Nina Jacobson knows a lot about TV and film, but in a recent interview, she explained how she also knows when a project might be doomed.
Speaking with Alex Blumberg on the new Gimlet podcast “Without Fail,” Jacobson talked about her experiences producing Wes Anderson’s 2004 “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” After working on “The Royal Tenenbaums,” she soon got swept up in the director’s next movie.
“When Wes Anderson gave me the script for ‘The Life Aquatic,’ it was a bigger budget and I was so in love and I was so blinded by my love that I went to battle to get considerably more money to make this movie than what we had spent on his earlier movies,” Jacobson said. “I will always remember at our first big screening of the movie afterwards people would come up and congratulate me on what a brave movie it was at which point I knew that I was fucked because ‘brave’ is code for ‘stupid’ in Hollywood.”
Jacobson went on to found Color Force, the studio that helped bring “The Hunger Games” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” franchises to the screen. “Life Aquatic” led to what Jacobson describes as “probably the biggest money loser on my watch,” but her passionate championing of the movie still left an impression. After Jacobson was fired by Disney in 2006 (after the success of “Pirates of the Caribbean”), she got a call from the star of the film that had flopped hardest.
“At one point, Bill Murray called me and said, ‘Did you get fired because of ‘Life Aquatic?’ Because I’ve been worrying about that. I don’t want to feel bad about that,'” Jacobson said. “I was at home and I was like, ‘No, it’s not your fault, but thanks for calling.’ It was very sweet.”
It’s all part of Jacobson’s description of her own fascinating industry journey, which started out in the audition room for “Road House,” carried through to being let go by Disney as her wife was about to give birth, but continued through successes on a pair of Ryan Murphy TV shows (“American Crime Story” and “Pose”) and on one of the summer’s biggest hits, “Crazy Rich Asians.” You can listen to the full episode of “Without Fail” below: