This fall, The Weinstein Company is poised to have their biggest season ever, premiering films like Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook and John Hillcoat’s Lawless, among others. However it’s a summertime French film that’s creating what is perhaps the most buzz for the company. Not only has The Intouchables become the country’s second most popular film ever, but right now it’s the world’s most popular comedy.
The film, which follows the true story of a handicapped aristocrat who connects in unexpected ways with a poor immigrant, has raked in roughly $400 million worldwide, and as it expands throughout the United States – with a planned American remake on the way starring Colin Firth – we sat down with Weinstein Company chief Harvey Weinstein to talk about the success of the film, but also his diverse career, past, present and future.
Fandango: How did you discover The Intouchables?
HW: We read the script – this remarkable story – and heard about the true story, and then we met the people it was based on. We were familiar with the filmmakers, and the producers had done a movie called Heartbreaker, which we loved. Then we saw a trailer for the film, and we went to Paris and negotiated to buy the movie.
Fandango: It’s become this huge deal in France – it’s now the second most successful film ever in the country. What do you think people are connecting with?
HW: Well not only is it the second most successful film, but right now it’s also the world’s biggest comedy. The movie has grossed almost $400 million overseas, and it’s the number one French export movie of all time. So I think it’s a universal theme, and it’s a really quality movie. I think for the people who know our company – from Cinema Paradiso to Amelie to Life is Beautiful – it’s that kind of movie. You feel fantastic after you leave.
Fandango: You met the men the film is based on. How did they compare to the way they’re portrayed in the film?
HW: They’re very similar, and they’re both great. The story in France has much more to do with immigration because it’s about immigrants and the immigrant experience. And the Frenchman (played by Francois Cluzet in the film) is an aristocrat from a family who had been there hundreds of years. So this is really a story about an immigrant (played by Omar Sy)…. In America, it would be very waspy – that’s why we got Colin Firth to play the role [in the remake], and it would be an immigrant whose family sailed over on the Mayflower.
Fandango: It’s fascinating that in America, films like The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises break records, but in other countries sometimes that’s not the case. Like with The Inctouchables, it’s the human story people are so invested in – not the star power or special effects.
HW: I think we do have our true, original stories that work. I can tell you that The King’s Speech, which we did, became a worldwide smash because people loved the personal story. But I agree with you – America is not a good incubator for this kind of story. This is better from England or France or somewhere else, and then it grows in our country and becomes a giant hit here, or an Oscar phenomenon like The Artist.
Fandango: The Intouchables plays on similar themes I’ve seen in your films, specifically The King’s Speech. In your personal life, have you ever had an unexpected connection with someone completely unlike you?
HW: When I was young I had kind of an incredible experience. I was a camp counselor for kids whose moms were on welfare, unfortunately, and right across the camp was the best, most pristine and preppy camp in the universe. Every year there used to be a shared competitive treasure hunt that the two camps would play, and maybe mine wasn’t as gentile an experience as The Intouchables, but I had the distinct pleasure of aiding and abetting my camp as we kicked the preppy camp in the butt.
Fandango: That’s great, so are you going to adapt that story at some point with someone playing you?
HW: Only if Bill Murray will play me [laughs].
Fandango: You’re one of the rarities in this business in that you’re so vocal and outspoken when it comes to championing your films, like The Intouchables, whereas others in your position aren’t like that. They just leave it to the marketing campaigns.
HW: It’s hard to think of yourself as a brand, especially when I have four daughters who kick my butt early in the morning every day before I go to work. I’m probably the only person who goes to work and says ‘Wow, it’s really nice here and sweet, even in the competitive movie business. When you have four daughters, you learn to lose early and often. So I think for us – the Weinstein name, the Miramax name – they’ve both become synonymous with brands. We have a real winning formula when it comes to championing a different kind of movie, and I think the audience trusts us. And believe me, of all the experiences I’ve had with all my movies, there is nothing like the way people feel after they’ve seen The Intouchables. They feel amazing. The word of mouth on this film is incredible. It’s intelligent-feeling good. You’re not insulted by the low-browness or stupidity of some of the humor. It’s so smart and terrific.
Fandango: You’ve been behind so many influential films over the years, to the point where people now ask which Weinstein movie will win the Oscar, as if it’s a given. Was there one film you look back on and say, this is the one that put you on the map? This is the one that sort of defined our presence in the industry?
