“But that was archaic. You’re a writer, you’re loaded with ideas ... why don’t we take those ideas and add elements to them and then sell the whole thing and let you control it? Why would we just wait to answer the phone?”
Agents took on a more central role in Hollywood after CAA’s rise to power, assembling the composite parts of a film or television project before taking the “package” of script, star and director to the studios. The book opens with an account of how he put Rain Man together, bringing the script to CAA client Dustin Hoffman and putting him in the lead role opposite Tom Cruise (another client) with Barry Levinson (yet another client) directing. After delays in production, the film won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Actor, with Hoffman and Levinson thanking Ovitz from the stage as they picked up their awards. In a town built on ego and anxiety there is no greater proof of self-worth.
Only a year earlier, two of Meyer’s clients, Michael Douglas and Cher — “people he thought of as great friends”, as Ovitz writes in the book, failed to mention him in their acceptance speeches. Meyer, he writes, “was devastated”.
A plate of toro carpaccio sushi has arrived: it is a delicious cut of fatty tuna and, before devouring it, I ask about his relationship with Meyer. He reaches for another military metaphor. “When you’re in the foxhole with someone, that’s when relationships are made.” He says the two were as close as brothers, but they fell out spectacularly towards the end of his time at the agency in the mid-1990s: Meyer took a job at Universal that Ovitz had coveted and, in a fit of pique, Ovitz then bought a $5.5m Malibu house that was being sold by Berry Gordy, the Motown founder — one that Meyer had told him he wanted to buy. They didn’t talk again for 20 years.
He contacted Meyer a couple of years ago. “I hired a psychiatrist as a mediator,” he says — probably not something that anyone outside of La La Land would ever contemplate. The sessions seemed to do the trick. “I just had lunch with him the day before yesterday,” he says confidently. I cannot help but wonder whether this rapprochement will be affected by the book’s revelations.
Ovitz’s memoir reveals a master manipulator. Sometimes he was fast and loose with the truth to keep clients happy, such as the time he sent Barry Levinson’s wife flowers from the set of Rain Man, pretending they were from the director so she wouldn’t feel neglected. When the late Michael Crichton was suffering from depression, Ovitz “had the agents tell the community that he was working on an original idea. Was I lying? I guess so. Did I do the right thing? Absolutely.” Crichton went on to write Jurassic Park.
But the book also reveals him as a serious bearer of grudges. Over the years, he feuded with David Geffen, the billionaire media mogul: Ovitz reveals in the book that he once went to Geffen’s office threatening to “beat the living shit” out of him. On another occasion he vented to a Vanity Fair reporter that Geffen was part of a Hollywood “gay mafia”. He regrets both incidents, he tells me, and reveals the two recently made up over a civil lunch. Fortunately there was no psychiatrist required this time.