PARIS — “In baseball, we’d be mediocre,” said Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of multimedia production and distribution company, The Weinstein Co., referring to the number of Academy Award nominations that projects under he and his brother Bob’s companies have scored over the years — 303 nominations with 67 wins.
The most recent triumph, of course, is the Michel Hazanavicius-helmed French production “The Artist,” which was acquired by Weinstein in spring 2011 and scooped up five Oscars this year, including Best Picture. For Weinstein, each win feels as thrilling as the first. “You know it’s being judged by your peers so it’s like no other award. For me, it still has the same thrill as for the boy who was 12 years old watching the Oscars,” he said.
During Paris Fashion Week, the Hollywood mogul was decorated with an honor of a different variety: the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, France’s high cultural distinction, which was personally granted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in recognition of Weinstein’s contribution to cinema. Weinstein’s designer wife, Georgina Chapman of Marchesa, attended the ceremony, which was held at the Elysée Palace on Wednesday.
Here, Weinstein talks about the honor, fashion and cinema.
WWD: How does the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor rate on your list of accolades? I’m sure you’re still buzzing from the success of “The Artist,” but what sort of triumph was this for you?
Harvey Weinstein: Well, this [the Legion of Honor nomination] was done in [July] of last year and I’m probably the only human being to delay the Legion of Honor because I thought it was a conflict of interest with “The Artist”.…It’s actually the movies that I produced that did it, not the movies that I distributed. It’s really on behalf of Miramax and The Weinstein Co., so it’s not so much [honoring] individual achievement as a group achievement.
WWD: What did you and President Sarkozy talk about at the ceremony?
H.W.: We talked about movies. His knowledge of movies is incredible and he talked about everything from Carl Dreyer, who was the Danish director of “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” to, you know, [Pier Paolo] Pasolini to Luchino Visconti. He talked to me about “Rocco and His Brothers,” which was Alain Delon’s greatest role. But one other thing we talked about was copyright. We talked about the idea — and this is what has always interested me in the world of fashion — that, here in France, copyrights are protected, in movies, records, the downloads, whatever. There are instant penalties if you steal these things, and it’s created a boom situation for the French entertainment industry. The French movies are flourishing, the imports are flourishing around the world. “The Intouchables” is coming up, or “War of the Buttons,” these great new French movies. It’s the golden age of French cinema again but it’s because Sarkozy had the guts to push through copyright law.
We don’t have that law in America. Fashion designers don’t have that law in America. Diane [von Furstenberg] has been lobbying, I’ve been helping her to a degree.…France [has] a leader who was brave enough to protect artists the same way he protects designers, and there are consequences now for theft like this. We also talked about that.
WWD: What are you wearing today? Is your suit by a French label?
H.W.: I don’t wear anything in particular except whatever Georgina lays out. It’s always the same thing, she goes to Richard James, who is her buddy, on Savile Row and picks X amount of black suits, X amount of dark blue suits and X amount of gray suits, the same white shirt and, you know, 10 black ties, and that’s pretty much my boy scout uniform.
WWD: Tell us about your love of French film and which film in particular sparked it.
H.W.: When I was 14 years old, I went to a theater that showed “The 400 Blows.” You know, I’d never been outside of a theater that played movies like “Hercules” and stupid Westerns and action movies, not even good Westerns like John Ford, bad Westerns. I went to this theater by mistake and it became a passion of mine and then I fell in love with French cinema. Of course, I fell in love with New Wave, which was [Jean-Luc] Godard, Claude Lelouch, [Claude] Chabrol and especially [François] Truffaut.
WWD: Where did you fall in love with “The Artist,” did you see it when it was first screened in Cannes?
H.W.: No, I saw it early.…Just, you know, I felt it. I came over in April and I saw it before anyone else, on a rough cut, and I’d followed the director’s work and I loved his other films. Thomas Langmann, who had the courage to produce the movie, is a great man, he took a great gamble and I just fell in love with the movie.…This had everything against it. It was black, white, foreign and silent.
WWD: So why was it such as success?
H.W.: Because it’s great, because it speaks to you in ways that are transcendent. It makes you change what you do, it makes you want to throw your BlackBerry away, at least it made me want to throw my BlackBerry away.
WWD: Aside from your contribution to the arts, do you think your adventures in fashion contributed towards your honor?
H.W.: My adventures in fashion? I would win the dog catcher award.
WWD: To what degree are you involved in fashion nowadays?
H.W.: Nothing. I’m terrible at this. We’ve established that the words fashionably challenged and Harvey Weinstein are synonymous.
WWD: Sarah Jessica Parker is said to be working on a fashion project. Are you involved in that?
H.W.: For her sake, definitely not.
WWD: Which is more of a dog-eat-dog world, the fashion world or Hollywood?
H.W.: There’s something about the fashion world that I like, which is, I see a lot of the designers really have affection for other designers. It’s less bitchy than I thought it would be.…Here’s the myth about the fashion industry that I never knew: I have never seen people work as hard as these designers. Seven collections a year? It’s crazy. Who made that rule? In the movie industry, we are spoiled compared to fashion designers. The amount of pressure on Marc Jacobs, the amount of pressure on Stella [McCartney], who’s my pal, and Diane [von Furstenberg] and Tommy [Hilfiger] and Michael Kors, and I don’t care how big their staffs are, you know, because they are the ultimate arbiter of taste and they are all hands on. It’s too much.
WWD: Could you share any hot new talent coming out of France?
H.W.: There’s an actor called Omar Sy who won the César for Best Actor this year in a movie called “The Intouchables,” which we are releasing May 25. He’s amazing, he’s next year’s Jean Dujardin [the lead in “The Artist,” who won the Oscar for Best Actor].