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Although he has a penchant for dark comedies, actor-director Danny DeVito is serious about his craft, his family and his cigars.
David Shaw
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

(continued from page 1)

Didn't he urge the studio to support it vigorously? Didn't he complain when it didn't?

"Sure. But if the studio is not behind your movie totally, you can call and fax and complain about ads and do anything else you want, and it's like pissing in the wind."

Complaining about "the studio"—in this case, Sony Pictures and its TriStar subsidiary—is as common in Hollywood as complaining about the White House in Washington, D.C., even for someone as successful, respected and well-liked as DeVito, who has acted in, directed and/or produced more than 50 films.

"Hollywood is a jungle," DeVito says. "It's full of quicksand, vermin and flesh-eating beasts. Making a movie is not a walk in the park. Every movie is like navigating treacherous terrain.... There are a lot of good people in Hollywood, but every once in a while, someone gets a top studio job who doesn't know anything about filmmaking...doesn't know what the fuck it is to make a movie."

DeVito is especially incensed, he says, that the studio leaked word to the media that Matilda cost almost $50 million to make, rather than the $35 million acknowledged by DeVito's production company, Jersey Films. DeVito insists the $35 million figure is correct, and he worries that given the box office returns so far, the $50 million figure "sends a message [to the investment community] that non-Disney kid movies don't make money.

"Why would a studio want to do that?" he asks. "Is that the way you want to go to sleep at night—thinking, 'Wow, I really fucked that movie up!'?"

Danny DeVito portrait.

This is not the first time that DeVito has clashed with Sony, which may account for the intensity of his anger today. But on Matilda, he had to suffer an added indignity: "The studio wouldn't let me smoke on the set." DeVito says he lit up a cigar once and was told it was against fire department regulations, so he promised not to do it again. "But they hired a full-time fireman to keep an eye on me anyway—and they made us pay for it."

Fortunately, DeVito has always been enormously popular with his crews, and the crew on Matilda quickly erected a special "smoking tent" for him outside the sound stage, outfitting it with chairs, a table, a telephone, plants and a large ashtray.

"I like to smoke when I'm working," DeVito says. "Usually, I smoke one cigar a day, after lunch, but when I'm working, I smoke more. It helps relax me."

DeVito says his father smoked DeNobilis, an inexpensive, Italian-style, machine-made cigar that young Danny found "a little rough" for his adolescent taste. In his early days as an Off-Off-Broadway actor in New York, he occasionally bought some DeNobilis himself, but he says cigars were "mostly on the back burner" for him for a long time, and he came to appreciate them only gradually.

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