Although he has a penchant for dark comedies, actor-director Danny DeVito is serious about his craft, his family and his cigars.
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96
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But Hoffa did not sour DeVito on producing—far from it—and Jersey Films has since been responsible for a string of unusual and highly respected movies, among them Reality Bites, Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty and Matilda. Unhappy at Sony/TriStar, where for four years Jersey had what is known in Hollywood as "an overall deal" (in which the studio finances and distributes the movie), DeVito has recently moved his production company to Universal Studios. Sony "didn't want to make...our movies," he says. "What's the matter, man?" He feigns sniffing both his armpits. "I felt absolutely alone at Sony."
DeVito becomes very passionate about, and totally committed to, the movies he takes on. It's part of his charm, his success and his popularity with his collaborators. At one point in the negotiations with TriStar over Pulp Fiction, he stood on an executive's desk and insisted the executive not leave the room until a particular point of the deal was settled. The executive finally agreed to give DeVito what he wanted on that point, but TriStar wound up passing on Pulp Fiction, which was made for Miramax Films, much as Reality Bites was made for Universal and Get Shorty was made for MGM.
Several other prominent producers have also left Sony recently, so DeVito is hardly alone in his disenchantment with the company, which has been undergoing major upheavals for the past couple of years. Now happily ensconced at Universal, he and his Jersey colleagues Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher are looking forward to the release next spring of Gattaca, a futuristic movie about the dangers of genetic engineering. They are also awaiting a script on Out of Sight, based on the latest novel by Elmore Leonard, who also wrote Get Shorty.
In Get Shorty, a loan shark from Miami who wants to make movies says, "I don't think the producer has to do much, outside of maybe knowing a writer," and while DeVito got a big chuckle out of that line, he says today what everyone who actually does make movies knows: "Producing is hard work. You have to deal with accountants and lawyers who have no idea what really goes into making a movie. It's a constant fight. Like when I was growing up in Jersey, you have to keep running away from the bad guys." He shakes his head. "But fighting a battle and winning is fun. And this business is fun. I love it. It's the greatest business in the world."
Part of what makes the movies fun for DeVito is the variety—acting, directing, producing, promoting. Two days after our interview, he joined the cast of Michael Douglas' newest production, Rainmaker, to be directed by Francis Ford Coppola, based on John Grisham's best-selling novel. He's also constantly on the lookout for fresh directing and producing projects.
DeVito enjoys new challenges and—already a computer buff, with a special, newly installed line at his house for connecting at high speed to the World Wide Web—his newest interest is mastering the Internet, for which Jersey Films is now developing its own Web page.
"You can't beat it as a movie marketing tool, as an information tool," he says. "I'd love to be able to go on-line when we're making a movie and tell people what's going on behind the scenes. What a way to build an audience."
DeVito has six computers at home—three belong to his children, Lucy, now 13; Gracie, 11; and Jake, 9—and he says he spends about an hour a day "surfing the Net." A devoted father, he increasingly tries to avoid going out of town unless he can take the family with him; when he is on location, he takes his laptop and digital camera and sends photographs to his children by computer: "Here's me. Here's my hotel room in Australia. This is the view from my balcony at night."
He's very serious about, and very protective of, his children. Always has been. "My dad told me that my baby sister died at one month after she was exposed to someone who came to the house with whooping cough," he recalls. "When I had my first baby, I wouldn't let anyone but Rhea near her for two weeks. Our relatives were up in arms. But I stuck to it and Rhea backed me up."
Are his children equally protective of him? How do they feel about his cigars, for example? "They question me about them. It's a real tough subject to talk about with your kids. They don't want you to be hurt. They want to protect you. So I explain about how you don't inhale cigars." He also tells them that cigars aren't addictive and that he doesn't smoke that many of them.
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