, drinking all night, then they’d go to the set and work for a few hours. I never thought the film was great. But it was such a great idea, I said to Sinatra, ‘One day I’m going to make that movie again.’ I just didn’t think they carried off, that it could’ve been better. The first one has a lot of great things in it, the end where they leave the money in the coffin. But I got the idea and I talked to Soderbergh and Clooney about it and we decided if we could load it up with a bunch of stars we could really do something great.
How difficult was it to put that cast together?
I do it all the time (chuckles). These were all my friends, they’re like my children. Clooney was the first to sign on, and I had Soderbergh and every actor wants to work with Soderbergh. So I had all these friends, they had all these friends so we just went to our friends and said, ‘Come on, let’s do this.’ And in order to make it, I cut everybody’s price and gave them a bigger back end. They all ended up with a fortune.
Did it bring back memories of the original, hanging out with the Rat Pack?
Yeah, well, I’ve done a lot of movies in Vegas, but sure. Vegas is a different place now, a different vibe.
What are your memories of those guys?
Dean and Frank? They were my friends, you now. I’ve never been a guy who idolizes movie stars, they were just my friends. Dean was the leader of the pack. Everybody thinks it was Frank; it wasn’t, it was Dean. He was very much his own man, a loner. He was a very handsome guy and the women loved him. He was the one they all wanted to sleep with. He was a great guy. He started out as a Blackjack dealer, and he used to cheat, dealing from the bottom of the deck. He thought everybody on the other side of the table was a sucker, so when he started singing and becoming successful, he couldn’t understand it, he never got how talented he was. He still thought they were all suckers.
Do you have a favourite story about Dean?
We were at a party at his house one night, Me, Frank, all of us. We were drunk, carrying on like crazy. It got out of hand and it got real late. All of a sudden the police showed up. They said, ‘You’re makin’ a racket, the neighbours can’t sleep.’ They saw me, they saw Frank, they saw Sammy Davis, but they said, ‘You gotta end the party now.’ So we did. And you know who called the police? Dean. He wanted us out of the house so he could go to bed.
What about Frank?
He was great, he was my buddy, we drank together, we travelled together, we hung out together. He used to sing Three O’Clock In The Morning to me, just the two of us at the piano. The first show I ever did with him was at Carnegie Hall. The ticket said 8 o’clock. I had never worked with him before and I was standing at the side of the stage, like I always did, in my tuxedo. I looked out and the place was empty. This was New York, no one ever takes their seat on time; they like to be fashionably late. I was standing there and there was a tap on my shoulder. it was Frank. He says, ‘I don’t want to bother you Jerry, but it’s eight o’clock. Let’s go.’ I said, ‘But there’s no one in.’ He said, ’They’ll be in. When I walk on the stage, they’ll all be in.’ And as soon as he walked out on stage, they were in.