Story Number 5: In a Rush
Once the story for Rush Hour came into his hands, Ratner saw it as a contemporary version of Beverly Hills Cop. He thought the chemistry between Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan would work. He had worked with Tucker, but he knew that Chan didn’t like working with American directors, especially after his experience on Cannonball Run, where he was treated more like an extra than as the biggest martial-arts star in Asia. Undeterred, Ratner found out that Chan was making a movie in South Africa and flew there. Chan graciously went to the airport himself to meet him. Ratner nervously told him the truth: the script sucked, but he knew how to fix it. To his surprise, Chan agreed to work with Tucker, even though both men couldn’t understand a word of what the other was saying. Ratner thought that was the genius of the film. When Chan arrived on the Rush Hour set, Ratner asked him why he agreed to do the movie. “Because,” Chan told him, “every big producer who came to see me in Hong Kong—Jerry Bruckheimer; Michael Bay—every director, they all say the same thing: ‘This is the best script ever, and you’re gonna be the biggest star.’ They think I’m a dumb Chinese guy! You’re the first person to say, ‘This script sucks, but I know what to do with it.’”
Ratner’s confidence lifted after Rush Hour’s success, not only at the box-offfice, but from some of the calls he received. “The first call I got was from Warren Beatty who said it was the best movie he’d seen all year. And he won two Academy Awards for directing. Then I got a call from Roman Polanski. Directors aren’t snobs because they understand the craft and know how difficult it is to make a good movie, whatever the genre, especially a comedy. They understand pacing, composition, storytelling, and lighting. The fact that Roman Polanski recognized and admired my work and became my friend because of it was the greatest satisfaction I could ever have. I didn’t feel like I had anything more to prove.”
When Ratner calls Polanski his friend, he’s not exaggerating. I saw them together in Poland, at the CamerImage Film Festival in the city of Lodz, where I was one of the nine jury members judging the main competition in 2007. The others were all accomplished filmmakers—award-winning cinematographers and designers like Oliver Stapleton, Pierre Lhomme, Karl Lindenlaub, Lilly Kilvert, Robbie Greenberg, Pawel Edelman, and Piotr Dumala. Brett was the youngest among us, and our president. Polanski had been invited to the festival ever since it began fifteen years before but this was his first visit, and Ratner said he came because of him. I didn’t believe it until I saw the two of them together and then, after the festival was over, the 74-year-old director took his friend Brett to Krakow and to Auschwitz, to show him where he lost part of his family.
It was in Lodz where Ratner also became my friend. We didn’t always agree on the films we were judging, but he had read my Conversations with Brando book and told me it was one of his favorites. “I’m starting a publishing company,” he said, “and I’d love to republish it.” It just so happened that I had gotten the rights back to that book and Ratner got excited. “I want to bring back books about Hollywood that have meaning to me. Certain books are like a movie I go back to fifty times and don’t know why, like Scarface or Being There— movies that I keep watching over and over and every time I see something that I didn’t notice before. It’s the same thing with certain books in my library, like James Toback’s book Jim which is about his experience living with Jim Brown or your interview with Marlon Brando. You can pick them up anywhere, read five pages and it’s great. These types of books are a part of the film culture that I grew up reading and learning from. It helped shape who I was. I remember being at NYU, going to Washington Square Park, and having a book stuffed in my back pocket. I’d sit and watch the drug dealers and the comedians and I’d pull out my book when I got bored. I want to put those books back out there. Books you can stuff in your back pocket. I want to do something substantial.”
I didn’t take Ratner that seriously, but I soon learned that when he has an idea, he’s like a pit bull. Not only did he want to republish the Brando book, but he read an interview I had done with his buddy Robert Evans and said he wanted to put that out as a book as well. I thought it was too short to be a book, but that didn’t derail him. “I’ll set up a meeting for you to go see Bob and update it,” he said. And he did. What I learned from this is that Brett Ratner is a very determined, very persistent, and very focused individual. When he wants something, he usually gets it.