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There are few more familiar with the ways in which Harvey Weinstein alternately wooed and threatened the media than Peter Biskind, author of Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film, the definitive 2004 account of Weinstein’s rise to power. But with that power now gone, care of back-to-back bombshell exposés in The New York Times and The New Yorker, Biskind weighed in on the many sides of Harvey, the troubling atmosphere he created and what happens from here.
You’re well versed in Harvey’s intimidation techniques. How’d he do it?
It was a mixture of charm and retaliation. He’d have screenings with journalists whom he was trying to woo and the ostensible reason was to get their feedback on the films before he released them or even before he bought them. Of course, he was really getting them involved in his process. He knew it was very flattering for a journalist to be invited to a film before it’s released. But if somebody wrote a piece that displeased him, he’d go after them, he’d plant stories about them. When I was at Premiere [magazine], I was going to do an investigative piece on Harvey and Miramax and, immediately, Harvey was withdrawing his advertising. If you played ball, you saw the good Harvey; if you didn’t, you saw that bad Harvey.
I remember I had a book party for my book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, and Harvey showed up. I don’t know how he knew to come — I certainly hadn’t invited him — but it was very flattering, and he knew it would be. He was a wizard at flattery. At the same time, he could be a wizard of pain if you crossed him. And it was definitely an atmosphere of fear over there. People were terrified, and Harvey was a scary guy. He was a big guy, he was 6 feet tall and he weighed at least 250, 300 pounds. He was a bully, and he emanated menace when he wanted to. The amazing thing was that he got away with all of this.
Why is that?
There are a lot of reasons. But in an industry where nobody says what they mean, people respected Harvey because he did say what he meant a lot of the time. His appearance was so unprepossessing, too, and he used it to his advantage. He didn’t lose weight, he didn’t have plastic surgery, he didn’t dye his hair, he didn’t do all of those things that people in Hollywood do to make themselves look good. Harvey was all, “I am who I am,” and people respected that. There was something refreshing about that.
I’d also say testosterone, money and power can be a toxic combination, and that’s been true in Hollywood from the very beginning. Go back and read the stories about Wallace Beery, who’s said to have raped Gloria Swanson on their wedding night. Fortunately, the business has been corporatized so much that you don’t find people like Bob Evans running studios anymore. You have MBAs and former lawyers. Harvey’s really a throwback.
What does someone who so clearly thrived on the power do now that it’s gone?
Harvey’s very competitive, but I find it hard to imagine that he can get that power back. But there’s always somebody willing to make a pact with the devil. And if Harvey has enough money or can round up enough money to launch a play or something, I guess it could happen. Hollywood is a town of second acts.
Has the fallout surprised you?
I was surprised that Kevin Smith came out against him because Kevin owes his career to Harvey.
A lot of people do, and they all seem to be releasing statements condemning him.
Even if you don’t mean it in the least, you have to say something. The irony as far as Harvey goes: We’ve gone from you can’t say anything about anything he’s done to you can speak about everything that he’s done.
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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