With over 35 years experience in the movie business and a number of years managing legendary artists like Frank Sinatra and Elvis, Jerry Weintraub shows no signs of slowing down at 73.
A few years back, Jerry Weintraub’s autobiography, “When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead,” was published, and that too was a huge success and HBO follows that up with a new documentary called “His Way,” directed by Douglas McGrath (Emma) and featuring many of Weintraub’s Hollywood acquaintances, including George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and more.
Weintraub first broke into the film business producing Robert Altman’s Nashville, followed later by hits like the comedy Oh, God! with George Burns and John Denver. In the ’80s, Weintraub produced Barry Levinson’s Diner and the original The Karate Kid, an enormous success which spawned a number of sequels and a TV series, before being remade in conjunction with Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment, this time pairing Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. In 2001, the producer had a spectacular comeback when he and director Steven Soderbergh brought together George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon to remake Ocean’s 11, another enormous success that led to two equally big sequels.
ComingSoon.net got on the phone with one of Hollywood’s A-list producers early this week to talk about the HBO doc as well as some of the other projects he’s developing including remakes of Oh, God! and a sequel to The Karate Kid.
ComingSoon.net: So I loved the movie. I’ve started reading the book and I really like it so far, though I’m only a couple of chapters in. What was the connection between the two things?
Jerry Weintraub: Between the book and the movie? The connection was that I had done the book and it was a huge success and continues to be. When they came to me about the movie, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. I said, “If it’s going to be the same as the book, I really don’t want to do the movie.” They said, “No, no, no we’re going a different way.” They told me what they wanted to do and in between Soderbergh and Graydon Carter and Douglas McGrath, they all had some great creative ideas. I said, “The hell with it. Let me go for it. I’m 73 years old.” My great, great grandchildren will have this film to look at.
CS: Who brought Douglas McGrath on board? Was he one of the people who instigated the movie?
Weintraub: Yeah, well it was instigated originally by Graydon Carter. It was financed by two kids from Chicago, young men who produced this film, the Polsky brothers, Gabe and Alan Polsky. Then they hired McGrath to do it after I met with Doug McGrath and he was the creative force.
CS: I assume you were very involved in getting George and Brad and Matt on board?
Weintraub: I called them all and asked them to do it. They all said “yes.”
CS: I was actually impressed by how many of them do impressions of you. Had you ever seen any of these impressions before?
Weintraub: (Laughs) Yeah, I have. They do them all the time. I don’t know that I sound like that, so to me, it’s just a lot of fun that they do it because the fact that they would take the time to learn how to do an impression of me, it’s really fascinating to me. But a lot of people do impressions of me all over the place. They do them when I’m around, they do them when I’m not around, they do them on TV, off TV, they just do them.
CS: How involved were you with what ended up in the movie, did you see it early and let Doug know if there was anything you didn’t want included?
Weintraub: I wasn’t involved at all. I was involved strictly as a subject. I didn’t realize what he was doing because I wasn’t there for the (other) interviews. What he did was he asked everybody the same questions and then he went into the editing room and he started the story, somebody edited the next part of the story, the next part of the story. So everything just tied together. He tied it all together. It was quite fascinating for what he did.
CS: Is it hard watching a movie like this with all these people talking about you? It’s very flattering.
Weintraub: No, I liked it. It’s pretty extraordinary. How many people get a movie made about them and a book in their lifetime? it’s pretty extraordinary.
CS: It feels like almost there might be another book in there, there might be another story in there. I haven’t read the whole book yet obviously.
Weintraub: There is another book. I’m negotiating now to do it.
CS: I’m obviously more familiar with your work in the movie business and I hadn’t known about you managing Frank and Elvis. Your transition from music business to movie business was interesting because it’s something you don’t see that often.
Weintraub: Everybody in those days, in the late ’60s, early ’70s, wanted me to make films. They all thought I’d be a great film producer and I was hesitant until I met Altman and Altman gave me “Nashville” and then I decided to do it.
CS: Do you think one business is harder than the other?
Weintraub: No, no, I don’t. Everything’s about this content. If you find the right content when you’re in my business, in my world, then you can have success. If you don’t find the right content, you can’t have success.
CS: Obviously the story about the studio not wanting to release “Diner” is quite unbelievable in hindsight considering what a classic film it became.
Weintraub: I know. That was ridiculous.
