Posted by Danielle Berrin
If this were any other crowd, the speaker wouldn’t dare dish so freely about Steven Spielberg.
But in the odd cabinlike setting at Morrie’s Fireplace, the private AISH outpost on Pico Boulevard, film director Brad Silberling is among — well, if not friends — fellow Jews. Which is exactly how the Jewish Entertainment Network (JenLA) likes it: This is a members-only club for members of the tribe. Tonight’s topic: Emotional Survival.
Hollywood is not for the faint of heart, Silberling tells a group of 40 or so young Jews who work in entertainment. Create a family, have a spiritual life, Silberling urges. “You have to find a way to shore yourself up.” No matter how successful you become, you will have doubts. You will have trials. You will one day feel stale.
To make it, “There’s a human resource that’s required,” Silberling says.
Although the director deprecated his “profoundly unsexy” topic, it is just the sort of deep and candid conversation that often takes place at JenLA, a salon-style gathering that brings the industry’s neophytes into proximity with its leading lights. Call it the Jewish version of Soho House, a gathering hole for the creative, where they can eat, drink, get close to the stars, maybe even collaborate, and all for the bargain price of $10.
Created by the Australian-born, Israeli-raised film composer Aaron Symonds, who lives in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, JenLA was designed to connect Jews in entertainment with ... other Jews in entertainment. If it sounds like a redundancy of greater Hollywood, that’s because it is. But rather than downplay the stereotype about Jewish power in Hollywood, JenLA happily exploits it.
“We don’t accept everybody — you have to be a Jew,” Symonds told me over coffee one recent morning. “How do you define a Jew? That’s up to you. I’m not touching that with a 10-foot pole.”
Although it sounds tribal, it’s an astonishingly open statement for someone who has spent the better part of his 32 years living in Israel’s Mea Shearim — an ultra-Orthodox enclave in Jerusalem, where, he said, “If you had a TV, that was grounds for expulsion.” A self-described outsider in that insular world (Symonds’ mother was a convert, and his father, a ba’al teshuvah who embraced Orthodoxy later in life), Symonds was exposed by this parents to some of the normalcies of secular culture. When he was 10, he saw his first Shakespeare play; at 13, his first film. Cinema inspired a far different revelation than the one he was accustomed to; once he realized he could parlay his musical skill into a job in movies, it wasn’t long before “the siren song of Hollywood” seduced him.
But a black hat in Hollywood can be an ill-fitting costume.
“When you come to L.A. and you don’t know anyone and you don’t have anything lined up, it can be a very impersonal, cold, tough industry,” Symonds recalled. He was fortunate enough to connect with other observant Hollywood Jews, like the writer-producer David Sacks, who had worked on “The Simpsons” and “3rd Rock From the Sun,” as well as the television writer Brian Ross, who offered guidance and support. “I wanted to find a way to give a lot of that back to other people.”
In 2009, he founded JenLA, which he hoped could address the challenges of being a religious Jew in Hollywood. “If you’re Jewish and working in entertainment, you have to deal with things that non-Jews don’t, practical things, like having a business meeting in a non-kosher restaurant. How do you manage? How do you deal with that?”
He hosted the first salon, with Sacks as the speaker, in his own apartment, and 40 people showed up. Over the next three years, he grew the project, investing $3,000 of his own money, and began to attract an impressive list of speakers, including reality TV guru Gil Goldschein, president of Bunim/Murray Productions; the young writer Adam Perlman, recently hired for Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom”; former William Morris agent David Lonner; and the producer David Kirschner, best known for “An American Tale” and the “Child’s Play” films. Topics range from the religious particular (“Becoming Observant in Hollywood”) to the creative universal (“The Importance of Story”) to community values (“Hollywood and Israel”).
Symonds estimates that roughly 30 to 40 percent of JenLA’s several hundred devotees maintain some level of Jewish observance. But depending on the speaker, the average meeting tends to focus on more practical aspects of the business, like how to get an agent, how to sell a script and how to make connections.
Of that, Symonds has done a decent job, relying on word of mouth to attract accomplished speakers, who tend to be unusually generous with their time and unusually forthcoming about their experiences. Silberling, for instance, talked for more than two hours, then hung around for questions; Kirschner, Symonds said, gave attendees his home phone number.
