When Harvey Weinstein Tormented a Legendary Director on His Deathbed
The disgraced film mogul was always known to be a monster—in more ways than one.
There are many similarities between disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein and President Donald Trump. They were both born in the outer borough of Queens; won film awards (Trump, a Razzie for his nauseating turn in 1989’s Ghosts Can’t Do It); suffer from obesity; harbor bizarre obsessions with fame, reviews, ratings and the Academy Awards; donated to Hillary Clinton; and stand accused of sexually harassing or assaulting over a dozen women. Theirs is a particular brand of New York asshole: loud, boisterous, and worst of all predatory.
Weinstein and Trump also appear to have substantially benefited from curiously favorable coverage within the pages of the New York Post.
In the early ’90s, the real-estate baron somehow inveigled the tabloid into publishing perhaps its most far-fetched headline ever: “Marla Boasts to Pals About Donald: ‘Best Sex I’ve Ever Had.’” Weinstein later wielded the paper as a cudgel against Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, an aspiring actress who alleged that he sexually harassed her in 2015.
Then there’s the matter of Weinstein’s million-dollar bet.
Back in late 2008, Weinstein was having conniptions over the release of The Reader, a low-budget prestige picture set to star Nicole Kidman. You see, The Weinstein Company was in dire financial straits, having weathered a string of box-office bombs—Cassandra’s Dream, Rogue, and The Promotion among them (less than a year later, it was be forced to hire the financial firm Miller Buckfire & Co. to restructure). So there was a lot riding on The Reader, which despite its absurd premise—a German teenage boy seduced by an illiterate female SS guard—was poised to be yet another Oscar-bait effort from director Stephen Daldry, whose previous film, The Hours, generated over $100 million and an Academy Award for Kidman.
Weinstein wanted the film locked and ready for a fall release, affording him plenty of time to work his magic on awards voters. But The Reader was plagued with problems from the outset.
Principal photography began in September 2007; Kidman left the production in January after learning she was pregnant. Fortunately, she had not filmed any scenes yet and was replaced by Kate Winslet. Then, the project had to wait several weeks for its teenage star, Joseph Kross, to turn 18 in order to shoot its racy sex scenes. As production continued into the summer, Chris Menges replaced Roger Deakins behind the camera, and by the time filming wrapped in mid-July, its budget had ballooned from $22 million to over $30 million.
“Despite all that, Weinstein was still pushing Daldry to lock in the film as soon as September, or October 7 at the latest, in order to meet the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s November 7 deadline for awards consideration,” wrote Nikki Finke, citing the Golden Globes target. “But Daldry was simultaneously in post-production for The Reader and preparing the Broadway production of Billy Elliot under a Working Title contract that gave the play the director’s exclusive services from June 30 through November 13.”
In an email dated Aug. 29 from Daldry to The Weinstein Company, and published by intrepid blogger Finke, the filmmaker refused to give in to the bullying exec’s fervent demands, writing, “I am unable to deliver the film for release this year… I simply cannot—and will not—do that work in the very short time that remains. You are asking me to cram months of work into perhaps 24 hours of editing time. It can’t happen. It won’t happen. I will not be able to work with the composer. I will not be present at the recording of the score. I will not be able to mix the film. This work is my job… I cannot be party to a process that strips me of my ability to make my work good. That is not something you can require of me.”
The film’s producer Scott Rudin, who is also possessed of a legendary temper, sided with Daldry against Weinstein—leading to some big clashes.
“One battle broke out at an August 26 preview of Daldry’s first pass at The Reader, which Weinstein arranged but which Scott alleged was rigged to get artificially high scores,” reported Finke. “When Rudin told Weinstein he had hired litigator Marty Singer to protect his own rights and at the same time stop The Reader from being released before Daldry thought it ready, Weinstein screamed, ‘You’re fired! Get the fuck out of the screening.’ Weinstein later retracted the statement.”
The despicable behavior didn’t stop there. “Weinstein even stooped so low as to publicly invoke the names of the film’s deceased producers, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, by claiming to reporters that his releasing the pic in 2008 was what they would have wanted. But Rudin, as the duo’s personal pal and surviving producer on the film, told Hollywood this is Weinstein’s ‘blatant attempt to ride the coattails of the deaths of two beloved guys,’” added Finke.
