Sunday, April 3, 2011

Weintraub's Way

photo by Norman Jean Roy/courtesy of HBO
Producer Jerry Weintraub

His Way (documentary)

Premieres April 4, 2011 on HBO (for more dates, go to

When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead (memoir)
Now in paperback

Even in the rarefied air of show business, Jerry Weintraub's life and career have been unique. As the new HBO documentary about Weintraub, His Way, shows—and many of his showbiz friends, from George Clooney and Julia Roberts to George and Barbara Bush confirm on-camera—the Brooklyn-born and Bronx-raised Weintraub has always gone his own path, whether managing music acts ranging from John Denver to Led Zeppelin, producing movies as diverse as Robert Altman's Nashville, George Burns in Oh God, Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid, and Oceans 11, 12 and 13, as well as unapologetically living with his current girlfriend of 20 years while staying married to his wife of 45 years—with whom he's raised four children.

The indefatiguable 73-year-old Weintraub popped into HBO's Manhattan offices to talk to journalists about the film His Way, which follows last year's memoir—just out in paperback—When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead. He answered questions on his career in movies, even throwing in a George Clooney revenge story.

Question: How has the movie business changed since you started producing films in the mid 70s (1975's Nashville was his first producing credit.)
Jerry Weintraub: Most kids who go to the movies are more interested in action than in characters nowadays, and that’s just the truth of it.

Q: In today's world, have you thought of looking at different avenues for releasing films than simply putting them in theaters?
JW: I really don’t have any thoughts on that because I haven’t had to explore new options like cable or online instead of theatrical releases. This TV documentary is an alternative for me, since it's on HBO. With all the film companies and staffs I’ve worked with, nobody comes close to this company, without question the best ever. That's a lot different than when nobody wanted to make Nashville 35 years ago: they said I was crazy and they all hated Altman, so that was a difficult one to put together. I ended up financing it myself and then sold it to the studio.

Q: Which stars would you like to work with that you haven't yet?
JW: There are two stars I’d love to work with: (Leonardo) DiCaprio and (Johnny) Depp. I love them both, I think they’re both brilliant. I’ve shown them some stuff we could do over the years, but nothing has come together yet.

Q: You worked with director Steven Soderbergh on the three Oceans movies. What do you think of his decision to retire?
JW: I think that everybody has to make that decision for themselves. When he says that he's going to retire, my guess is that he’ll go and direct other things like operas or something, but not make movies for awhile. You do get burned out in this job, it’s a 24/7 occupation. So I can see why he’d need rest, but that word is not in my vocabulary: I’m not going to follow him into retirement.

Q: Did the film His Way come about before or after you wrote your memoir, When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead?
JW: The book and the film are two totally separate projects. Graydon Carter (from Vanity Fair magazine) came to me with the idea of making a film about my life. He got Soderbergh involved as an executive producer and these two kids from Chicago, the Polsky brothers, and director Doug McGrath, the creative force behind the film. It works beautifully, I think—it's an interesting piece of work. Graydon showed it to the HBO people and they wanted to show it, and they are!

Q: You've been involved with the remake of Oceans 11. What is your opinion on remaking familiar movies, like your own Oh God?
JW: Not everything should be remade, not everything should be re-touched. I knew I could do a better job with the remake of Oceans 11, since I was there when they made the original. Oh God is another one we’re playing around with: right now, we’re trying to find the right God. I think it should be a woman this time.

Q: In the film, friends like George Clooney and Matt Damon seem to play jokes on you a lot. Have you ever gotten back at any of them?
JW: Well, here’s a George Clooney story: I had a gold silk shirt that he hated with a passion. I said “don’t bother me—you dress you and I’ll dress me, and we’ll both be happy.” He stole my shirt from my room and painted a penis on the back of it and had every big star sign it—I still have that shirt!—and he sent it to me for my birthday in a big box with a ribbon. The shirt was totally destroyed, thanks to the drawing and the signatures. So I drove to his office with a golf club and totally destroyed it—the people working for him were shaking in their boots, and he was laying (sic) on the floor while he was talking on the phone. He was worried that I was going to kill him!

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