Where else, in the space of a single evening, can strangers become intimates and movie moguls, mentors? It’s enough to make you wonder whether that ancient connection at Sinai really does have an impact.
How deep does Hollywood’s Jewish blood run? Symonds will soon find out, as he tries to knock names off his wish list: Will Sherry Lansing, Ron Meyer, Howard Gordon or Natalie Portman come round?
According to Silberling, the days of Jewish shame and stigma are over. Hollywood’s Jewish character is “a given,” so let’s get on with it.
“What matters most,” Silberling told the group, “even after you have a hit opening weekend, is the living in between.”
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October 15, 2012 | 8:24 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Dear God, I gave up meeting Brad Pitt to attend a Shabbes dinner.
I thought this was a wise thing to do (and no one can ever say I'm starstruck). However, even though I enjoyed a delicious meal, observed one of your eminent Ten, and got to drink a lot of scotch, I think I made a mistake. You see, I missed a rare opportunity to report back to my readership on Brad Pitt's very esteemed opinions on the injustices of the drug war. And just last week, I wrote a column about this same problem, and Eugene Jarecki's documentary "The House I Live In", which is a deeply empathetic look at how U.S. drug laws have evolved into a dangerous, wasteful and unjust juggernaut (on this Brad and I agree!). Having thoroughly studied your Torah, God, I know that the moral imperative to restore human dignity to all your creatures would probably get me a hall pass for one Sabbath meal. Please forgive me, God (Please forgive me, readers!). Fortunately, you were prescient enough to include the role of Reuters in your great Creation:
(Reuters) - Brad Pitt has thrown his weight behind a documentary that blasts America's 40-year war on drugs as a failure, calling policies that imprison huge numbers of drug-users a "charade" in urgent need of a rethink.
The Hollywood actor came aboard recently as an executive producer of filmmaker Eugene Jarecki's "The House I Live In," which won the Grand Jury Prize in January at the Sundance Film Festival. The film opened in wide release in the United States on Friday.
Ahead of a Los Angeles screening, Pitt and Jarecki spoke passionately about the "War on Drugs" which, according to the documentary, has cost more than $1 trillion and accounted for over 45 million arrests since 1971, and which preys largely on poor and minority communities.
"I know people are suffering because of it. I know I've lived a very privileged life in comparison and I can't stand for it," Pitt told Reuters on Friday, calling the government's War on Drugs policy a "charade."
"It's such bad strategy. It makes no sense. It perpetuates itself. You make a bust, you drive up profit, which makes more people want to get into it," he added. "To me, there's no question; we have to rethink this policy and we have to rethink it now."
Read the rest here
October 11, 2012 | 10:05 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
With two long, draining wars on the decline, who wants to confront a third?
In this one, the longest running and one of the most expensive in American history, our enemies are fellow citizens and the frontlines are our city streets. Yet this four-decade draconian fight is so deeply ingrained in our society, it is perhaps easier to ignore, like a long marriage gone stale.
Even now, in the midst of an election season, the War on Drugs barely registers. Haven’t we got bigger problems?
“To ignore this issue is to ignore the 800-pound elephant in the room,” insisted author and filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, whose previous works, including HBO’s “Reagan,” “The Trials of Henry Kissinger” and “Why We Fight,” each deal with questions about American policy. His latest documentary, “The House I Live In,” which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, takes on the drug war in an unflinching and personal way. Not through the prism of addiction, because, although he’s tried them, Jarecki is “not a drug taker, no,” but through the lens of a much larger dependency that, he argues, has gradually and sometimes unwittingly been woven into the fabric of American life.
Jarecki first encountered this issue growing up in a New Haven Jewish home. Raised in tandem with the children and grandchildren of his African-American caretaker, Nannie Jeter, whom in the film he describes as “a second mother,” he came of age and headed for the Ivy League, while Jeter’s offspring faltered.
“I saw many of them struggling with poverty, joblessness, crime and worse,” he says in the film’s voiceover narration.
When he asked Jeter whence the cause, “drugs” was her answer.
What many might have ignored moved Jarecki to outrage. “I have a natural struggle-side mentality,” he said over coffee at the Chateau Marmont. “If one of the aspects of modern life seems inequitable or unfair or hypocritical, I’m deeply uncomfortable. It’s an asymmetry that I can feel.”
