2015 Milken Institute: Bob Iger, Brian Grazer discuss curiosity

Walt Disney Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Iger and producer Brian Grazer attend the 2014 LACMA Art + Film Gala.

Walt Disney Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Iger and producer Brian Grazer attend the 2014 LACMA Art + Film Gala.

(Frazer Harrison / Getty Images for LACMA)

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger and producer Brian Grazer discussed the importance of creativity in a freewheeling discussion that touched on Vladimir Putin, Jonas Salk and the late rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard at the Milken Global Conference on Monday afternoon.

Iger interviewed Grazer from the stage of a cavernous conference room at the Beverly Hilton hotel, which is hosting the summit on economic and social issues through Wednesday.

Grazer, the producer of films such as “Apollo 13” and the hit television show “Empire,” published a book this month about his weekly “curiosity conversations” with notables from various industries.


Much of Monday’s chat centered on the book “A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life” and the variety of people Grazer has met with and learned from over the course of his multi-decade career.

Grazer said that in each of his weekly chats, he strives “to be a good date.” He said that the conversations have sparked ideas that led to several Hollywood projects.

“Failing and succeeding in the conversation -- that leads to inspiration and sometimes breakthroughs,” he said.

Grazer has met with everyone from President Obama to Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin and virologist Salk.

The meeting with Salk -- whom Grazer pursued for about a year -- didn’t go as planned, he said.

“As I approached him, I vomited,” Grazer said. “I just -- I was so nervous.”

But Grazer also told the story of how an encounter with the late rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard led to a conversation with another hip-hop artist, Eminem. From that latter chat, the 2002 Grazer-produced film “8 Mile” was born.


Grazer said that he has yet to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and would relish the chance to do so, leading Iger to note that he has met the bellicose leader.

“I’ve met Putin -- it was interesting,” said Iger, who like Grazer wore a dark suit and white dress shirt unbuttoned at the neck. (Iger also sported the recently released Apple Watch.)

Iger said that during his sit-down with Putin, he regaled the Russian politician with the story of how Nikita Khrushchev once unsuccessfully tried to visit Disneyland.

Iger and Grazer are longtime friends -- the sort that “have coffee at least once a week,” the producer said -- and their ease with each other led to some lighthearted moments.

Early in the conversation, Iger complimented Grazer on the success of Fox’s “Empire,” lamenting that the show isn’t on ABC, which is owned by Disney.

Grazer then suggested that Disney could buy the “Empire” network, drawing laughs from the audience.


“Don’t give me any ideas,” Iger joked.

Grazer peppered Iger with a few questions throughout the 45-minute conversation, at one point asking about the executive’s thoughts on the importance of creativity in business.

“I don’t think you can run a business today in a very dynamic marketplace without being curious,” said Iger, who also is chairman of Burbank-based Disney.

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