EXCLUSIVE: We are in the thick of the awards season, a time of year when at least one film produced by Scott Rudin is usually in the conversation. Last year, he was producer of two Best Picture nominees, The Social Network and True Grit. This year, he’s got three in the mix. There’s Moneyball, the 9/11-themed Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. All this happened in a year when Rudin closed his Hollywood office and formally moved his producing deal to Sony Pictures (where he produced The Social Network and joined producers Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt in reconfiguring Moneyball). None of that impeded his output and when Rudin took time out for Deadline and what will likely be his only Oscar season Q&A, he pulled himself away from new films he’s making with the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. That is a lot of activity for any producer — and Rudin separately generates as many Broadway shows as he does films — but it’s a pace the New York-based producer is comfortable handling.
AWARDSLINE: Much was written about The New Yorker reviewer David Denby breaking an embargo that New York film critic voters agreed to abide by when they saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the purposes of voting for their annual awards. Now, he wrote a positive review…
RUDIN: That wasn’t the issue.
AWARDSLINE: Why did it trouble you so much?
RUDIN: Because you want reviews timed to the release of the movie when they can sell tickets. Having reviews break earlier…I mean, our campaign is calibrated very carefully around closing the campaign with the release of the film. You want reviews to cume the week the movie’s opening and not a month before when they do you absolutely no good. What also concerned me was if he broke the embargo there was a decent chance other people would. It turned out that other people felt such scorn for him that nobody else did, which was kind of remarkable.
AWARDSLINE: Was it more about giving your word and not keeping it?
RUDIN: Keep your word or don’t come to the movie. It’s totally fine to say I’m not going to honor a review embargo, but you have to give me and the studio the right to say, don’t come see it. You don’t put in writing a commitment not to review until a certain date and then review it anyway because you don’t want to write about other movies that you don’t think are serious enough for you. It’s incredibly disingenuous.
AWARDSLINE: All this happened because the New York film critics moved up their deadline two weeks to be first. How valid are these lists when a late entry like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close aren’t even considered?
RUDIN: I can only answer in relation to my stuff. I mean, in the case of the New York critics, they set a deadline that was literally a day ahead of when we would be able to screen Dragon Tattoo. We were perfectly fine not screening for them, but they came to us and said they wanted to move the date by a day to include us. Because we had won it last year on Social Network, we felt we kind of owed it to them. It seemed churlish not to let them see the movie if they moved the date. We didn’t ask them to move the date; they came to us. And then I got a bunch of nasty emails from John Anderson saying, why didn’t you ask us to move the date on Extremely Loud? The whole thing seemed so ridiculous. They were all trying to get ahead of each other. Honestly, I don’t think it has hurt Extremely Loud one iota not to have been seen by the couple of groups that didn’t see it. In the end, it’s all opinion anyway. It’s great when you win those things but not great enough that you wouldn’t finish a movie well. Those critics awards come and go every year, but the finished movie is your work. I would love to have finished Extremely Loud two weeks earlier and screened it for everybody. It just wasn’t done. And the same was true with Dragon Tattoo. These were big ambitious movies that were on very very tight finishing schedules and we just couldn’t do it.
AWARDSLINE: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo deal seemed to take forever. It was obviously complicated by the fact that Stieg Larsson had passed away. What was the biggest challenge for you in pulling the rights together on the series?
RUDIN: The big issue on it was that the book was still growing in popularity, so it was hard to figure out, honestly, what a fair deal was. We’d start to make it a deal, you’d turn around and the book has sold 5 million more copies and suddenly it’s worth more. It just took a long time.
AWARDSLINE: How long?
RUDIN: Almost a year and a half. When we started to negotiate we didn’t know there were Swedish movies. Nobody told us, I had no idea. Honestly, we started out buying movie rights and it turned out we were buying remake rights. We got way down the road before anybody said, “Oh, by the way, these were made.”
AWARDSLINE: Did that make you think twice?
RUDIN: No. I think the first one especially was good and entertaining. But Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton and I felt like Lisbeth is such an astonishing character, she could go as long as you wanted her to go. So, making it a big superstar director version of it always felt like a great idea and that a Swedish language version wasn’t going to hurt it all. In fact, would probably help it.
AWARDSLINE: When did you get David Fincher aboard and why was he the guy?
RUDIN: Well, he’s a preeminent maker of this kind of film in the world and we can start with that. We’d had a great experience with him on The Social Network and we wanted to keep working with him. At that moment, we would have gone to him with anything, but it was also a kind of an easy fit.