It’s also an asymmetry exemplified by his privilege (“I was a very lucky American,” he said), but experienced unjustly by his ancestors. “As an American Jewish person whose family fled persecution in foreign places” — his father fled Nazi Germany in 1939, and his mother’s family fled czarist Russia — “we were taught that we were children of flight, that flight was always around the corner, and that not only could it happen again to ourselves, it could happen to others.”
Call it a lucky reminder for someone born white and Jewish in late-20th century America, which provided Jarecki a powerful motive to pay forward his fortune. “Within the American story, our sisters and brothers in the struggle for dignity were black Americans,” he said. “A natural bond formed with these people we saw singing ‘Go Down Moses,’ thinking of themselves as having struggled the way Jews struggled under the pharaoh.”
But Jarecki became puzzled when he realized how the struggle stories had diverged. The trajectory of black Americans in their post-Civil Rights struggle does not mirror the path of Jewish ascension. What, he wondered, was getting in the way of black progress?
“The drug war, broadly speaking, is an immoral catastrophe,” he said. Without mincing words, Jarecki’s film takes on the economic, political, sociological and psychological consequences of the drug-war juggernaut. At times it comes off as agitprop, the same way Jarecki’s intellectual rants can sound like manifesto in conversation (capitalism, for instance, is “an enemy of democracy”), but its unswerving focus on the humanity of its subjects, and its indictment of all political stripes, not one party, saves it from one-sidedness.
Not only an artist, Jarecki is also an activist seeking reform. He taught politics at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies and is the founder and executive director of The Eisenhower Project, a public policy group. Film allows him to explore these issues and brings him into contact with the raging diversity of experience in America, though he is far more invested in influencing policy than scoring at the box office.
The War on Drugs, he said, “is a system that must be on trial at election time.”
“We have to ask what it means for America to be the world’s largest jailer, what it means that we’ve spent a trillion dollars in the War on Drugs, and yet drugs are cheaper, purer, more available and more in use today than ever before.”
At a time when resources are scarce, the cost of incarcerating American citizens for drug offenses is a mile high. Wouldn’t it make more sense to treat most drugs like alcohol? In November, Proposition 36 will seek to reduce the sentencing for the California “three strikes” law, which currently allows prosecutors to seek life sentences for a third felony, even if petty or nonviolent. “Right now, there is someone serving a life sentence whose third crime was stealing a slice of pizza in Redondo Beach,” Jarecki said.
If we’re honest, modifying drug laws is about more than economic logic and rationality; it’s also about fairness. “We should be smart on crime, not tough on crime,” Jarecki said.
Years spent interviewing just a few of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States — plus the jailers, judges and law enforcement officers who work to put them there — convinced Jarecki something bold must be done.
“When people on the outside criticize a system, OK, that’s important, but when someone on the inside is willing to risk their job security, risk their livelihood to step out and tell me the criticism they have about the system they are a part of? The courage of that is such a moment of human majesty that it behooves me to honor it.
“I think justice is something inside you,” he said. Indeed, his own history is awash in it. “I was taught from a young age [that Jews] had a role to play as messengers of human dignity, and in the struggle for human rights and the need to defend the voiceless. My whole life is versed in that.”
October 7, 2012 | 5:18 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Maureen Dowd and Aaron Sorkin "used to date," as Dowd coyly put it in a 2005 profile for New York Magazine.
In that same story, Sorkin told writer Ariel Levy that perhaps, one thing troubling their relationship was that he found Dowd “more independent than I would like.” How terrible!
At least Sorkin is mature enough to note his needs. And, evinced by Dowd's column today in The Times, they are both mature enough to carry on in friendship after a romantic failing. This is how it should be. One can get, it turns out, very good columns from a former flame:
AFTER the debate, I was talking to Aaron Sorkin, who was a little down. Or, as he put it, “nonverbal, shouting incoherently at a squirrel, angrier than when the Jets lost to the 49ers last Sunday without ever really being on the field.”
Aaron was mollified when he learned that President Obama, realizing things were dire, privately sought the counsel of a former Democratic president known for throwing down in debates. I asked Aaron if he knew how the conversation between the two presidents had gone and, as it happened, he did. This is his account.
The lights from the presidential motorcade illuminate a New Hampshire farmhouse at night in the sprawling New England landscape. JED BARTLET steps out onto his porch as the motorcade slows to a stop.
