Studio head and producer Harvey Weinstein remembers his friend and colleague, director Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient," "Cold Mountain"). A memorial service for Minghella is being held today in London.
The memories are vivid; snatches of conversations like pieces of movies -- instructive, adventurous, and always humorous. "Opera? Me? Never happen," I said. "I just can't do it. The last one I saw was 'La Boheme' with Pavarotti and it just didn't work for me. Not that I'm one to talk but, but how was I supposed to believe that Pavarotti was starving?"
Anthony calmly reassured me. "No, this will not be like that. You are going to like this opera. You are coming to see 'Madama Butterfly,' which Carolyn and I are directing. We are making it for the 21st century."
Carolyn, of course, is Anthony's wife, who choreographed their version of one of Puccini's most famous operas. How could I argue with that?
As it turned out, here was an opera that spoke to me in a way that Anthony's movies did. It was about real people who expressed their emotions in a powerful and moving way. They were not there just to sing. I was transfixed. That opera was a combination of all his passions rolled into one amazing experience, and it defined our relationship -- the brilliant intellectual willing to take time to educate the kid from Queens.
I'm not sure when I can watch "Truly, Madly, Deeply" again, the movie that introduced me to him. My acquisitions executives in England passed on the film; two weeks later an assistant at Miramax named Anne Greenhaul called me herself and said, "You must see this movie." SoI screened the movie. I laughed and I wept. And celebrated. By the morning I tracked down the film's director, Anthony Minghella.
"I must have your movie."
"You're too late," he said. "It's gone."
"I will never be late for you again," I said.
We later met in person soon after and I fell under his spell. Forever my teacher, commanding a vocabulary as vast as any English professor, yet having the modesty of the artisan, while forever the artist.
And thus my brother Bob and I began a partnership with Anthony and his agents Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane. From 1996 to 2008, from "The English Patient" to "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," every movie, every decision -- they refereed -- but mostly they moved and removed the obstacles. They were our partners with Sydney Pollack in Anthony's career. There was no written contract, just trust and passion.
Bewitched on the set in Cinecittà, watching Anthony direct Juliette Binoche in "The English Patient," was like watching the maestro conduct the orchestra. In the desert, in Tuscany, he composed his poetry.
Later, I was trying to talk Barbra Streisand into doing "Chicago." I was trying to talk Anthony into directing "Chicago." Right after "The English Patient" opened, the three of us went to dinner and Barbra told Anthony and me that the movie was over-long and over-praised (Don't worry, that Seinfeld episode said the same thing). When she left we felt like two schoolboys scolded.
The movie ended up getting nominated for 12 Academy Awards. On Oscar night, Anthony and I sat together at the Shrine Auditorium that year. Lo and behold, Barbra sat behind us. "Is this a good sign or a bad omen?" Anthony whispered to me. And then the parade began. Nine Oscars, including director for Anthony and picture. And for all nine wins, Barbra was pounding on our backs, laughing at the irony and being a good sport. As Anthony said, "She ended up being our good luck charm."
" 'Ripley' has to be extraordinary," Anthony said about his next movie, "The Talented Mr. Ripley," the adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel. "Perhaps we should cast someone the audience doesn't know." We showed up with a VHS rough cut of a movie Bob and I were making called "Good Will Hunting." Anthony sat transfixed by Matt Damon and when it was over said, "He's Ripley."
Back to Rome. Back to Cinecittà. The Amalfi Coast. Pasta. Jude. Gwyneth. Italy revived him, refreshed him. He was English in demeanor -- but Italian in his soul.
On "Cold Mountain," the budget prevented filming in Canada or the Carolinas for any more than six weeks. Shooting in Romania was half the cost. So there was Anthony, a big smile on his face with Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger and Jude Law holed up in a ski resort during the off-season, two hours from Bucharest. Charles Frazier, who wrote the novel, had his doubts about Romania but he came to the set and saw that Anthony and [production designer] Dante Ferretti created a Carolina more beautiful and more scenic than any of us could have imagined. All was good until we ran out of food. So, Renée trekked into town to go shopping. Nicole and Anthony cooked. Ant made a family of the cast and crew. He was making an intimate movie with 10,000 soldiers -- always calm, always with a good word for everybody, just loving the process and the people. And those people loved him back.