HW: I think over the years we’ve followed the written word, and the written word has worked for us. I’m proud of that because I come out of the literary tradition, family wise and everything else, so that’s the key to us and that’s been the key to our success.
Fandango: You’re jumping into the VOD game with Radius. What’s going to be your approach, and will you do something differently with it – perhaps something others aren’t doing yet?
HW: I think Tom Quinn and Jason Janego are their own masters as they consistently remind me. They do it their way, and their way is that they invented the business. They’re unique onto themselves, and they know everything about this business. They are definitively the best. I’m just happy when they handle some product of mine occasionally, which is not as easy as it looks. You would think that having sway at this company would get you sway with Radius, but that’s not the case.
Fandango: I’m going to San Diego Comic-Con and really looking forward to the Django Unchained panel. What was behind the decision to bring this specific film there?
HW: Well I think Quentin Tarantino and Comic-Con are one in the same, so I think you have an opportunity here to introduce this movie to the audience that’s going to be the most eager. And also the Comic-Con audience, quite frankly, in my opinion, is also the smartest audience. They get things in advance, and they get things instinctually and intellectually. They deserve the first look. Nobody else deserves the look the way Comic-Con does.
Fandango: Some of the films you have coming are The Master, Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, Lawless. Is there one you’re most excited to bring to audiences?
HW: There’s no choosing amongst that group. I think it’s great for me to be as excited as I am about these movies.
Fandango: Is this your strongest fall lineup that you’ve ever had?
HW: You know, you say that and it doesn’t become that. Let’s put it this way: To me, the great directors we’ve been able to work with this year has been amazing. Quentin [Tarantino] goes without saying because he’s family, and Paul Thomas Anderson and David Russell are family too. Then [John] Hillcoat and Andrew Dominik, and even that 74-year-old youngster Dustin Hoffman did an incredible job this year.
Fandango: You’re pushing forward with the Scary Movie franchise – are there any other fan-friendly franchises you’re looking to continue? Will there be more Scream movies?
HW: Bob [Weinstein] always does the sequels. I wish I could do a sequel for a movie. I’ve never done a sequel yet, but I’m dying to do one. I just love the Roman numeral II.
Fandango: What would be the sequel you’re dying to do?
HW: I would like to do Shakespeare in Love 2. We’ve been tossing ideas back and forth, and I heard a good one the other day so maybe I might shock everybody. Then I tell everyone I’m going to do the Shakespeare in Love sequel and they laugh at me.
Fandango: Shanghai is a film some of our readers are curious about seeing, and its American release has been delayed for awhile now. Do you have an update on when that film will be available to U.S. audiences?
HW: It’s on this year’s slate for Radius. Interestingly enough that was a film the Radius guys loved. So they’re going to do their VOD Radius deal on that. There we go, I passed the test finally. That’s a really underrated movie. It did so well in Asia; we did great in Japan, we did great in China, and it was really made with that audience in mind. We’re very pleased with the film, and the delays here have to do with all sorts of political reasons that have nothing to do with the film itself. Finally the Radius guys convinced me that would be the best way to play the movie, and I think they’re right.
Fandango: Is there an end goal for you, professionally? Is there an achievement you need to reach before you bow out and possibly retire?
HW: 61 homeruns on the Yankees? No, I don’t know. They’re not even choosing me for bat boy. I never really look at it like that; I just want to continue while it’s still fun and while it’s still enjoyable, and also while there’s still a need to do something different. One day maybe there will be five studios doing movies like The Intouchables, and I’ll be the guy doing The Avengers … and I’ll have to go out and promote it myself. That’d be a wonderful world.
Fandango: Have you ever thought about getting into that game and being involved in a big summer blockbuster?
HW: When those movies are good there’s nothing like them. I love movies, and to me The Avengers was perfect. I think Joss Whedon did a great job. I also saw Madagascar 3 with my kids, and normally my kids can’t agree on what the color red looks like, and this is the one that got them all. Madagascar 3 and The Avengers were the movies of their summer. If Quentin goes there, I’ll go there with him.
Fandango: Finally, from one New Yorker to another, I have to know how you take your bagel.
HW: [Laughs] When I have the luxury of getting them, nothing is as good as Zabar’s. And I’ll tell you that I love, love, love them with cream cheese. Zabar’s is great, and they also do something great for a school called Windward, which helps dyslexic kids, and I like them for that as well as how they do their bagels.