BARTLET (calling out) Don’t even get out of the car!
BARACK OBAMA (opening the door of his limo) Five minutes, that’s all I want.
BARTLET Were you sleepy?
OBAMA Jed —
BARTLET Was that the problem? Had you just taken allergy medication? General anesthesia?
OBAMA I had an off night.
BARTLET What makes you say that? The fact that the Cheesecake Factory is preparing an ad campaign boasting that it served Romney his pre-debate meal? Law school graduates all over America are preparing to take the bar exam by going to the freakin’ Cheesecake Factory!
OBAMA (following Bartlet inside) I can understand why you’re upset, Jed.
BARTLET Did your staff let you know the debate was gonna be on television?
OBAMA (looking in the other room) Is that Jeff Daniels?
BARTLET That’s Will McAvoy, he just looks like Jeff Daniels.
OBAMA Why’s he got Jim Lehrer in a hammerlock?
Read the rest at The Times.
October 3, 2012 | 11:06 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
In the summer of 2008, at a national gathering of Hadassah in downtown Los Angeles, nearly 2,000 women shrieked with delight as Sherry Lansing, the pioneering first female to run a movie studio, coolly extolled the upside of aging.
“I used to think 60 is the new 40,” Lansing said brazenly, dismissing the pithy phrase as platitude. “Now I say 60 is the new 60!”
Lansing was the keynote speaker that morning, there to discuss her transition from workforce leader — specifically, her 14-year tenure as chairwoman of Paramount Pictures — to philanthropist. Although some say she was poised to become the first bona fide female mogul, Lansing turned 60 and decided instead to pull the curtain on her Hollywood ambitions. “In my late 50s, I started to get bored,” she confessed during a recent interview. “I’d had a wonderful career, I loved movies, I loved my time in the film business — but I felt as if I was repeating myself. The highs weren’t as high; the lows weren’t as low. I had this pull to have a different kind of life.”
Widely regarded by her industry colleagues as both kind and intellectually curious, she sought to develop a more expansive legacy, one that could parlay her career into a late-middle-life calling. By no means did she plan to retire — that would not be her nature — but she sought an encore, a “third act,” as she put it, that would give her life purpose and meaning and enable her to share some of her very considerable fortune with others.
“She was incredibly measured and clear-headed about leaving,” producer and former Disney executive Donald De Line said about her exit. “But I thought, ‘It’s too seductive, the power, the job itself is so thrilling.’ I think everybody kind of thought, ‘OK, that’s what she’s saying — she’s not really gonna go. People can’t give up those jobs. Usually, they go kicking and screaming and have to be pushed out the door. That was not the case with Sherry. She turned 60, and she was gone. And she never looked back.”
But privately, Lansing feared the unscripted day. A notorious workaholic, she agonized over the potential emptiness. “She was concerned that after being so immersed in the world of entertainment that she would maybe feel she didn’t have enough to do,” her friend, the author and philanthropist Cheryl Saban recalled. “She reached out to everybody and asked, ‘What am I gonna do with myself when I retire?’ ”
But if the movie business had taught her anything at all, it’s that the third act is the most climactic. “The way to stay young, I am convinced, is to be eternally curious,” Lansing said. So no, she would not retire; she would reinvent herself. The question was, how? With great expectations sure to shadow her on the path, how would she begin, or, really, begin again, in her 60s?
The modern era is not exactly kind to the aged, and American culture, even less so. In large part due to Hollywood, the obsession with youth and glamour often seems to eclipse the relevance and reality of anyone over 35. Both men and women, as they advance in years, are likely to be met with efforts to resist and deny the march of time — Botox this, brow-lift that — rather than any encouragement to re-up or reinvent the possibilities of extended middle life.
Where the culture is poor, however, Judaism is rich. The High Holy Days, in particular, simulate a midlife crisis every year. On Yom Kippur, for example, in a day of intense confrontation with mortality, Jews of all ages recite the Shema Koleinu prayer: “Do not cast us aside when we are old,” it pleads.
Even in ancient times, societies weren’t quite sure how to handle the elderly among them. As Temple Emanuel’s Rabbi Laura Geller said in her Yom Kippur sermon last month, “We live in a world where becoming an elder feels like a mixed blessing: Who wants to be an elder?”
