Arnon Milchan Admits to Arms Dealing in the '70s
New Regency chairman Arnon Milchan has produced numerous box-office hits throughout the years, yet it's his own life story that has the potential to be his next blockbuster. Leading Israeli investigative documentary program Uvda (Fact) is set to air a lengthy report next week with the mogul, which will for the first time see him confess to his involvement in promoting Israeli arms deals and support for the nation's nuclear project.
Milchan's secret has long been rumored and was the subject of a 2011 book by Meir Doron and Joseph Gelman called Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon Arnon Milchan, which examined his recruitment by longtime politician and current Israeli president Shimon Peres back in the 1960s. Milchan was selected then as a liaison for the secretive Bureau of Scientific Relations, Lekem, which was founded to obtain technology and material for Israel's nuclear program. Over the years, the 68-year-old Milchan handled clandestine deals involving Israeli military acquisitions, and promoted Israeli's nuclear project.
Getting Milchan to finally confess in detail in front of a camera was not an easy task, reveals Ilana Dayan, an investigative journalist and the host of Uvda, which opens its 20th season Monday night on Channel 2's Keshet Broadcasting with the Milchan story.
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Dayan tells The Hollywood Reporter that getting him to agree to take part "was a surprising process that I have yet to encounter in my career. He was adamant about not saying a word -- let alone on camera -- proclaiming that regardless of any piece we were going to make, he would not participate."
Dayan explains that Milchan is now open to receiving Israeli recognition for his risky efforts, while also still thriving in Hollywood, especially with latest Oscar hopeful 12 Years a Slave, which he co-produced. Among the many other titles that Milchan has produced: Oscar-winning drama L.A. Confidential (1997), Fight Club (1999), Man on Fire (2004), Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005), Jumper (2008), Knight and Day (2010), Love & Other Drugs (2010) and Broken City (2013).
"This is the guy who took in Brad Pitt when his marriage to Jennifer Aniston fell apart following filming of Mr. & Mrs. Smith," says Dayan. "Milchan has been an entrepreneur since his early 20s, crossing from various realms of business, show business, politics and military, always bringing his unique charm and way of befriending and creating close bonds. And that was early on identified by Peres. Milchan walks a fine line of being both an insider and an outsider."
Once Milchan was on board for the report, he divulged some Hollywood names who were involved in the past, notably American film director and producer Sydney Pollack, who helped in covert acquisitions of arms and sensitive military equipment for Israel, according to Milchan, who refers to him as "a real partner." When asked if Pollack, who died of cancer in 2008, was fully aware of details of the deals, Milchan says that "Pollack knew, but I didn't want to scare him because he's American. … He could have said no. He said no many times. But he also said yes many times."
Such was not the case with Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss, who, unbeknownst to him, became part of one of Milchan's operations during a tame dinner party held at the actor's home. When trying to recruit senior U.S. scientist and expert on nuclear weapons Arthur Biehl, (one of the developers of the hydrogen bomb), Milchan invited him to Dreyfuss' home under the pretense that the actor was interested in scientific advice for a musical project. "When I came to Hollywood I detached myself completely from my physical activities to dedicate myself to what I really wanted -- filmmaking," says Milchan, "[But] sometimes it gets mixed up … because here I have Richard Dreyfuss, since I'm in Hollywood, and he suddenly wants to make music in the framing of a painting and then I get an idea. … I'll get the No. 1 scientist … Arthur Biehl. Anyone who lives in California is a 'star-f---er,' I don't know how you're going to translate it. They hear 'star' … they come running."
The report features brief appearances by Robert De Niro, Warren Beatty, Jennifer Connelly and director David Fincher, who all worked with Milchan over the years and were somewhat aware of the rumors surrounding his identity. "I did ask him once," recalls De Niro, who developed a friendship with Milchan in the early '80s after joint work on The King of Comedy and Once Upon a Time in America. "We spoke about something and he told me that he was an Israeli and that he of course would do these things for his country. … Not in an accusatory way, I just wanted to know."
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Ben Affleck and wife Jennifer Garner, who met on set of the 2003 Milchan-produced Daredevil, also appear on Monday's program, as well as Russell Crowe and director Darren Aronofsky, who are currently working with Milchan on next spring's Biblical epic feature film Noah.
"Do you know what it's like to be a 20-something-year-old kid [and] his country lets him be James Bond?" says Milchan during the Uvda report, adding that he has only one regret: "I didn't attach enough significance to the image I had created of myself. I should have confronted the image of an arms dealer. In Hollywood they don't like working with an arms dealer, ideologically. [They don't like working] with someone who lives off selling machine guns and killing. Instead of someone talking to me about a script, I had to spend half an hour explaining that I'm not an arms dealer. If people knew how many times I risked my life, back and forth, again and again, for my country. … And suddenly, to defend myself -- 'I'm not an arms dealer, I don't sell guns, I don't sell rockets' -- I should have been aware of that, of what I'll go through, and said 'F--- you. You know what? I did it for my country, and I'm proud of it.' "