Saturday 19 October 2019

Jim Sheridan: 'The day I caused Harvey Weinstein to have a 'heart attack''

The Irish director opens up about his hair-raising dealings with the disgraced movie producer, writes Niamh Horan

Writer-director Jim Sheridan. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Writer-director Jim Sheridan. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Harvey Weinstein. Picture: Getty
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

'That question is like handing me a f***ing hand grenade. All I can do is check my head to see if I have a helmet on, so I can put it on top of the grenade to stop it exploding me bollocks off!"

Jim Sheridan is in a predicament. After three years of silence, it's time he gave us his thoughts on the disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

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Sheridan is meeting the press in the run-up to the Dublin Arabic Film Festival (DAFF), and has chosen finally to talk about the movie industry's most notorious figure.

The Irish director's opinion is intriguing as Weinstein helped propel him to stardom, putting him on course for seven Oscar nominations before the mogul's legacy of sexual assault became public.

But that doesn't mean talking about it comes easy.

"It's like asking me, 'How did you get on with Satan?'" he says. "Jesus if I tell this story I'll get into trouble...

"Well f**k it, I might as well..."

Sheridan was in Los Angeles when he got a call at 4am. A thick New York accent came down the line: "What the f***ing f**k? The f***ing camera is in the horse's ass! The f***ing camera is in the horse's ass!"

Sheridan was half asleep as he listened - and anyway, he assumed that the call was a prank.

"I said: 'Bono would you ever f*** off?'"

"Bono? BONO?" the voice roared back. "It's Harvey Weinstein."

Sheridan was on the first flight to England. Weinstein was furious that he wouldn't take the job of director of Into The West after writing the screenplay and was intent on forcing him to change his mind.

So Sheridan, Weinstein and Weinstein's brother Bob all met in a suite in London's Savoy Hotel to talk it out.

The Irish director recalls the scene when he stepped into the room.

"Bob was doing his usual - eating sandwiches and drinking Diet Coke and there were crisps everywhere on the floor. I sat on one side of the couch and they sat on chairs in front of me and started at me. It was like a f***ing nightmare."

The pair began pestering Sheridan to direct the movie for what Jim says felt like "forever".

"It was going back and forth, me saying no and them saying I had to.

"I was sitting there thinking 'God these are like the bullies in school… what do I do?' And I start wondering, 'How am I going to get out of this room?'"

Eventually, Sheridan says he decided that he would insult Harvey to the point that the movie mogul would have to "hit me a smack in the face" and it would enable him to avoid their request.

"I say 'OK - are you going to listen to me? Here is the deal. You two are f***ing total bullies. Two little f***ing obsessive, f***ing abusive, f**king bastards...'

"And I was drawing my breath for the next attack - when they suddenly broke out into big smiles.

"It had the total opposite effect. They were like 'this guy is definitely the director for us'. And I didn't know what to say."

Speaking during the week when New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor's book 'She Said' about their investigations into Weinstein's behaviour hit the shelves, Sheridan reached into his imagination to grab the insult that would hurt Harvey more than anything.

He thought quickly - and found the producer's Achilles heel.

"I just closed my eyes - and pop! God sent it to me. I said: 'But I didn't know Harvey that you have no f***ing money'."

That's when Sheridan says the mood changed.

"He was straight up, into the loo and I could hear him inside smashing around in his cabinet. He comes out the door a few minutes later with blood running under his nose.

"And I look at Bob and Bob looks at me and rushes over to him and throws his arms around him and says: 'What did you say to my brother?'

"That's when Harvey fell on the ground and Bob said: 'Oh my God! He's having a heart attack! Call a f***ing ambulance'."

Sheridan rang the hotel concierge and asked them to send an ambulance.

"And then I had to sit there for 15 minutes with Bob and Harvey while Harvey is unconscious, foaming at the mouth."

The emergency services eventually arrived and then, as Sheridan tells it:

"They wrapped him up and put him on a f***ing gurney and took him out."

Sheridan knew he was in trouble - but it was a call from a fellow Irishman that really made him fret.

Harvey Weinstein. Picture: Getty

"Gabriel Byrne jokingly said: 'Jim, the next time you go to work with them, Bob will be doing [something torturous to you] while whispering in your ear, 'Wait 'til me big brother gets you'."

Needless to say, Sheridan never directed the movie.

Describing his experience of Weinstein as "multi-faceted and weird", he says one of his earliest memories is of their time together promoting My Left Foot.

Still green to the dangers of an off-the cuff remark in the media, Sheridan appeared on stage at the New York Film Festival in a Q&A session.

"So I'm sitting there and they ask me if I have ever considered someone disabled to play the role of Christy," he recalls. "And me -not being used to the fact that there are certain things, like sexual predators or disability issues, that if you say the wrong thing you are buried - I just said 'no', because I had seen this other movie with a disabled girl and thought it had problems.

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

"But my answer was just 'No'. And it was met with a gasp from the audience."

Sheridan looked off stage and saw Weinstein in the wings.