But more than ever before in human history, the elderly population is growing. Largely the result of medical advances, people are living considerably longer, often well into their 80s, 90s and even 100s, so that what used to be retirement age — 65 — is now merely middle life. The issue is particularly pressing now, as the so-called boomer generation reaches that plateau, and approximately 70 million Americans between the ages of 45 and 65 will have to invent new futures for themselves. “Retiring retirement,” is how the writer Patricia Marx described the phenomenon in an article this week in The New Yorker. She also wryly pointed out that what cemented retirement age at 65 was the Social Security Act of 1935, when the average life expectancy was 61.
Faced with health and vitality decades beyond what they might have imagined in their 20s, many boomers are seeking “encore” chapters. And particularly in the wake of the recent economic downturn, many have either been laid off or seen their 401(k)s dwindle. “[T]oday, considering that 56 percent of workers have less than $25,000 in retirement savings, and that the average life expectancy of a 65-year-old man and woman is 82 and 85, respectively, can any of us really afford to call it quits?” Marx wrote. Retirement is officially out; midlife today is simply a time to recalibrate and resume.
Lansing was nearing the end of her reportedly $25 million contract at Paramount when she began fretting about her future. Having started her career as an actress, she charted an illustrious course through Hollywood, ascending the ranks from script reader at MGM (in her 20s) to president of production at 20th Century Fox (30s) to CEO of Paramount Pictures (late 40s). During a stint as an independent producer, she shepherded hits like “Fatal Attraction,” “School Ties” and “Indecent Proposal.” At Paramount, she added to the studio’s legendary library with the Oscar-winning movies “Forrest Gump,” “Braveheart” and, most famously, in 1997, “Titanic,” which remains one of the top-grossing films of all time.
A dream accomplished, however, is a dream that has expired. “I started to go, ‘Am I going to die at my desk?’ ” Lansing recalled. She began talking to family and friends “endlessly,” she said, about a career change. “I started to feel that if I brought it up one more time ... [p]eople were, like, so bored with it,” she said. “You start to feel like a whiner. And, of course, people think you’re a little nuts because everything’s going so well,” she added, “but it’s hard to explain internal angst.”
Lansing ended up on a therapist’s couch — for years. “I talked a lot about it, and [my therapist] kept saying to me, ‘You’re always afraid to leave, but whenever you’ve left, it’s always been better.’ ” The thinly veiled reference was to her first marriage, to then-medical student Michael Brownstein, whom she married when she was a tender 19. They lasted just six years. After that, Lansing remained single until 47, when, in July 1991, she married the Oscar-winning director William Friedkin, whose credits include “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist” (and whom she calls “Billy”) in Barbados. But by and large, for as long as she could remember, she said, her career in entertainment had been the central driving force in her life, and she was afraid of what life would be like without it.
At one point she even sought the counsel of former President Jimmy Carter. She described the experience in an essay for the book “My Hero: Extraordinary People on the Heroes Who Inspire Them.” By her own account, when she traveled to Atlanta to meet Carter for the first time, “I thought I would go and ask him questions like, ‘Is it stupid to stop your job when, to the outside world, it looks so great?’ ” she wrote, “or, ‘Is it silly to give up a career in the movie industry to pursue a life of public service ... am I making a mistake?”
Despite her worries, she had a nagging desire to “give back,” which guided her thinking. “I was a little luckier than most, because I knew that I wanted to establish a foundation, and I knew I didn’t have economic problems, which is, like, less than 1 percent — I hate that word. But the guts to leap? You know, to just do it? It takes a lot of guts because you’re ripping your life and changing it.”
While Lansing certainly didn’t have to worry about money — in addition to that $25 million, she is well invested in technology companies, including Qualcomm and ReadD, as well as the Dole Food Co., and, according to a report at Forbes.com, she earned nearly $750,000 in stock fees and other compensation in 2011 alone. But her own affluence actually helped steer her course. After discovering the think tank Civic Ventures, a nonprofit devoted to “boomers, work and social purpose,” according to its Web site, she became fully immersed in the movement to promote encore careers. “I started to get totally obsessed with it,” Lansing said.
In 2005, she established the Sherry Lansing Foundation. Its initial mission was twofold, combining Lansing’s foremost passions: cancer research and public education. In 1984, Lansing lost her 64-year-old mother to ovarian cancer, and, in 2008, she helped co-found the nonprofit StandUp2Cancer, along with industry colleagues including Katie Couric, who lost her husband to colon cancer, and the late Laura Ziskin, producer of the “Spider-Man” movies, who would die of breast cancer in 2011.