AWARDSLINE: You mentioned the power of the Lisbeth Salander character. When’s the last time you can remember a female action role that indelible?
RUDIN: Oh, my God. I mean, Ripley [Sigourney Weaver’s character from the Alien series]. That’s the only one …
AWARDSLINE: The competition for this role was intense. What made Rooney Mara right? And what did she show in her scene in the The Social Network that gave her an advantage?
RUDIN: It wasn’t as much The Social Network as it was David having a very specific idea of her, and a very specific idea of who the character was that really fit her perfectly. We saw so many people – stars, non-stars, unknowns, Swedes, rock stars – I mean, he looked everywhere. I think she’s unbelievably brilliant in the movie and I couldn’t possibly say I had an idea at the beginning how good she would be. And, really, he deserves all the credit for it. He thought she had ferocity and he loved how young she was. I think he thought she could grow into the [role over the course of the trilogy] and that he could deliver the version of the part he wanted to with her.
AWARDSLINE: You make movies from books all the time but never one that sold as many global copies as this. How much can you veer from the page and not alienate book fans without reducing the film to a cinematic transcription?
RUDIN: I think it’s a very different from the book. First of all, like two-thirds of the plot is excised. I mean, there’s so much plot in the book and so many more characters than it would ever be [in a movie] and it’s got a very, very different ending. The first movie did a really efficient good boiling it down to plot. I think we boiled it down to the characters.
AWARDSLINE: What made Daniel Craig right guy to play Mikael Blomkvist? An actor known for action takes a backseat in that department to Salander.
RUDIN: He’s the guy that can do anything. He has integrity and smarts and sex and righteousness. He’s exactly the thing you want in a movie star. And, in a way, he accommodates to the presence of Lisbeth in the most beautiful, effortless way. I mean, she comes into the movie and sort of like inhales everything around her and he just sort of exists next to her in the most fantastic, stylish, witty way. He’s totally confident in every single move he’s got in the story and she’s like this dervish around him. He’s the essence and stillness and I think it’s really beautiful to watch.
AWARDSLINE: As producer of three very different films, what’s the most important thing that you brought to each of these pictures. Start with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
RUDIN: Getting those guys to do it. To me, getting David Fincher to do this is like getting Stanley Kubrick to do The Shining or getting Roman Polanski to do Rosemary’s Baby. It’s like that getting Stephen Daldry and David Fincher to do these. It’s the same thing, trying to turn ideas into something serious and ambitious. And that’s really pleasurable.
AWARDSLINE: How did you sell Steve Zaillian on this?
RUDIN: He liked the material, and the notion of doing an R-rated adult franchise was a big thing to him. It wasn’t going to come along that often.
AWARDSLINE: What was your major contribution on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?
RUDIN: Well, that begins with a relationship with a lot of people that I really love working with. I always loved doing a movie with Daldry. That’s always a huge factor for me. I had an unbelievably great time working with Jonathan Safran Foer [who wrote the original novel] who we’re doing something with for HBO and who I completely, utterly love working with and really revere as a guy. And I was, honestly, really proud of finding the kid [the film’s star, Thomas Horn]. I think that if I had to say one thing it would be that I saw that kid on Jeopardy and thought if we ever get to do this movie, that kid should play this part.
AWARDSLINE: Last year, True Grit introduced Hailee Steinfeld and she was Oscar®-nominated. This year we have Thomas Horn. You see him as a Jeopardy contestant but he hadn’t acted. How do you prepare him for a role that has a ton of dialogue, and so much screen time that Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are supporting players around him?
RUDIN: We found him and he came in and read and worked with Steven over a number of months, and then he did a kind of boot camp with us, where he learns how to act. He was put through the paces to see if he has the emotional capacity, the intellectual capacity, the learning capacity, the sensitivity, the comprehension skills to learn it, to show up every day, to want it enough to do it for this many days.
AWARDSLINE: How long did it take before you and Stephen knew?
RUDIN: Well, Stephen took longer than me because he knew how he wanted to direct it. He had a casting director in San Francisco put him on tape. Honestly, I loved him from the time I saw him because I felt like he was the first person who made the movie believable for me. When I saw this test that Thomas did, I thought, I can see the movie with him; I can see the story, I can see how to tell it in the way that made sense and why the deficit of losing the father would be so powerful for this kid. And that this father translated the world into manageable terms for this boy. You can feel it with Thomas; and we really could not feel it with anybody else.
AWARDSLINE: You optioned this book way back in 2004, in competitive bidding, and I recall you gave up some of your producer’s gross to win the title.
