If you aren’t aware of how successful Ratner is, here are a few eye-opening stats: his eight movies have grossed over a billion and a half dollars. That’s billion with a B. His Rush Hour trilogy alone accounts for more than half that total. He was chosen to direct X-Men: The Last Stand, and Red Dragon, the third film based on Thomas Harris’s chilling character, Hannibal Lecter. He directed Nicholas Cage in Family Man, Pierce Brosnan in After the Sunset, and is in development to direct the Hugh Hefner story and Eddie Murphy in the fourth Beverly Hills Cop film. He’s been at the forefront of some of the best-known music videos (working with Madonna, Mariah Carey, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Jessica Simpson, Jamie Foxx, Miley Cyrus), he’s directed the Guitar Hero commercials, and he put Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn on the roof of his Encore hotel to introduce it in a famous TV ad. He has a production company (Rat Entertainment) at Paramount Pictures, a TV company at Fox (Rat Television) (where he executive produced Prison Break), a music company (Rat Records), a publishing company (Rat Press), and is a major investor in a cosmetic company (Jurlique). He serves on the board of directors for the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation and the Dean’s Council of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts; he’s on the Executive Director’s Committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences; and he was president of the film jury for the Camerimage Polish Film Festival in 2007. He published a book of all the famous people who have come to his house and taken pictures in his photo booth (Hilhaven Lodge: The Photo Booth Pictures). He is close friends with Robert Evans, Warren Beatty, Roman Polanski, Russell Simmons and James Toback. He’s dated some of the most beautiful and talented women in the world, including Serena Williams. He lives in a multi-million dollar estate in Beverly Hills and drives a Bentley. There is no one in Hollywood who won’t take his calls. He’s just turned forty.
He is also a divisive figure. There are those who love him and those who write blogs criticizing his every move. There are those who encourage him to be who he is and those who seem to be insanely jealous of the fact that he seems to be the Golden Boy with the Golden Touch in an industry that resents success and cheers failure.
“A lot of people are put off by him at first because he’s overly aggressive,” says Robert Evans, former head of Paramount and Ratner’s mentor. “Some might say he’s a Sammy Glick [from Budd Shulberg’s novel What Makes Sammy Run?], but he’s not. He’s genuinely a Kid. A Kid can see right through you. He enjoys things and has no ulterior motives. He loves everything he does. He’s full of enthusiasm to learn.
“He’s very ingratiating and very talented. He doesn’t get his due. When he applies himself to something he’s as good as anyone. And he never stops. He wants to do all the things he talks about. If it was up to him he’d live 72 hours in a day.”
“I’m pathologically happy,” Ratner says with a broad smile. “No matter how difficult it gets, I always have a smile on my face. I’m having fun, and that creates a lot of anger or hatred towards me. A lot of people don’t like it when you’re having too much fun. Roman Polanski has had the most tragic life of any human being–his wife and unborn child were murdered, he was arrested for rape, he lost his mom in the Holocaust, and this guy doesn’t walk around with anger or bitterness or sadness. He says ‘This is what life gave me, it is what it is.’ You would think that after his horrible tragic experiences he wouldn’t be able to function, but he made Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, The Pianist, Chinatown, some of the best movies ever. He’s a survivor; he is the face of humanity to me. He makes me feel like I can face any horrible thing. But you don’t have to experience pain to do great work. It’s either in you or it’s not. Every time I do a movie and it opens on Monday I go to the restaurant The Grill, where all the Hollywood agents and producers come. When you have a number one movie in America, there’s no better feeling than to walk into that restaurant. When I walk in there it’s like I’m President Obama. I’ll go there with good friends to show them what Hollywood ass kissing is really like.”
Story Number 1: Say Hello to My Little Friend!