CS: Is there anything in your years as a producer that you wanted to do that never quite took off or you still feel could take off if the time was right?
Weintraub: I had one movie that I felt was great that didn’t work called “9-30-55″ that I made with Debbie Bridges about the day James Dean died. But I discovered an awful lot of people between “Diner” and “The Karate Kid” and “Nashville” and all the other films I did. I just keep going and I find actors that I think are interesting and exciting and I work with them.
CS: Obviously Jaden Smith is an example of a young actor that is taking off. Are there any other actors today that you feel have big futures?
Weintraub: It’s amazing stuff. DiCaprio, I think is incredible. Will Smith is fantastic. Hanks is great. There’s a lot of great actors around.
CS: Most of them have been around 15 or 20 years now. Do you still go to the movies and see new things to keep on top of the new actors out there?
Weintraub: I do if I see kids that I like that I want to work with. I like Scott Caan. I think he’s a great young kid. I think he’s gonna have a really huge career. Emile Hirsch. There’s a number of kids around that I see that I think are exciting.
CS: You’ve had a lot of success with remakes. Some people love them, some people hate them, but “Ocean’s 11″ was one most people liked, and I absolutely loved “The Karate Kid,” which I saw here in Vegas at ShoWest, which is now CinemaCon. What do you think makes a good remake?
Weintraub: Well, “The Karate Kid” remake was all about Jaden Smith. He’s fantastic and Jackie Chan. I didn’t want to make it. Will Smith convinced me to do it.
CS: Are you involved with the sequel they want to make as well?
Weintraub: Oh yeah, yeah, for sure, “The Karate Kid” is me.
CS: How’s it going? Do they have a script yet?
Weintraub: We’re waiting for a script. We should have it any minute now.
CS: I’m pretty excited to see them together again.
Weintraub: Yeah, he’s great. He’s a superstar, that kid.
CS: What about some of these other things? I’m just old enough to have seen the original “Oh God!” in theaters. What about that one made you think of remaking it? Is there anyone today who could fill George Burns’s shoes?
Weintraub: The “Oh God!” you mean? I’m working on that now. It’s going to be a female god this time.
CS: Are there any original ideas or anything you see coming up? Do you still get scripts?
Weintraub: I’m going to make “Liberace” with Matt Damon and Michael Douglas directed by Soderbergh. I’m going to do that. I’m going to remake “Matt Helm” at Paramount.
CS: People want westerns again, which is great.
Weintraub: Yeah, I might do a western.
CS: Your relationship with Soderbergh is great, taking him from what he did with “Traffic” and “Erin Brockovich” and doing mainstream movies like “Ocean’s Eleven.” Where does “Liberace” fall in with those movies?
Weintraub: “Liberace’s” a great film. It’s a great piece of material. I have a great script and it’s a great score.
CS: Are we going to see a younger Liberace as well? Are you going to have to find a young Michael Douglas to play Liberace?
Weintraub: Michael Douglas is playing Liberace.
CS: The young version as well?
Weintraub: Yeah, the whole thing.
CS: That’s impressive. Are you have to use CG or anything like that?
Weintraub: You’ll see, you’ll see, yeah.
CS: Do you think Steven is really going to retire after doing that?
Weintraub: Do I think he’s going to retire? I don’t think he is.
CS: Yeah, I don’t think so either. I was kind of surprised by that.
Weintraub: Well, he’s been talking about it for a long time.
CS: It’s funny because you got Harald Zwart to do “The Karate Kid.” I’m curious what you see in directors as far as a good director to work with for a producer?
Weintraub: It has to be somebody who can communicate with actors and understand story, understands how to tell a story. I’ve had great luck with directors. I’ve worked with all the great ones.
CS: Do you still regularly meet new directors? Do you see any up and coming directors you’d want to work with?
Weintraub: I meet with directors all the time because I have pictures that I want to do and I’m not going to direct them myself, so I have to have directors.
CS: Have you ever directed?
Weintraub: No, I don’t want to direct.
CS: Seeing this movie and seeing George and Brad and Matt and Julia talking about you, people might be interested in another Danny Ocean movie. Is that completely contingent on Steven wanting to do another one? Would you ever do another one?
Weintraub: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’d never say no, but I don’t know.
CS: Have you had any idea for another one and would you do it if George and Brad and Matt expressed interest in doing another movie together?
Weintraub: We don’t have an idea.
“His Way” airs on HBO starting Monday, April 4.