Last week we had the honour of chatting with one of Hollywood's most successful and prolific movie producers Jerry Weintraub, who was in Europe to promote his latest movie Behind The Candelabra (read the FIVE-STAR review here). We got talking to Jerry about what attracted him to his project, his relationship with director Stephen Soderbergh, his hugely influential cinematic history as well as what he's got coming up next. A fantastic interviewee, bracingly honest and funny in equal measure, we already can't wait to chat to him again!
Entertainment.ie: Jerry, you began your career as a concert promoter for some of the biggest acts in show business, working with the likes of Elvis and Frank Sinatra. Working on Behind The Candelabra almost brings you back full circle, working with Liberace in Vegas. How did you feel to revisit that part of your life?
Jerry Weintraub: Well, actually, it was very touching and very moving, because Elvis worked in the same nightclub that Liberace worked in Las Vegas, in The Hilton Hotel, and I was there all the time because I had Elvis working there. So I revisited my youth, and I had an incredible time. I actually will admit to you that I re-did the theatre that's in the film to exactly how it was back in the day, and when I first walked in there and stood in the same spot that Elvis stood in every night, I started to cry. So I'm not afraid to admit that because that's how touching and moving it was for me.
Entertainment.ie: You've worked with Steven Soderbergh on his three Oceans films. How was it working with on him on something as different as this?
Jerry Weintraub: Well he and I have worked together a lot; we're very, very close friends, and he's a genius, and when we first decided to do [Behind The Candelabra] we talked about the cast and the writer and so on and so forth, and we agreed on everything, and I bought the book (Behind The Candelabra: My Life With Liberace by Scott Thorson) and the rest is history. We're very happy we did it, the reaction to the film has been extraordinary, and I'm really happy about that, because these days in the movies they don't make a lot of movies about people with great stories and backgrounds and so on, that are emotional. A lot of stuff is trains getting wrecked and planes flying overhead that blow up. This is a story about people, it's a very moving story, it's a very happy, flamboyant story, and yet there's the dark side to it. So it's everything you could want in a drama.
Entertainment.ie: You mentioned there that it is a flamboyant movie, but how did you react when Hollywood turned it down for, as Soderbergh himself put it, being "too gay"? [Behind The Candelabra is being released on US TV station HBO after no movie production or distribution company picked up the option for the movie. This also means that it is now ineligible to be nominated for any Academy Awards.]
Jerry Weintraub: You know what - I don't think that they turned it down because it was too gay - but reaction was (and is) that because they turned it down, meant to me that I had a hit. Now that they've turned it down and it is a hit, I know that I have a smash. So I'm very happy. (laughs)
Entertainment.ie: Then I'm very happy for you, too.
Jerry Weintraub: Thank you! (laughs)
Entertainment.ie: As much as Behind The Candelabra feels like it's a full circle for you, it also feels like it's a full circle for Steven Soderbergh, because his first film Sex, Lies & Videotape won the P'alm D'Or at Cannes, and now Behind The Candelabra has just been screened at Cannes as well. Are you sad to see him retire?
Jerry Weintraub: I don't think he's going to retire. (laughs) I think he's just taking a rest. I don't want him to retire. I've got other movies I want to make with him. I think he's too talented to retire. You know Steven Soderbergh, and I've said this before, the fact is he's not a human being. He's a camera. He walks down the street and he sees things that you and I don't see, and that nobody else sees, and then he puts that on film. That's a great talent. He's a quiet guy, and he does things with a camera that are extraordinary. Actors love to work with him because he's the cameraman; he sits there with the camera and he's right in their face with it. He knows when he has a take that he likes, and they trust him. And I trust him. And I'm the only one that sits on the set with a little monitor and watches it, because we don't like the actors to stop the film to go look at their performance. But they trust him when it comes to their performance, and mine too I guess, and I don't think he's gonna retire, and I think he's gonna make many more movies.
Entertainment.ie: You've had a lot of hits with Soderbergh, between his Oceans Trilogy and it looks like Behind The Candelabra is going to do fantastically as well, but you - both critically and commercially - have done fantastically well over your career with the likes of Diner, The Karate Kid - both the original and the remake - and My Stepmother Is An Alien. Do you have any favourites out of your own back catalogue, or any favourite memories from making these movies?
Jerry Weintraub: Well, I have great memories with all my films. The only one that I made that didn't get the recognition that I wanted it to get was a film called 9.30.55, which very few people saw, I doubt it was released over here actually. I gotta go back and have it re-released; I can do that now, when I say "Release it" they release it. But I made this film back in the late-60s, early-70s about the day James Dean died. He died September 30th 1955, and it's one of my favourite films. I was talking about it in the car while heading in to talk to you, I was talking about that particular film. But anyway, I'm proud of all my films, they're all my children. The truth is I hate to give them up and have everybody see them at the end of the day. (laughs) I want to keep them at home and watch them myself.
Entertainment.ie: As with anyone with a career as long and as healthy as yours, you've had your hits, but you've also had a few misses. [Weintraub produced two of the highest profile flops of the 90s; Kurt Russell sci-fi actioner Soldier, and Ralph Fiennes/Uma Thurman TV show update The Avengers] For those movies that didn't quite work out, do you look back to try to figure out how they went wrong, or do you just keep moving forward?
Jerry Weintraub: I keep moving forward, but I look back to see what went wrong, and I know what goes wrong, I know it at the time. I made a movie in London a few years ago, and I knew from the first scene that it wasn't working. First scene. But I've had so few of those that I've got no complaints.
Entertainment.ie: Final question, what is next for you? We're hearing rumours that you're looking into doing a Tarzan movie next.
Jerry Weintraub: Yes, I'm having lunch on Monday with David Yates [director of the last four Harry Potter movies]. He's a brilliant, brilliant director and I think we're gonna move ahead and make Tarzan next year, next May.
Entertainment.ie: Any hints as to who might be playing Tarzan?
Jerry Weintraub: I don't have a hint, I'll tell you. Nobody knows yet, but I'll tell you. Alexander Skarsgard will be Tarzan. You got a little piece of news there. (laughs)