When Brett was twelve he managed to sneak onto the Miami set of Brian De Palma’s Scarface, starring Al Pacino and directed by Brian De Palma. When nobody threw him out, he kept returning, day after day, and eventually they thought he was an extra. “They put me in a scene in the pool,” he recalls, “where I’m lying in a raft with this girl. She was 18, six years older than I was, but she was beautiful and I fell in love.. Steven Bauer, who played Manolo, Pacino’s buddy, came over to me and asked my name. I had watched him through the movie, the chainsaw scene, and all these great moments. I realized he was talking to me because of the girl on the raft. He asked for her name and I said, ‘Teri.’ He asked me to get her number and I was a cute kid, she gave it to me. Because Steve was married to Melanie Griffith at the time he said, ‘I can’t call her. So give me your number and I’ll call you, and you call her.’ He also gave me his number, and after I talked to Teri, I called him. Melanie answered. ‘Is Steven there?’ I asked in my high 12 year-old voice. ‘Who’s this?’ ‘This is Brett—I’m his friend.’ She asked, ‘Why is my husband friends with you? How old are you?’ I said, ‘I’m 12!’ She said, ‘Brett, do you understand my husband is a grown man?’ She must have thought he was trying to molest me. Meanwhile, I was conferencing in Teri. I don’t know if he ended up going out with her or anything. But he liked me because I was a funny kid and I wasn’t shy, I’d talk to any girl. I didn’t see him again until I was on the set of Red Dragon directing Anthony Hopkins. Somebody came behind me and started massaging my shoulders. He said, ‘Do you know who this is?’ And it was Manolo! He hadn’t seen me since Scarface. When I was 12! It felt good that he remembered me. Even when I was so young, you don’t forget me!”
Story Number 2: Dressed to Chill
“When I was 13 I got Bar-Mitzvahed at the Eden Roc in Miami Beach and I got like 15 thousand dollars in cash from relatives and my mom said, ‘What do you want to do with the money? One, you can save it in the bank for college; two, you can take all your friends on a trip to Europe or Israel; or three, you can buy whatever you want.’ Every cool black kid in the school wore FILA so I ended up buying the entire FILA line and then, a week later, some kid in my class was wearing a FILA outfit that I didn’t have; it was a new FILA outfit from the new season. I was like, “Where the f**k did you get that? I have the whole collection.” I didn’t realize that fashion was seasonal. I went in the store, and I was like “What the f**k? You sold me this crap! This is old sh*t!” I thought it would last forever. I was so pissed off. So my Bar Mitzvah money was invested in a FILA wardrobe, instead of in my education.”
Story Number 3: I Remember Mama
Brett’s mother was just sixteen when she got pregnant with him, so they grew up together as friends. Their proximity in age led to a closeness that some might consider suffocating. “I never left her side,” Ratner remembers. “And when I did, she would call me fifteen times a day. She shadowed me everywhere I went. My mom was my umbilical cord. I slept in bed with her and showered with her until I was a teenager.” When he had a chance to spend part of his high school in Israel, he jumped at it. “I thought, ‘This is going to be the greatest time of my life!’ Its was a place where everyone experimented with drugs for the first time or had sex because it was so far away from home. What I did was I got an earring. That was my rebellious thing.” He also didn’t quite escape from his mother. “The first Sunday I was there I got a call. In those days, international calls would have a lot of static on the line, but this had a very clear signal. ‘Mom, why do you sound so close? This is an incredible connection.’ ‘I didn’t tell you? I’m in Israel. I’m living in a town next to your school, in a kibutz. I’ll do your laundry, bring your laundry over here.’ I told her, ‘If you come to school ever, I swear I’m going to drop out and join the army.’ I forced her not to come near me the entire summer. But at the end of the summer, we traveled around Europe for three months and I missed school.”
In Italy, they went into a jewelry store and a handsome Italian man put the moves on his mom. Ratner still remembers the line: “He said, ‘If I had a million dollars, I know what I’d do with it.’ I said, ‘Mom, that was the worst line ever. And my mom was like, ‘Shut up, Brett. Be Quiet!’ He asked her to lunch and she agreed. She wasn’t going to leave me in the hotel room alone, so I went too. She told me to say I was her brother, but I called her Ma anyway. He spoke broken English, and her name’s Marsha, so when we went for lunch he asked her, ‘Why does he call you ma? What does ma mean? Mama?’ And she said, ‘No, Ma is short for Maaa-rrsha.’”
Story Number 4: Backed to the Future
“There was a choice I remember making, when I was trying to get into NYU,” Ratner recalls. “I was told by the admissions counselor that there was no way I was getting in because I had the worst grades of anyone who had applied to this school, and that maybe I should go to a community college and get straight A’s for two years and then maybe they would consider letting me in. I was crying; I felt my life was over; I was going to get on a plane and go back to Miami. But something came over me and I thought ‘I can’t let this person decide my future. I’m going to go to the dean’s office.’ I remember the moment I decided to just go. That was a defining moment in my life because I ended up talking my way into the school, convincing the dean that he had to let me in. Martin Scorsese, the Cohen Brothers, Spike Lee all went to NYU Film School. I realized I wasn’t as talented as those guys, but what I had was passion, perseverance, drive. I wanted to become a director more than anything in the world. That’s what I tell students now: whatever you want to do, be passionate about it, love it, and if you don’t love it, then find something else to do that you do love.”