Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos on Biden: "Let's See What Joe Can Do With His Sharpie"

Jim Gianopulos (left) and Joe Biden (right)
Paramount; Getty

The Paramount chief recalls meeting with Biden when he was still considering a run ("We were begging him"); his hopes for the new administration and contemplating a road trip to Nevada and Arizona "to thank the folks there."

Paramount chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos was an early backer of Joe Biden’s candidacy and never wavered, even when it looked like the then-candidate’s campaign was going to founder in the early going. Gianopulos got to know the then-vice president during the Obama administration through dealing with Motion Picture Association business. In October 2018, he was among a handful of industry heavyweights who attended a meeting in Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Beverly Hills office when Biden was considering whether to run. (Also among those present: Entertainment Studios owner Byron Allen and Sony Pictures Motion Pictures Group chairman Tom Rothman.)

In October 2019, Gianopulos and his wife Ann hosted a fundraiser for Biden at their Brentwood home. Gianopulos talked with The Hollywood Reporter right after the emotional experience of watching Biden’s Nov. 7 victory speech.

What happened at the 2018 meeting when Biden was deciding whether to run?

There was just a handful of us and we were beseeching him. We were begging him. We said, "Joe, it’s the right time. The country needs you." It was part guilt trip and mainly an appeal to his patriotism. I don’t think he was quite ready yet. He’d had some false starts in the past. He knew it would be daunting. He mentioned the loss of his son, the strain it would be for his family. But it was more than encouragement. It was, "Joe, you gotta do this." Just to end the train wreck in the White House.

Why were you sure he was the right person for the job?

Joe had been committed to public service his entire life, which is a great contrast to the narcissist-in-chief. This is someone who selflessly gave his entire life to his country. This was never someone who was in it for any other reason. There’s no question about his authenticity and his decency. I certainly share his political views but it's been clear to so many of us that we needed a leader to heal the wounds of the past four years and, really, much longer than that. Putting aside obviously his capability, it was his commitment to climate change, racial justice and equality. That was true of other candidates but Joe stood out for his patriotism, his empathy, his decency.

How nervous were you when Biden wasn’t doing well during the primaries?

Obviously I got concerned. But we were always deeply committed and hoping that as the scrum started to get smaller and smaller, Joe would rise to the top. Look, it’s easy to say now but it’’s true: We never lost faith.

When did you feel the tide had turned?

South Carolina. That big breakthrough. Then it was, "Oh, finally. OK." People started — typically, politically — to get on the bandwagon.

Were you confident he would win in the run-up to the election?

We kept hearing that this time, they got the polls right. The methodology had been vastly improved. So this time, we said, "They messed up the last time but now they figured it out." As it got closer, it was, "OK, this is looking good." There was always noise from the other side and concern about the pandemic and the turnout but between the amount of passion in favor of a change and the polling and of course the bubble that we're in here [in Los Angeles], we were optimistic.

So how did you hold up on election night?

Not well. The pain of 2016 came rushing back. Looking at the news, it was, "Oh, no. This cannot happen again." Contemplating the next four years was so unbelievably scary. Your brain told you it's going to be ok, these are just first results. Your memory pain was unbelievable.

What were you doing during the long count?

Obsessively watching CNN and NBC and, occasionally, Fox News, especially after they were the ones who called Arizona. The repetitiveness of it, always hoping for tidbits of progress. I said to Ann, "If he wins Nevada and Arizona, we’re going on a road trip to see those great states and thank the folks there." Trying to stay awake past midnight did get old but then the trendline was clear.

What are your hopes for the Biden administration?

I guess the biggest challenge is how much he can do by executive order, how much he can do by cajoling the other side, how much he can do in furthering his agenda. Obama was stymied for much of that administration by the obstinacy of the other side. Given the challenges the country faces just in terms of the pandemic and the economy, there has got to be enough common interest for them to get something done. Should the Democrats still fall short in the Senate, if there’s anyone who’s proven that he could get something done with Mitch McConnell, it’s Joe. The thing I think is in their favor, and comes out of the imperial presidency that has been created is the expansion of the reach of the executive order. Let’s see what Joe can do with his Sharpie.