Yes, I was going to do a one-man show. There was an article in the New York Times about it. But I got sick again, after the stroke. It took something out of me. I thought I had the strength to do it. I was so excited with life.
Who should play you in the movie of your life?
A lot of people have wanted to play me. Johnny Depp was excited about doing it a couple of years ago.
Who does the best Bob Evans impression?
There are so many people who do it, from women to men. Dustin does a great imitation of me. What he did in Wag the Dog. George Hamilton does a good one. Roy Scheider. Imitation is exaggeration.
The one you apparently got upset about was Martin Landau in the TV series Entourage.
That wasn’t supposed to be me. They lied to me. I didn’t want to sue and make a big thing of it. It’s over; it’s television, it’s gone. Of course, it will be on forever.
Is there any truth to the anecdote that Warren Beatty got bar mitzvah’d in your screening room?
No, but I got pictures of him wearing a yarmulke. I had a Passover dinner at my house. Roman Polanski was here making Chinatown. He wanted to go back to Poland for Passover. I said I’d do it here. Kirk Douglas was the rabbi, Walter Matthau came, Warren, Roman, Billy Wilder, Sue Mengers.
Let me ask you about the movies. Anthony Hopkins once said, “Movies don’t have much importance. There’s so much artificial snobbery about it all. It doesn’t mean anything. Nothing means anything. Especially movies.” What do you think of that?
Come on, you don’t really believe that.
You’re right. I disagree with him. Movies have a life to them. What Hopkins said, that’s coming from an artist. And then he makes one picture after another…for the money. Movies influence styles, education, tolerance and intolerance. And yet in America, it doesn’t get nearly the help it should get. I’m very disturbed by that.
How different is the business in 2008 than it was in the mid-‘90s?
A lot. The business has got much larger. Fourteen years ago if a picture opened in three or four hundred theaters, that would be a lot; now they open in three thousand theaters. A picture can open today to $60, 80, 100 million. It’s a business of marketing. A business of brands. Everything is brands. It’s not the quality of art.
Is there a pendulum that will bring things back, or is there no looking back?
No, it goes the other way. We’re in a world of the Internet, that’s it. Get used to it. Or do something else. I don’t know how to get into that world. I’m not into iPods and things like that. I wish I were. My mind doesn’t go that way. I don’t even have a cell phone.
At the 2003 David O. Selznick Lifetime Achievement Award in your honor Dustin Hoffman said he never met a producer like you. What made you different from all other producers?
I can’t answer that. I just know that I was interested in every bit of minutiae of a film, from the collar an actor wore to his walk to his inflection to his continuity of his performance to the cut, the sound. I was too much of a perfectionist for a lost art.
Before we talk about some of the more recent films you produced in the nineties and beyond, I wanted to ask you a few Godfather questions. A lot of people you respected didn’t want you to hire Francis Coppola to direct The Godfather. Why did you insist?
For one reason. He was the only Italian director in Hollywood. And I wanted it told from the viewpoint of a second-generation Italian. I made a very careful study. Even after I developed it from a thirty-page treatment into the biggest best-seller of the decade, Paramount did not want to make it. Because there had not been one Mafia film ever made that had made a profit, including The Brotherhood, which Paramount had made two years before. They had been written, directed, acted by Jews. And there’s a thin line between a Jew and a Sicilian, so that’s why I went with Coppola. Because I wanted to smell the spaghetti.
You wanted Alain Delon to play Michael Corelone. How did Coppola get his way, casting Al Pacino?
I didn’t want Pacino. Francis did. He didn’t want Jimmy Caan, and I did. So we settled. But you know who talked me into using Pacino? Brando. Pacino didn’t test well, and Brando called me. We didn’t speak much, but he called me about this. He said, “Listen to me, Bob. He’s a brooder. And if he’s my son, that’s what you need, because I’m a brooder.” It was Brando’s insight that made me understand why Al would work.
OK, let’s jump forward to the nineties. Before it came out, you thought Sliver with Sharon Stone was the most important picture of your career. Why?
Sliver got bad reviews but it made a lot of money. It did about $180 million around the world. It was important because it was my comeback. I hadn’t worked in a while. I didn’t like the picture at all. I liked the beginning of it, but they fucked it up terribly.
After that came Jade with David Caruso and Linda Fiorentino in 1995.
Very few of the pictures I’ve produced have lost money. Jade lost money, yet I liked it a lot.
Joe Eszterhas wrote it.
It was unfinished. It created complications for the picture. It didn’t have the right ending. I don’t know what happened to Joe’s career. It certainly went south. He publicized himself too much. How much money he was making. It ain’t worth it for a screenwriter to brag how much money he was paid, because he was being critiqued by writers who don’t make much money. That’s two strikes against him going in. Joe is a strange man.
William Friedkin directed. Was he forced on you?
No, I wanted him. He’s not an easy person to work with but he’s a very talented guy. That picture should have been very good, but again, there were problems with the studio, etc, etc. When your balls are cut off it’s tough to have a deep voice.
Who’s cutting your balls off?
The guy who has the money. The front office. Politics, unfortunately, dictate performance.