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A Q&A with the honcho behind Oscar's favorites

A Q&A with the honcho behind Oscar’s favorites. Miramax cochair Harvey Weinstein, backer of four Best Picture nominees, shares his views on marketing, money, and Marty in an excerpt from Entertainment Weekly’s March 7, 2003, issue

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Nicole Kidman, Harvey Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein and Nicole Kidman: Alex Berliner/BEImages.net

Just last fall, everyone was talking about how Harvey Weinstein had finally gone too far and spent too much. Predictions abounded that the brash and burly Miramax cochairman and his slate of films would go belly-up after a decade-long winning streak. But by the time this year’s Oscar nominations were announced, it was pretty clear that once again, reports of Weinstein’s professional demise were greatly exaggerated.

Miramax’s 40 Academy Award nominations represent one of the highest totals for any studio in history, and Weinstein’s prints are on four of the five Best Picture nominees. ”Chicago,” with 13 nods, is on its way to becoming the highest-grossing live-action musical since ”Grease,” and ”Gangs of New York” overcame a troubled production to score a second-best 10 nominations (Weinstein himself is nominated as a producer of the film). In addition, Miramax and Paramount coproduced nine-time nominee ”The Hours,” and Weinstein and brother Bob share executive-producer credit on ”The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (not to mention Miramax’s 2 1/2 percent of the trilogy’s sure-to-be-massive profits). In addition, Miramax scored an impressive six nominations for Julie Taymor’s ”Frida,” and single nods for ”The Quiet American” and the still-unreleased Chinese import ”Hero,” a best foreign film contender.

Now, as everyone continues to talk about how Weinstein pushed his way to the top again, Entertainment Weekly went to the man who can be as charming as Billy Flynn or as scary as Bill the Butcher for some answers.

How do you determine how to juggle marketing dollars after the nominations? Is it based on the number of nominations?
I will be prejudiced in one area and one area only. I am gonna go door-to-door for Marty [Scorsese, for Best Director]. I just read an article saying Alfred Hitchcock didn’t get one. Stanley Kubrick didn’t get one. So what? Maybe there wasn’t anybody around who said, ”There is an injustice here that needs to be corrected.” They’re not giving it to him for ”Gangs of New York.” They’re giving it to him because of his work. I’ve got news for you and I’ll say this candidly: Marty would love to win the Oscar, for his body of work, for ”Gangs of New York,” for whatever it is. Marty would like to get one of those golden guys.

How do you explain this bias to ”Chicago” directing nominee Rob Marshall?
I said, ”Rob, I think Marty deserves an Oscar.” He said, ”If I’m nominated and if I meet Marty Scorsese, I’ve already won the Oscar.” He understands the Scorsese situation.

Has there been too much discussion that this has to be Scorsese’s year?
With the exception of the William Goldman piece [in which the screenwriter excoriated the campaign and trashed ”Gangs” in Variety], I think there are a lot of people who would like to see Marty win. There is not much to write about, so people might as well write about this.

Renée Zellweger originally passed on ”Chicago.” Meryl Poster [Miramax’s copresident of production] came into your office crying and begged you to call Renée at home so she would reconsider. What did you say to Renée?
I said, ”Renée, we’ve done great work together.” Renée knew that when she was competing for ”Bridget Jones’s Diary” against Kate Winslet and Helena [Bonham Carter], we supported casting her because we had made ”A Price Above Rubies” [with her]. She knew that Miramax’s backing at a crucial time landed her the movie that made her a movie star. We also knew that she wanted to be in ”Cold Mountain” [which Miramax will release at the end of this year], and Anthony [Minghella] will admit [she] wasn’t a first choice of his. We said we could be influential in that decision. Under those circumstances she agreed to come back [and meet Rob Marshall]. People never understand what we do.

Wasn’t John Travolta the first choice for Richard Gere’s role?
It was Kevin Spacey, Kevin Kline, and Hugh Jackman. Richard Gere was always circling too. Queen Latifah…I pushed for that one. They wouldn’t let me have Britney Spears [as Go-to-Hell Kitty, eventually played by Lucy Liu].

That would have been over-the-top.
I’m not sure you’re right about that. It’s a movie about celebrity and scandal and life imitating art. I also wanted quick cutaways from the jury to Johnnie Cochran.