Also a former schoolteacher — Lansing taught at Theodore Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles before entering the movie business — she was interested in promoting public education. In 1999, she was appointed to the University of California Board of Regents, a term former Gov. Schwarzenegger renewed in 2010, and she is currently serving as its chair. There, she learned that more than 100,000 California math and science teachers faced pending retirement — one-third of the teaching workforce — and that schools throughout the state likely would need to hire more than 30,000 new teachers over the next decade. So, in 2007, she launched the EnCorps Teachers Program, which trains retired professionals in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math for encore teaching careers (“the flip of Teach for America,” she said). But Lansing also quickly realized she had only scratched the surface; an iceberg stalked underneath.
Posters from a sampling of films completed during Lansing’s tenure at Paramount.
“Wake uuup,” the actor James Franco prods in an ad spot for Empowered Careers, a new 12-month certificate program set to launch on Oct. 15 as part of the UCLA Extension continuing education program (empowered.com). Lansing conceived of Empowered as a way of bringing the EnCorps concept to the broader economy. Co-founded with the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) and Steve Poizner, a former California insurance commissioner and veteran high-tech entrepreneur, Empowered Careers aims to close the skills gap currently prohibiting many boomers from re-entering the workforce.
A partnership that joins the entertainment, education and high-tech industries, Empowered Careers launched in June 2011 with $15 million in venture capital. They set up shop in Silicon Valley and hired cutting-edge technology engineers, treating the initiative not simply as a business enterprise but as a “social movement,” with hopes it would grow into a global force for encouraging and facilitating adult productivity.“We’re trying to change the culture of the country,” Poizner, 55, said in an interview from Empowered headquarters in Silicon Valley. “Age discrimination is a civil rights issue.” This marks something of a second career for Poizner, who is best known as a co-founder of SnapTrack, which developed a GPS tracking device for cellphones that was sold to the technology giant Qualcomm for $1 billion. With his own financial health seemingly secure, Poizner is most stoked about realizing the potential of boomer talent.
“There are over 3 million job openings today, but boomers don’t have the right skills for the needs of these jobs. And it is imperative to the country that we find a way for boomers to stay economically viable,” Poizner said.To that end, Empowered identified those sectors of the American economy in which jobs are currently available and will offer practical education (no theory of economics here) in select major areas, including health care management, patient advocacy, marketing and new media, as well as college admissions counseling — areas in which boomers’ wisdom and life experience would be an asset.
“We’re not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,” Poizner said. “If you or your mom or your grandmother had a health care crisis, do you want to deal with someone 25 years old, right out of school? Or would you like to deal with someone 55 years old, with lots of life experience, whose interpersonal skills are more developed?”This sensitivity was applied to almost every area of Empowered’s curriculum. The 12-month program, an online, virtual classroom entirely designed for the iPad, was conceived to benefit busy adults, who may already be managing current jobs and a hectic home life. Coursework is meant to be various and user-friendly so that adults can do their homework in the carpool line. Tuition for the year is an affordable $6,740, and comes with personalized, one-on-one career counseling. Although they are capping enrollment for the first quarter at “a couple hundred,” Poizner said he hopes to reach “tens of thousands” in the future. “We really won’t have much of an impact if we can only help a few people. We want to be able to do this at scale,” he said.
Although Empowered was established as a for-profit company, Lansing is adamant that she will not benefit personally. At a time when the UC system is subsumed by “the worst budget crunch in the entire world,” as she put it, she has vowed to reinvest her share of the profits to support financial aid and scholarships. But really, she is hoping the venture will become so successful, its proceeds might boost the entire UC system (she compared its potential to that of the education giant University of Phoenix, a nearly $4 billion industry, albeit not without its share of controversy). “If we could just be a teeny portion of that industry,” she said wishfully. “We want this to be our Gatorade,” she added, offering a different analogy to the electrolyte-rich drink developed at the University of Florida, which has earned the university more than $150 million.Lansing doesn’t have Gatorade, but she has something better: Hollywood. And for its part, CAA contributed a handful of clients, including Pierce Brosnan, Geena Davis, Sally Field, James Franco, James Gandolfini and Cuba Gooding Jr. — who appear in an ad spot promoting the program. Nothing like a bunch of Hollywood stars coaxing you to “wake up,” stop “waiting for a sign,” “reinvent yourself!” “You know this won’t happen magically,” James Gandolfini warns in his best Tony Soprano voice.