When Frazier saw a big portion of the film, he beamed. This, more than any review or any award, made Anthony happy. Pleasing the author. Pleasing Ondaatje, Frazier, Alexander McCall Smith. He knew, as a playwright, as a poet, the loneliness and perseverance of the writer. He knew how to make words and sentences become magic. And he knew when he was blocked, and needed to travel into the world to get refreshed.
His Roman numeral
I've always been jealous of my brother Bob. He gets to use Roman numerals with his movies and I don't. He puts out "Scream 19," and then does "Scary Movie 35." No one will let me make "English Patient 3" or "Cold Mountain 2."
When we found the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," I leapt for joy when Anthony and Sydney Pollack and screenwriter Richard Curtis loved it. Anthony and Richard wanted to show Botswana as the beautiful place it is, and the people as warm and welcoming. And there's Sydney, who made the greatest movie about Africa, "Out of Africa," on board to produce. I had my franchise. My Roman numerals. Precious Ramotswe, the Rubenesque heroine as my James Bond. Except Anthony said, "It's a TV series, not a movie."
"You're wrong," I said.
"No, I'm afraid you are," he replied.
Curtis was writing the script with Anthony. I had breakfast with Richard and told him to tell Anthony how "brilliant" I was and to let me make it a movie. The following are from the e-mails that Anthony and I later exchanged:
"Dear Anthony, My meeting with Richard Curtis went as follows: He said I was the most brilliant man he'd ever met, and if Anthony questions you on doing 'No. 1 Ladies' as a feature film, he is surely misguided. He said I have complete authority to use his talent as I wish, as well as his half of the script. All my best, Harvey."
Anthony's reply: "He did think he'd actually said you were the most brilliant man possibly in all of history. Because of this I have banished him to Bali and he may never be seen again. Be careful of this Richard Curtis person. He has no sense of humour. I am trying to teach him jokes by correspondence course. Love, Ant."
"No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" premiered on BBC last week to a huge audience. HBO is partnering with us in the U.S. So much for my powers of persuasion.
Anthony had two partners -- his wife, Carolyn, and his older brother, Sydney Pollack. Anthony was Zen to Sydney's natural skepticism. He questioned, Anthony answered. They were an intellectual powerhouse, a one-two punch and as good-hearted as anyone you will ever meet. I will miss being in hallways, watching Sydney pacing, thinking, probing -- Anthony listening, solving and salving the wounds of life, and the various movies they produced and directed. Two of our industry's greats dueling with words and the confluence of ideas. Their partnership was as heroic as it was unlikely. Sydney, my heart reaches out to you.
When I heard Anthony passed away, I was in Hong Kong. My first thought was it's a bad joke. When we boarded the plane from Hong Kong to England, to see Anthony's friends and family, Eric Robinson -- my former assistant and now a brilliant production executive -- gave me an envelope. "I thought the ride would be perfect for this," he said.
And for the next hour I cried, laughed and celebrated as I read Anthony Minghella's last script for "Nine," the musical that Rob Marshall will direct. It's about a director, who's Italian -- part Fellini and part Minghella -- who loses his way, finds his way, and rediscovers the joy of being a filmmaker -- it's sexy, funny, Italian, Cinecittà, life-affirming.
A love of movies
Forever the teacher, my teacher, he was my great friend, who was there for my own dance with death when I was sick for three months -- his tragic passing rekindled my love of making movies. "Nine" ends with the word "Action." I can't wait until it begins with the same word.
As always, no one could say it better than Anthony, here, in his own words:
"[Being a director is] probably the hardest thing to talk about because it's ridiculous in a way, but I think the job is to love everybody. Just to give as much love as you can to everybody around you. Maybe my work will suffer at the result of this, but I'm much more interested in process now. I want us to leave a good trail behind us."
And he surely did. I can never forget, never repay my debt to him. But I will celebrate him every day for the rest of my life.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times