BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.—Frank Sinatra lived two doors down. Cary Grant dropped by regularly. Tom Cruise just bought the house next door. George Clooney sits by the pool. Brad and Angelina have been over for dinner.
Welcome to Jerry Weintraub’s neighborhood.
George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Eddie Jemison, Shaobo Qin, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould, Ellen Barkin, Al Pacino, David Paymer
(Warner Bros.; US theatrical: 8 Jun 2007 (General release); 2007)
The legendary producer, who started his career promoting concert tours for Elvis and Frank, has been a major Hollywood player since he made the switch to film producing in 1975 with Nashville, continuing with Diner, Oh, God and The Karate Kid, and more recently with the star-studded Ocean’s trilogy, the last of which—Ocean’s Thirteen—opens today.
The tough, raspy voiced former talent agent, who still has a bit of the New York swagger about him despite decades of Beverly Hills pampering, has had cameos in all three Oceans, but that was more about joining in on the fun than realizing any hidden acting aspirations.
Weintraub, 69, has always been a behind-the-scenes kind of a guy who knows how to get things done. Clooney has called him the “heart and soul” of the Ocean’s franchise.
The producer, always the genial and generous host, takes a visitor on a tour of his estate, including a peek in his garage at his brand-new twin Maseratis. His celebrated party room features a full bar with a vodka-dispensing machine and a massive entertainment center with five TV screens so that guests can watch multiple sporting events.
In this interview, Weintraub compares the stars of Ocean’s Thirteen to the stars of Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age, describes how the Ocean’s movies came about and tells us just how much fun it was to party every night with Frank.
Could you describe the actual moment of birth of the Ocean’s Eleven remake?
I was around when the original came out in 1960 with Frank and Dean and Sammy, and I always had it in the back of my mind to do a remake. Well, one day I was looking through the Warner’s library and I came across the Ocean’s Eleven title.
Were you specifically looking for titles to remake?
I always do. I’m doing a couple of others right now—Tarzan and Westworld.
So, you like remakes?
Let’s face it, Shakespeare wrote everything. We just keep remaking Shakespeare.
Why did you think that the original Ocean’s Eleven was worthy of a remake?
Everybody loves a good heist movie, and I know Vegas very, very well.
Did you get right to work on it?
Not at all. I put it on a back burner while scripts were being written. I always have 50 things working at once. But when I did get a script I liked, I sent it over to Steven Soderbergh.
An interesting choice.
He was totally the wrong choice for it. Even he said, “I’m not the right guy for this.” I told him that he was a great director, and a great director could do any movie. He asked if we could do it with a bunch of stars and I said, “Of course.” Then he said, “What do you think of Clooney?” I told him that I loved Clooney. So he and Clooney came over and we had lunch at that joint across from Warner’s. I forget the name.
Right, Smoke House. We talked for a couple of hours, and at the end, we decided to do it. Clooney said we should get Brad Pitt. I said I didn’t know him real well and Clooney said he’d call him. Pitt read the script said he was in. We sent Julia Roberts a script with a $20 bill in it with a note that said: “We heard you’re getting 20 a picture now.” She signed on, and it just rolled on from there.
Besides money, what inspires two sequels?
It’s always about a script that works.
Do you think the script for Ocean’s Twelve worked?
A lot of people didn’t like Twelve as much as Eleven. I did.
Even though the director was quoted as saying he didn’t like it, either?
He didn’t say that. Steven was not critical of the movie. What he said was—and what we all said—was that it was a different kind of movie than Eleven, which is what we really went for. We got what we went for. The fact is that it made a lot of money.
Are sequels all about the money?
Not at all. I can make any movie I want. In this case, we all liked working with each other and we wanted to do it again. But there had to be a script worth doing, and we found it. It got us back in Vegas, and gave us a great villain in Al Pacino.
How difficult was it to get all these busy stars back in the fold?
It was impossible. But they wanted to work with Steven, they wanted to work with me and they wanted to work with each other, so it happened.
Speaking of George and Brad, how do they stack up against the big boys of Hollywood’s Golden Age?
These are the big boys now. They can hold their own with all of the big stars of years ago. Trust me, I know. Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Jimmy Stewart all hung out in this living room. They played tennis here. They drank at the bar here. Now, these guys are doing the same thing. The only difference is that I’m getting older (laughs).
How is George like Cary Grant?
They have the same kind of charisma.
Are the new stars as much fun as the old stars?
They are with me. I can’t answer for what happens when they leave this house.
Do you treat them any differently when they’re at your house?
I never treat them like stars. Besides, my ego is worse than theirs.
You’ve produced a lot of hit movies. Are you lucky or good?
(Laughing) I hope I’m lucky.
What’s the secret to making successful movies?
I make movies that I like, that I care about. I’ve made some clinkers, but I’m batting about .700 so I’m in the (baseball) Hall of Fame twice.
Was it fun to hang around with Frank?
It was great. Frank was a great friend and an interesting guy. I miss him a lot. He taught me a lot. I could never be the filmmaker I am without his help.
What did he teach you?
The same thing that Elvis and Dylan and Zeppelin and Diamond and all the other guys I’ve worked with taught me. Live performers understand that you have to tell a story, with a beginning, middle and end. These guys all told stories with their songs. That’s what making films is about—telling stories.
But how much fun was Frank to hang out with?
A lot of fun, as long as you drank, which I did and do (chuckling).