Interview with Robert Lantos

Robert Lantos is the producer behind the film “Barney’s Version”. Robert has been trying to bring Mordecai Richler’s novel to the big screen since first reading the book in 1997. After Mordecai’s death in 2001, Robert was on a mission to get this movie made to honor, what he felt was, Mordecai’s best work. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Robert about getting this film made and about working with the author Mordecai Richler.

Click here to read our review for “Barney’s Version” which is available now on Blu-ray/DVD combo.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about your road to bringing “Barney’s Version” to the big screen?
Robert Santos: It goes back more than 25 years ago. The author of “Barney’s Version”, Mordecai Richler had written a screen play for a book he wrote called “Joshua Then and Now” which he and I made into a movie that starred James Woods and Alan Arkin. Since that time we have had a relationship where he sends me advance copies of his books, which was the case for “Barney’s Version”. I first read the book in 1997 on an airplane where I made a spectacle of myself due to my intermittent laughing. I really felt I was reading an author’s magnum opus. I knew before I finished reading the book that this was going to be a movie. He and I began working on it together with Mordecai writing the screenplay. Sadly he passed away before it was finished and from that point forward this became more than a movie. It became to me a mission to honor the quality of Mordecai’s work and to make a film he would be proud of.

MG: Paul Giamatti won a Golden Globe for his performance, amongst other awards, what do you like most about the character?
RS: Paul is a multi dimensional human being, which is how Richler wrote the character in his book and it is also how I envisioned the role.  Like most of us he is flawed and often his own worst enemy. Despite the many flaws he has we get to feel for him and root for him. We can’t not love him! Paul had to play this part because I couldn’t imagine a conventional Hollywood movie star type pulling this roll off. I was really drawn to this project because of the fact it’s not your typical film that gets made in this day and age. It’s not about fantasy characters that are strictly good or evil it’s about various shades of grey.

MG: This is your second time working with Richard J. Lewis after 1993’s “Whale Music”; tell about working with him again on this project?
RS: Richard and I have known each other for some time, as I had produced his first film. Richard came to me after I bought the rights to the book and Richler had passed. He kept telling me how much he loved the project and wanted to be a part of it. After some storming on his part and him writing a draft for the screen play that I didn’t even know about, I chose him because of his dedication to the project. We didn’t end up using the screenplay he submitted however Richard’s was much better than any other we had received by various other writers. He really just dropped his version of the screen play on me from out of the sky.

MG: Tell us about working with Michael Konyves who wrote the screenplay?
RS: I chose Michael’s screenplay because he took a lot of things from the book while at the same time making some very bold statements as to what he was leaving out. The book covers a lot in its 500 pages. Michael’s script really focused on the heart of the story. The love story between Barney and his 3rd wife really was the focal point. Part of the reason this took so long to get to the project going was because I had used many different writers. I was trying to include everything in the book because I loved it so much and I wanted everything in the book to also be in the script. Michael to his credit disregarded my instruction and made those very bold sweeping decisions that really worked. When I read his script I had the same reaction I had when I first read the book.

MG: What is your favorite novel by Mordecai Richler?
RS: I think “Barney’s Version” is Mordecai’s greatest work and it is one of my favorites but I love all of Mordecai’s books. I actually own the rights to “Solomon Gursky Was Here” which was written before “Barney’s Version”. I think “Barney’s Version” is without a doubt Mordecai’s most mature work.

MG: As a producer, what do you look for when approaching a project?
RS: It changes with what stage I am at in my life. This stage of my life I look for something that I believe moves me and that will move others. Also if I feel the movie needs to be made and others probably aren’t going to make. I take interest in things like that.

MG: “eXistenZ” is one of my favorites; tell us about working on that film?
RS: That was all about Dave Cronenberg. Some projects I do because I love the vision of the director. With Cronenberg it’s always been about the way he is going to tell a story. I have made three films with David thus far.

MG: Is that related to David Cronenberg’s cameo in “Barney’s Version”?
RS: That was for fun. I called him and some other directors I have worked with in the past to make cameo’s in the film. It was in a way my own personal souvenir. David was really a stand out in his cameo. It was fun.

MG: What is the next film you are working on?
RS: You will have to forgive me however I don’t like to talk about projects until I am ready to shoot.

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