Producer Jerry Weintraub has stories. A lot of them. And it’s no surprise since over his nearly four-decades-long career he’s worked with some of the biggest names in music and movie biz including Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, The Carpenters, Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, Steven Soderbergh, Robert Altman and Barry Levinson. Corralling those kinds of egos and the demands that follow is no easy task, but Weintraub not only makes promises, he delivers with an attitude that has put these kinds of talents at ease, and it has resulted in a strong resume of work including films like “Diner,” “Nashville” and the “Ocean’s Eleven” trilogy.
Leading a life that would be enough for two men, Weintraub has put his life into words with his memoir “When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead” released last year, and now HBO has captured the man in the upcoming documentary “His Way.” Featuring interviews from an array of folks including Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Matt Damon and Steven Soderbergh, the film paints a compelling portrait of a man who fought his way to the top of the food chain in one of the toughest industries in town. We recently chatted with Weintraub along with a number of other journalists and he shared a bunch of stories with us, including how he got revenge on George Clooney for his pranks, the stars he would still like to work with, the surprise viewers are in for when they watch Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming “Liberace” and more.
Weintraub was pranked mercilessly throughout the production of the ‘Ocean’s’ films by George Clooney, Brad Pitt and the rest of the cast, but he got his revenge on the ringleader.
“I had a gold silk shirt and George never liked it. George dresses in Armani suits all the time, whereas I wear different kinds of outfits. It was a very expensive shirt and he hated it. Whenever I wore it, he would say, “It’s so loud.” I would say, “Don’t bother me. You dress you and I’ll dress me and everyone will be happy.” Well, he stole it out of my room at the Bellagio and painted a penis on the back. And then he had everybody sign it, every actor, every big star. Matt, Brad, Wayne Gretzky, Andy Garcia, their names are all over the shirt. He sent it to me for my birthday in a big box with a ribbon on it. The shirt was totally destroyed, even though it’s worth a fortune now. Anyway, I got in my golf cart. He was down the street from me at Warner Bros. at the time, so I drove over and totally destroyed his office with a golf club. I broke every lamp, burned every script, threw his bicycle out the window. People were shaking and he was lying on the floor on the phone with Steven Soderbergh screaming, “He’s gonna kill me! He’s crazy!” I was never gonna kill him, but the head of the golf club did fly off, so I guess I could have. So, I got him back.”
There are two actors Weintraub would still like to work with, and they are probably at top of the list of every producer in town.
“There are two stars — I haven’t tried to get ’em — I would love to work with and that’s [Leonardo] DiCaprio and Johnny Depp.”
And should anyone attempt a biopic on his life, he’s got another big star in mind to play him.
“…I don’t know if there will ever be one…I don’t want to work on or produce one…[but I would want] Will Smith.”
He’s talked with Steven Soderbergh about his impending retirement and thinks the director will busy himself with other creative pursuits.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations about it. Everybody has to make that decision for themselves,” he said. “When he says he’s gonna retire, my guess is he’s gonna go and direct operas for a while or ballets or something. He’s may be retiring from making movies for a while, but you get a little burned out. This is a tough racket, this is not a walk in the park and it’s a 24/7 job, especially his, so I can see [where he’s coming from]. The word ‘retirement’ it’s not in my vocabulary — they’re gonna take me out with my boots on.”
Weintraub decided to remake “Ocean’s Eleven” because the first just wasn’t that good.
“Not everything should be remade, a lot of things shouldn’t be touched. I remade ‘Ocean’s’ because the original ‘Ocean’s’ I didn’t think was a great film, and I was there for it. I knew I could do a better job.”
His developing remake of “Oh, God” — the 1977 film with George Burns — may switch up the gender of the title character.
“We’re playing around with [it.] We’re trying to find the right God. I think it’s going to be a woman, we’re working on that.”
His developing biopic on the legendary music scout John Hammond currently has a director taking a look at it.
“I love that, I bought it [Dustin Prial‘s book “The Producer: John Hammond and the Soul of American Music“], and I love it. And I have Doug McGrath (“Emma,” “Infamous,” “His Way”) reading the script right now to tell me if he’s interested in it. And if he is interested in it, I’m going to go forward with it. I love that [story]. It’s a great piece about integration and segregation and he was a fantastic man. It’s an important piece of business.”
To bring you up to speed, Hammond started listening to jazz in Harlem, and in his early 20s, became the U.S. correspondent for the U.K. paper Melody Maker. Through that, he started working for Columbia, and his influence grew and grew in the jazz world — he was responsible for convincing Benny Goodman to hire black musicians for his band, and discovered Billie Holliday and Count Basie.
In the 1950s, he returned to Columbia after a long absence, and quickly signed the likes of Pete Seeger and Babatunde Olatunji, as well as discovering and signing both Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan; he was a particular champion of the latter, producing his early records. Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan were also among his discoveries, and he was almost entirely responsible for the reissue and rediscovery of the work of blues singer Robert Johnson. So, it’s pretty easy to see why Weintraub is eager to turn that story into a film.
Says “Liberace” — with the talent assembled, was a no brainer and that Michael Douglas is going to turn heads.
“Let me ask you a question: If you could get Michael Douglas and Matt Damon to do a movie for you, and had Steven Soderbergh directing it, with a Richard LaGravanese script, and a story that’s exciting and emotional and dramatic and has never been seen before, wouldn’t you do it?” That rhetorical question answered, there’s doubt in his mind that Douglas is the right person for the lead role. “He’s perfect for it. I have pictures of him dressed up like Liberace, it’ll knock your socks off.”
The one thing that has made him happiest over all these years?
“My bank account.”
“His Way” premieres on HBO on April 4th at 9 PM.