''My Left Foot'' gave Miramax its first Best Picture nomination in 1990 and the rest is Oscar history
In 1990, no one did aggressive Oscar campaigns for indies like My Left Foot — a movie set in Dublin about a man with cerebral palsy. What inspired you?
I felt the movie had an unbelievable power. People used to make fun of it and me. They used to say ”the crippled movie,” and it pissed me off. It’s funny how those things are motivators.
Back then, Miramax had about 25 employees. How did it feel going up against the major studios?
I always said we were Spartacus entering the gates of Rome. [Laughs] But what choice did we have with My Left Foot? We didn’t have Tom Cruise [who was nominated that year for Born on the Fourth of July]. We had a guy who could hardly speak and whose entire action came from his left foot.
You said you’d win Daniel Day-Lewis an Oscar if you had to wear a sandwich board in the subway.
Yes. True. [Laughs]
You moved director Jim Sheridan and producer Noel Pearson to L.A. and reached out to its Irish community. Gene Kelly attended screenings and Gregory Peck threw a party.
Yeah. In those days…things weren’t done like advertising or outreach. The support started with actors — they’re the ones who said, ”Wow, there are amazing performances in this movie.” And lo and behold, we got nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and we won for Daniel Day-Lewis and [supporting actress] Brenda Fricker.
What do you remember feeling when Daniel won Best Actor?
It was amazing because we lost the Golden Globe [to Cruise]. That pissed me off. [Laughs] Jim and Noel told me that if Daniel and Brenda won, there would be a party in Ireland. They said, ”Get on the goddamned plane with us.” To my everlasting regret, I didn’t go because I had to work on something else the next day. And I got the reports on this party that never ended in the streets of Dublin. I sent some of my staff and they were blasted for two weeks. This was not like, ”Oh, thank you very much, we’re really proud, we won an Oscar, blah, blah, blah.” This was like, ”We’re Irish! We’re gonna have a great time. You can sit in Beverly Hills and eat your sushi. We’re gonna be dancing in the street!” It was amazing.
Winning at the Oscars certainly changed Miramax.
Forever. We had sex, lies, and videotape, Scandal, and Cinema Paradiso, but we never had the mainstream Oscar success. And all of a sudden, when you can get there with a My Left Foot, you feel like, We can do this! The telephone booth in the Beverly Wilshire hotel was my office. So if we could do it with quarters in the phone booth, maybe we could do it for real. Crying Game, The Piano — what a worthy battle. How could we not fight for these movies that were so fragile?