RUDIN: It was ridiculous, I remember it got crazy.
AWARDSLINE: Was it in your mind then you would have to let a period of time go by before people would want to see something about 9/11?
RUDIN: No, but, retrospectively, it was kind of inevitable. It took a very long time to figure it out, but the time it took to get it made I think actually works for it.
AWARDSLINE: What about the process of deciding how much of that horrible day to display without it seeming distasteful?
RUDIN: If you’re gonna do this movie, you had to go for the building falling. You had to deal with the idea of the falling man and what that means to people. I think that once we had this idea of this phone call from Sandy Bullock and Tom Hanks and calling her, we would have the plan for the movie. But, it couldn’t happen right away. That was probably years after the process of working on the scripts.
AWARDSLINE: Was there some specific breakthrough that cracked the creative code and made the movie makeable?
RUDIN: I think the six phone calls, and the way they played out. There are a couple of very substantial changes from the book. There was no renter character in the book that directly relates to the character Max Von Sydow plays in the movie. The guy who goes with him in the book is a deaf character who isn’t related to the boy. We made that his grandfather. The note under the swing, the actual payoff to the idea this was a quest, that’s in the movie but not in a book. It’s tied together in a more satisfying cinematic way than the book was designed to be. Gradually, we began to aggregate a handful of things that made it feel like this could be a movie, but I don’t think it was any one thing.
AWARDSLINE: What about Moneyball, which so famously fell apart before you signed on. Why did you come aboard? Are you a baseball fan?
RUDIN: No. It was in a stall; everybody would have been [out of work]. There was a conversation about Aaron [Sorkin] coming on to work on a script. Obviously, we worked very well together on Social Network so it became a very easy thing to do. And I really loved the idea and I thought it was a great part for Brad Pitt. He and I had talked about doing stuff together over the years and never had. It seemed like there was no reason of any kind not to jump in to it. I also think it’s fun to be a hero. It’s fun to come in and then if you can do anything close to getting it made, you know, you’re doing everybody a giant solid.
AWARDSLINE: What themes in the story grabbed you, if you’re not a baseball fan?
RUDIN: They say there’s no second act in American lives. There’s something there worth exploring. Giving up an idea of yourself, examining your failure and seeing if that failure was the system’s or yours. What does it mean to not turn out to be the person you want to be? I think that’s a great subject, cause I think most people turn out not to be what they want to be.
AWARDSLINE: Bennett Miller didn’t seem an obvious choice, but, boy, he shot that movie so well. How did he come in to the picture?
RUDIN: Pitt. It was all Brad. As he and Pitt had talked about doing stuff together, we met five or six people who were interested in doing it. He had a kind of great idea for how to do it.
AWARDSLINE: It was probably the most mature role Pitt has played, as a grownup and a father.
RUDIN: I think he’s completely brilliant at it. He was very clear in his feeling about the part. I think he knew what he could do in it, and he wanted the workout that it was gonna be.
AWARDSLINE: Jonah Hill had done well as a comic actor but was untested in drama. He was a revelation as Billy Beane’s right-hand man.
RUDIN: I’m dying for Jonah to get nominated, because, first of all, I like him enormously as a guy and I think he works unbelievably hard. I think it is really important to look at what it means to take on risks and to do something that people don’t necessarily know you have in you.
AWARDSLINE: Last year, The Social Network was the early Best Picture frontrunner, and seemed to run out of steam while The King’s Speech surged late in the race. Looking back, was there something that could have been done differently?
RUDIN: I think that King’s Speech is such a less complex film to vote for. I think it’s really good and has achievement in every category. The Social Network was probably one of the two or three things I’ve done in my life that I’m most proud of. I’m not going to engage in what about it was disappointing. There’s nothing about it I was disappointed in.
AWARDSLINE: Talking about quality movies, this summer was filled with sequels and kind of familiar-sounding tentpole concepts and the box office has been very schizophrenic. What is the audience telling film-makers?
RUDIN: I think the audience is looking for original experiences you can’t get anywhere else but in the movies. I think movies that feel like a rehash aren’t cutting it. And movies that feel like they’re fresh are the ones that are working.
AWARDSLINE: You didn’t come to the Oscars last year, despite having two Best Picture nominees. Some in Hollywood have said, “I know Scott’s busy but he should have been at there at the Oscars to support The Social Network…”
RUDIN: I’m not going to talk about this other than to say, I had a musical [the Tony-winning The Book Of Mormon] in previews, one that was written and being directed by some of my closest friends and collaborators. My obligation was to be there.
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