“I'm not destroying my career over a minimally talented spoiled brat who thought nothing of shoving this off her plate for eighteen months so she could go direct a movie. I have no desire to be making a movie with her, or anybody, that she runs and that we don't. She's a camp event and a celebrity and that's all and the last thing anybody needs is to make a giant bomb with her that any fool could see coming.”—Film producer Scott Rudin on Angelina Jolie, quoted in Sam Biddle, “Leaked:The Nightmare Email Drama Behind Sony's Steve Jobs Disaster,” Defamer/Gawker, December 9, 2014
The Office of Super-High Intensity Training (O.S.H.I.T.) has had many occupants over the years, but its latest resident, Scott Rudin, seems to have forgotten perhaps the most important lesson of this indispensable organization: If you engage in S.H.I.T., make sure it doesn’t splatter all over you.
Leave aside the question of whether it’s an inside job or if a cyberstrike by a North Korean government out for vengeance over the satire The Interview. The Sony hacking scandal is such a hydra-headed monster that it may take years for its full dimensions to be understood. The most visible—but not necessarily most important—tale to leak out to date might be the charming exchange between Rudin and studio co-chair Amy Pascal concerning Barack Obama’s supposed yen for African American-themed releases.
It’s easy to laugh at the latter—as I will, all the harder, when Hollywood brags at the next Oscar ceremony over how tolerant it is, hoping that nobody will recall the racial condescension engaged in by two of their more visible figures in 2014.
But before Sony persuades us to pass over in decorous silence their e-mail fiasco, it would do well to put Rudin’s comment about Angelina Jolie under the microscope. To start with, many would regard the idea of Jolie as “minimally talented” as questionable, pointing to her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Girl, Interrupted.
But a more fundamental question lies behind that tart phrase of Rudin’s. Surely, he is not urging that Pascal and other execs stop working with every “minimally talented spoiled brat” to come down the pike in Tinseltown. If he were, the industry’s productions would shut down faster than those strikes engineered by one of its unions.
The ways of Hollywood royalty have frustrated producers and directors for far longer than Rudin had access to a computer, but moviemakers had to put up with it because of stars’ box-office clout. Billy Wilder, for instance, moaning about Marilyn Monroe, acknowledged, “My Aunt Minnie would always be punctual and never hold up production, but who would pay to see my Aunt Minnie?”
In one way, it is understandable why Rudin felt annoyed with the star. The word “Cleopatra”—the project that so intrigued Ms. Jolie that she had lobbied for hot director David Fincher to helm it, rather than Rudin’s latest pet project, on Steve Jobs—still retains an evil allure in many quarters as the budget-buster that nearly wrecked a studio (Twentieth Century Fox).
Yet the person associated the most with that all-time disaster is perhaps the closest equivalent we have to Ms. Jolie today: Elizabeth Taylor—another hubby-swiping megastar and tabloid mainstay who, by battling a potentially deadly medical condition and engaging in humanitarian work, became, improbably, sympathetic. (She even surpassed Ms. Jolie in number of Oscar statuettes--two vs. one--though her acting talent took a back seat to her looks until she gained weight for her role in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)
This is not to say that Ms. Jolie comes out of the now-notorious Rudin-Pascal exchange with an immaculate reputation. The comments section on the Web site where I first learned of the Rudin-Pascal exchange were running—oh, rough guess—13-to-one against the actress. She and her P.R. team might want to consider whether all that “Brangelina” publicity has really endeared her to the public.
Not knowing Ms. Jolie personally, or having read much about her interactions with other industry professionals, I have no idea if she is indeed “spoiled.” But I strongly suspect that few, if any, of those Internet readers who have denigrated her in reading Rudin’s quote have any idea of the man who lashed out at her.
If you’re a star and you get on Rudin’s good side, you will adore him forever, as, it seems, Chris Rock was ready to do this week in an appearance on Charlie Rose. (Will the comic actor-director revise his feelings now that he knows the contents of Rudin’s messages to Ms. Pascal about Obama? Stay tuned.) But if you’re one of his underlings—well, just expect a shorter life expectancy and/or years of psychoanalysis.
This, after all, was the fellow named “The Most Feared Man in Town” by The Hollywood Reporter four years ago. Since he had already appeared on a ranking by the Web site Gawker of “New York’s Worst Bosses” (by virtue of his Broadway productions) several years before that, this made him a bicoastal threat to employee sanity.
Among Rudin’s sins, as catalogued in the two articles: temper tantrums so ferocious that one assistant took ulcer medication; frequently firing personal assistants; keeping as many as five on at the same time, and sometimes firing several simultaneously; throwing things (like Blackberries!) at them; and banning use of the subway, the one place on Planet Earth where workers could be safe from a phone call from him round the clock.
Rudin does not sound terribly abashed by his e-mail screeds. His “apology,” such as it was, turned out to be broad and none too specific: “I made a series of remarks that were meant only to be funny, but in the cold light of day, they are in fact thoughtless and insensitive - and not funny at all. To anybody I've offended, I'm profoundly and deeply sorry, and I regret and apologize for any injury they might have caused." (It might also be said that only he could regard his remarks as "funny" rather than sarcastic. Good thing he's not a comedian or he'd join the permanently unemployed.)
Given Rudin’s history, it is undoubtedly hopeless to expect anything deeper or more sincere than this. It’s probably a useless undertaking, anyway—Rudin could warble, “Angie, I still love ya, baby” and it still wouldn’t satisfy Ms. Jolie or her outraged spouse, Brad Pitt. (You should have seen the fish-eye Jolie gave Pascal when the two met the other day—and the Sony exec wasn’t even the one calling her a “brat”! No wonder “a mild bout of chickenpox” led the star to withdraw from the premiere of her new film Unbroken.)
I run a PG-13 site compared with the rest of cyberspace, but I am not oblivious to the number of hits and “likes” that occur when I post a photo of someone easy on the eyes. Many regard Ms. Jolie as a virtually charter member of this group.
And Mr. Rudin? I doubt that many would place him in such august company. In fact, if you look at his picture here, you might be tempted to think that he belongs not in entertainment but politics. You know politics, right? The profession once described by one of its most colorful characters, Democratic consultant James Carville, as “show business for ugly people.”
So—I think we might have a new profession for Mr. Rudin. But by all means, let’s make sure that elective office doesn’t open a door to another career, diplomacy. Otherwise, World War III—with North Korea, no less—might be in the offing.