Tuesday 17 September 2019

'He gave off this sense that he could make things happen for people'

Some of Ireland's best-known films helped bolster the career of disgraced super-producer ­Harvey Weinstein

Irish actors Brenda Fricker and Daniel Day-Lewis with their Oscars in 1990 for My Left Foot, a film produced by Harvey Weinstein's company
Irish actors Brenda Fricker and Daniel Day-Lewis with their Oscars in 1990 for My Left Foot, a film produced by Harvey Weinstein's company
Veiled threats: Harvey Weinstein
John Meagher

John Meagher

It was September 2013 and the setting was the plush Patria restaurant in Toronto. Dublin film-maker John Carney had just screened his latest movie, Can a Song Save Your Life, at the city's renowned film festival and all involved were enjoying the aftershow party.

Having seen his previous movie, Once, become a huge word-of-mouth success - and an Oscar-winner for Best Original Song - Carney's latest film was eagerly anticipated. And some of Hollywood's biggest players were seeking a slice of the action.

They didn't come much bigger than Harvey Weinstein and the super-producer behind some of the biggest films of the previous quarter century was determined to get his hands on Carney's latest.

The Hollywood Reporter documented Weinstein's efforts to get Carney on board. He got to the Patria before the director and its star, Keira Knightley, had left the theatre where the film had had its world premier. "Like a lion stalking his prey, Weinstein was patient," wrote the trade journal. "When Carney arrived and sat down in his booth, Weinstein swooped in, starting a conversation that lasted 90 minutes, according to multiple sources."

Veiled threats: Harvey Weinstein
Veiled threats: Harvey Weinstein

Other producers were keen to bend Carney's ear too, but to no avail. "Lionsgate/Summit troika Rob Friedman, Patrick Wachsberger and Erik Feig walked up to the booth and saw Weinstein chatting with Carney," the report continued. "They waited patiently. And waited. Finally, Friedman had had enough. 'Hey, are you getting married, or are you going to let someone else have a turn?' he asked Weinstein in front of the assembled crowd. Weinstein continued talking undeterred. 'He wasn't going to let anyone else get John,' one witness tells THR.'"

Unwanted overtures

Weinstein's love-bombing paid off. He won the rights for the US distribution of the film - later to be renamed Begin Again - for $7m and committed a further $20m to promote the film. He spent the remainder of the night celebrating his success at a rooftop party in the Thompson hotel.

For many years, such stories were legion about Weinstein. He was an all-powerful figure who could get what he wanted. But in recent weeks, he has also been alleged to have been a predator who targeted impressionable young female actors. One after another, they have lined up to talk about his unwanted overtures, salacious talk, demands for sex and thinly veiled threats that refusal to indulge his desires could destroy careers. Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie are among the household names to make serious allegations against Weinstein - and every day brings fresh reports.

Brenda Fricker says she was not in the least bit surprised. "I had seen exactly what he was like around the time of My Left Foot," the Oscar-winning Dubliner tells Review. "There was something dangerous about him and I disliked him intensely.

"He wasn't interested in me because, let's be honest, I was a middle-aged, frumpy woman and he was after young, beautiful girls. And at the time I first got to know him, you'd have lots of girls hanging off him. He gave off this sense that he could make things happen for people."

My Left Foot was an important project for Miramax, the company established by Weinstein and his brother Bob. The Jim Sheridan-directed film on the life and times of disabled Irish writer Christy Brown, yielded Weinstein his first Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. "And I gave him his first Oscar," Fricker says, pointing out that Daniel Day-Lewis won the Best Actor category but that came towards the end of the ceremony, and long after she had got the statuette for Best Supporting Actress.

For years, Weinstein boasted that his networking prowess had helped deliver Oscar glory for My Left Foot, and it's true that his 'guerrilla' campaign of setting up 'meet-and-greets' between Academy members and talent from the movie undoubtedly helped its cause.

"Well, that was his job," Fricker says, "but there were times when you'd ask yourself what it was exactly that he did. He certainly exuded an air of someone who was very important and there was an awful lot of arse-licking around him, although I certainly didn't do that, and neither did Ray McAnally or some of the other members of the cast.

"But there really was something repulsive about him and he would have been very aware of my dislike for him."

Her comments are echoed Fionnula Flanagan, another veteran Irish actress who has crossed paths with him. This week, she told RTÉ's Liveline that the "creep" producer has long been a figure of notoriety in the movie business.

"By the time I worked on The Others and Transamerica, I was no longer a 20-year-old actress and it seems to be it was with actresses when they were young that he behaved so appallingly," she said. "He was sort of repulsive in his behaviour towards women and that was well known. It was an open secret."

Over the course of his career Weinstein had an executive producer role in more than 300 films, many of them Oscar winners such as The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love (which shocked many by winning the Best Picture over Steven Spielberg's hotly tipped Saving Private Ryan). But, like My Left Foot, a handful of Irish films would come to be seen as important on Weinstein's CV.

One of the most significant was The Crying Game, directed by Neil Jordan. It earned Weinstein his second Best Picture nomination, and helped to convince many in Hollywood that Weinstein truly was a kingmaker. After the critical and commercial success of the film - which starred Stephen Rea - Disney offered Weinstein $80m for the ownership of Miramax.

It was a perfect deal for the mogul as it allowed him and Bob to continue to run the company - and they enjoyed most of their greatest success from the mid-90s to the early-2000s. He produced some of the biggest films of the era - including Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction - but also bought the distribution rights for a number of Irish films including the Gerry Stembridge-directed About Adam, which starred Stuart Townsend.

After parting ways with Miramax, he established the Weinstein Company in 2005, and continued to enjoy success with such films as The Reader, The King's Speech and The Artist. The latter pair won Best Picture Oscars.

More recently, he has been involved with another John Carney film, the critically acclaimed Dublin-set Sing Street.

Whether or not the 65-year-old can make a comeback from a long litany of misconduct allegations remains to be seen. But Brenda Fricker believes there's no way back. "It was evil behaviour," she says. "Don't forget that - and it's part of the ugliness of Hollywood. It's horrible to see that sort of exploitation and I'm very glad to be out of it all."

READ MORE: Self-righteous Hollywood royalty happy to stay quiet on the Weinstein scandal happening right at their doorstep - Ian O'Doherty

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