Minghella, whose The English Patient Weinstein had guided to nine Oscars, passed away in March 2008 of a hemorrhage following a cancer operation; Pollack, the famed director of films like Out of Africa and Tootsie, died on May 28 after a long battle with stomach cancer.
And if Rudin is to be believed, Weinstein stooped as low as badgering Pollack on his deathbed over the release date of The Reader.
In an email sent to Finke, Rudin wrote, “HW went to Minghella’s widow and tried to insert himself into Mirage’s editorial rights so as to insist the film be released this year—which Sydney stopped just before he died. Harassed Sydney on his deathbed until the family asked him to stop because he wanted Sydney to warrant that we would deliver for release this year.”
Weinstein, meanwhile, initiated a disinformation campaign arguing that Rudin was deliberately holding up The Reader’s release because he didn’t want it to compete against his other two horses in the Oscar race that year: Revolutionary Road, also starring Winslet, and Doubt, featuring the inimitable Meryl Streep. The trades, as is their wont, bought it hook, line, and sinker.
On Sept. 28, all parties suddenly reached an agreement: The Reader would be released on Dec. 12, 2008.
A joint statement from Rudin and Weinstein read, “We are issuing this statement together to emphasize the fact that we are in complete agreement on the date we have chosen to release The Reader. Working together, we developed a plan to extend the post-production schedule in order to give Stephen Daldry the additional time he needs to successfully complete the film in time to release it on December 12, 2008.”
It was echoed with an endorsement from Daldry: “On their own, Scott and Harvey spent this weekend working together to find a way to accommodate my needs so that I may fulfill my obligation to the studio without compromising my vision for the film. I am thrilled and relieved that we have all found a way forward to work together to bring The Reader to theaters this year.”
All settled, right? Wrong. The following day—Sept. 29—Finke claims that she received a call from the New York Post’s Page Six “saying Harvey Weinstein has told them he’ll give $1 million to charity” if she could produce the Rudin email alleging he mistreated the families of Minghella and Pollack. So Finke went ahead and published the Rudin email, only to have both Weinstein and Rudin deny its authenticity to Page Six. “That is not my e-mail. The contents of it are categorically untrue. We had a dispute, we got through the dispute, and there is complete, lasting peace in the kingdom,” Rudin told Page Six (in a since-deleted post). Later that very night, Rudin reversed course and confirmed that the email was real.
“[Rudin] claimed that Weinstein’s people pestered him ‘to protect Harvey and deny the email and lie to Page Six’—so he said he did ‘in order to keep peace for the next weeks that the two of us still have to work together on The Reader,’” wrote Finke. Less than two weeks later, Rudin officially disowned the film, taking his name off as producer.
Despite a chaotic production and mixed reviews, The Reader would go on to gross $108.4 million at the global box office and receive five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress, with Winslet winning the latter.
On Feb. 22, 2009, when Winslet’s name was read aloud by Marion Cotillard, the actress strode up the steps of the Kodak Theatre stage, and, with tears welling in her eyes, launched into an emotional two-and-a-half-minute acceptance speech. She thanked everyone from her earliest collaborators like Peter Jackson to much of the cast and crew, including Minghella and Pollack. She even went out of her way to thank fellow nominee Meryl Streep, cracking, “I’m sorry, Meryl, but you have to just suck that up!” One name oddly missing: Harvey Weinstein.
In the wake of the disturbing allegations against Weinstein, Winslet opened up to the Los Angeles Times about why she declined to thank him that fateful evening.
“I can’t even begin to describe the disgraceful behavior that went on [during The Reader]—and I’m actually not going to because it’s a can of worms that I’m not prepared to publicly open—nothing to do with sexual harassment, thankfully, lucky me. I somehow dodged that bullet,” she said, adding, “The fact that I’m never going to have to deal with Harvey Weinstein again as long as I live is one of the best things that’s ever happened and I’m sure the feeling is universal.”