"He was frantically waving his arms to get me off and I walked off and he grabs me by the lapels and..." Sheridan pauses and puts on his thickest Queens accent, furiously pointing his finger, "...and he says: 'You tell them you interviewed every f***ing disabled actor in Ireland! You considered them all! But Daniel Day-Lewis was so f***ing brilliant you decided on him!'

"Harvey was a PR man. He understood the audience.

"Although we had a professor from Trinity who had cerebral palsy working with Daniel on My Left Foot, there were no disabled actors in Ireland at the time. Now there are, thank God."

After My Left Foot won several Oscars, Sheridan says: "Weinstein wanted to do every movie with me."

Sheridan hit gold again with In The Name of the Father scoring six Oscar nominations - and to celebrate, his agent held a party at his house in Hancock Park, Los Angeles.

A host of celebrities turned up. It was weeks after the Northridge earthquake hit Los Angeles, killing 57 people, when an aftershock hit the event.

"We're all at the party when the ground moves a foot underneath us. Everyone is screaming and running, one guy threw up in my agent's closet, another crapped..."

Sheridan says that as the world was tilting sideways, he saw a woman falling to the ground. It was Weinstein's former wife, Eve Chilton.

"So everybody's running and I just see this one guy stop, turn around, come back and pick Eve up - and it's Harvey.

"So although he is probably the most horrible man going and I am giving a story about a side to him that is showing him in a good light and people might not like it, it also happens to be the truth."

Film Director Jim Sheridan at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin

When Harvey Weinstein hit the headlines in 2017, Sheridan was shocked.

"Obviously it would have been a lot more difficult [to deal with him] as a woman. I took the allegations seriously. It was 25 years later, but I asked myself if I had missed something?

"I started talking to the women who were around during My Left Foot and Into the West, the movies that Harvey had been involved in, and it turns out that - yes, they knew that one girl in particular [had an experience] but they never told us. The women seem to know everything. It was like a bushfire..."

Sheridan says he will probably never fully comprehend how difficult it must have been for the women who worked with Harvey Weinstein.

"This is something that struck me when I was doing the documentary into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier. Experiences are divided into male and female. I don't know if you, as a man, can ever truly be in the female experience."

Still, he has his own memories of Weinstein's infamous temper.

He describes an edit session of Into the West with Harvey and his brother Bob that descended into chaos.

"They used to stick the reels together with Sellotape. We're all sitting there watching the movie and then it goes silent. The reel had broken.

"I turn around to the guy who is running the projector and I go, 'How long are we into the movie?' and he goes 'Eleven mins' and I said, 'Are you sure? And he replies through gritted teeth 'I saaaaaid 11 minutes… Right?'

"The next minute, Bob is up and he is shouting 'Eleven f***ing minutes? Eleven f***ing minutes? You think we're 11 f***ing minutes in?'

"Then he runs in to the projector room, reefs the film off the projector and starts counting it in feet and the reels of film are unspooling all across the floor, it's filling the projection room from wall to wall, and Harvey is like 'TWENTY TWOOOO F***ING MINUTES!!!!'

"The editor didn't know they were double reels. So that's what they were like.

"But on the other hand I would also say that Harvey was really good at what he did. For instance he cut Cinema Paradiso from two hours 45 to two hours 4 minutes - and it wasn't successful at 2.45 but was genius at Harvey's cut."

Sheridan says, despite the brothers' tough boy reputation, they softened when they read his script for Into the West.

"Harvey and Bob thought that movie was about them," he chuckles. "They were the two little boys. That's why they loved it."

His tale of how Harvey Weinstein settled on the man who directed the Irish movie, however, is at odds with Weinstein's reputation.

Upon having reservations about the man chosen to direct the movie, Weinstein called a meeting. He called the director of the project at the time (who shall remain anonymous) and the producer John Cavendish into a room to see a famous and beautiful A-Lister audition for the role of the traveller girl.

At the end of the audition, Sheridan says the girl left and Harvey popped open a bottle of Champagne and poured it into their glasses.

"First he asked Cavendish what he thought and Jonathan replied, 'Yeah I suppose she can do it.'

"Then he turned to the director and he says well, what do you think?'

"And the would-be director said [Sheridan puts on a small and terrified voice] 'Well… just for me… personally… now it's only personally speaking, and I know I could be wrong… but for me… today… and maybe it was just today… she was a little… well… flat.

"And quick as a flash Harvey turns to him and shouts [again the thick New York accent comes out] 'YOU JUST SAVED YOUR F***ING ASSSSSSSSS.'

It was a temporary lull. Weinstein later changed the director and Mike Newell took his place.

When contacted over the specific claim of choking, a spokesperson for Weinstein had no comment to make

The sixth annual Dublin Arabic Film Festival (DAFF), curated by the Oscar-nominated filmmaker and festival director Zahara Moufid, opens on Friday, October 4 at the Irish Film Institute (IFI) in Dublin's Temple Bar. This year's festival patron is 'Game of Thrones' star Liam Cunningham. The festival is presented by Dubai Duty Free

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