Lansing’s latest, and in many ways, grandest, passion project is part of the reason she calls her “third act” “the happiest time in my life.”Almost the moment she left the movie business, she said, she felt “like a giddy schoolgirl who had just graduated from college.” For the first time in her life, she had time to relax, time for “more moments of intimacy” and the ability to travel and say, “I like it here; let’s stay one more day.”
But even as she has evolved, she hasn’t really slowed. And, in many ways, the significance of her current work even seems to dwarf her former accomplishments. It’s her life that’s become the epic movie.“Sherry never thinks about it as being successful,” Rob Friedman, co-chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, said. “She just thinks about achieving and getting stuff done, and when your thoughts are really purely about getting stuff done, it takes a lot of the danger out of what you’re doing, which allows you to do more and more and strive for bigger and better. And there’s nobody better at that than Sherry. She could have chosen to do anything she wanted — including probably running for president,” he said.
Even so, the flood of new meaning and more private time has not diminished her view of her Hollywood past. “I don’t regret at all those long, hard days at the office,” she said. “I loved them. But then there comes a time when you don’t. I don’t regret missing a party or being on the phone six hours a day on vacation, because at that time in my life, that was more important to me.”Nor does she regret never having children of her own. “This is maybe an unpopular thing to say, but I made the choices in life that I am completely 100 percent comfortable with, and I knew that I wanted a career, and that I could not achieve the success that I achieved and also be the kind of mother I wanted to be.” Nevertheless, Lansing inherited two stepchildren with her marriage to Friedkin. “I’m not saying other people can’t do it,” she added, “but I would have felt pulled in all different directions. I could only ‘have it all’ sequentially.”
Her almost unnerving confidence in her choices is, perhaps, an extension of temperament. Colleagues say she is the opposite of the conquering female stereotype, someone who clawed her way to the top and smashed ceilings. “She is very kind, very calm, very focused, obviously brilliant,” De Line said. “In this business, people are spinning in all kinds of different directions, you’re working with a lot of creative types, and they’re very emotional and have a lot invested in their projects, and Sherry, in her very rational, very considered way, was always able to take someone in hand and say ‘I’m going to help guide you and help you achieve the goals that we all want to achieve.’ She’s brilliant at that. Probably the best I’ve ever seen.”Lansing’s friend Saban, added: “Sherry represents something unique among women, especially in the town we live in. She is one of those women who will not hold another woman down; she will raise you up. And not every woman is helping other women get up in the world. I think Madeleine Albright said, ‘There should be a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.’ ”
Lansing might say it’s the Jewish girl in her that’s speaking. As producer Mike Tollin said about working with her: “You just got a sense this was a good woman whose values were in the right place.” Certainly in conversation, her Jewishness looms large. And don’t get her started on Israel: “I don’t even know words to describe how important it is! I can’t imagine anything more important,” she said unequivocally.Back in 2006, when Jimmy Carter published his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” Lansing sat on the board of the Carter Center, a human rights organization. “I really struggled with Carter’s book,” she recalled. “I kind of went apoplectic.” Although she considered resigning, she tried to think of the most Jewish thing to do. “One of the points he makes in the book is that if you criticize Israel to a Jew, they won’t talk to you.” That really bugged her. So as a statement of defiance, she decided to stay, and in fervid Lansing fashion, told the former president that, whenever asked, she would publicly disagree with him and spend the rest of her life trying to change his mind.
Lansing foists a great deal of responsibility upon herself, almost relentlessly. Neurotically? Does she ever rest? Does she ever watch a movie? What does she do when she isn’t trying to cure cancer, educate boomers and save the UC system from financial ruin?She laughs. And even before you finish the question, she has an answer.
“What brings you the most joy is a quiet moment in your life with the people you love,” she explained. “A quiet meal, a quiet walk, you know, hugging. There’s just no comparison.”Except ... “And then when I’m involved in a program that changes people’s lives, and you feel you’ve made a difference? That gives me the greatest joy in the entire world.”