There are vestiges of his mogulness in his big, sleek white-pine-floored office in midtown Toronto, little hints that the old Robert Lantos, the self-made film honcho, is still in play. Over there, on the built-in, cherry-wood cabinet, a bottle of Tamnavulin scotch set on a small sterling silver tray. Beside it, a curvaceous bottle of Leopold aged-in-fruit gourmet cognac and a couple of cut-glass tumblers.
Strewn haphazardly across his desk are folders containing film scripts. On the walls hang photographs of abstract landscapes; personal photographs, of his two teenaged children, Ari and Sabrina, of his Muskoka cottage; and a few arty shots of women, one by American artist Sheila Metzner of a slim, naked woman draped over a black leather couch.
But otherwise, Lantos is a changed man.
Oh, he was his legendary combative self on some fronts. On the subject of what he thinks are spineless film critics: "Canadian critics don't have the courage to go up against their American counterparts. If The New York Times says a Canadian film is great, they will not take the risk of saying it's not."
And, of course, on the strength of the Canadian film industry: "Canadian films are viewed as way off-centre, and that's the place they belong. The centre is owned and dominated by the Hollywood studios. Anyone who aims to dislodge them is kidding himself or herself and is pretty well doomed to fail."
But mostly Lantos is mellow, philosophical and, believe it or not, spiritually meek.
I had never met him before. I had only heard about him. About the lavish poolside parties in Cannes. About his failed marriage to actress Jennifer Dale.
The ever-present Cuban cigars. The outspokenness that has landed him in hot water, not to mention libel cases. The Saturday-night charisma. The Lothario reputation.
The limos. The jet-set travel. There was always a whiff of the decadent about Lantos, at least there was in the stories I heard, decadence edging on seediness.
Which is why I was wholly unprepared for this: "This sounds very New Age," he says, leaning back on a couch, drawing voluptuously on a cigar. His brown bear eyes flick up at me, squint through the smoke of his exhalation, then out the curtainless windows over his teak-planked deck and its clay-potted topiaries. He sucks his cigar again. Exhales. Pronounces: "It's time for myself. To think and to feel." Another hesitation. A deep breath. "It's time for an internal voyage."
Huh? Lothario is on an "internal voyage?" The man who once thundered to a former employee, "When I talk, it's as if God is talking." This is the feature presentation of Robert Lantos: The Sequel.
Part One began in Montreal during the early seventies when Lantos, a Hungarian Jew, was in the soft-porn film business. From there, he and his long-time friend, Victor Loewy, co-founded Alliance Communications and developed the business into an enormous success.
His trajectory is that of the Canadian film business. "When he started, there was no film business in Canada," says Helga Stephenson, former chair of Viacom Canada who now consults for Lantos.
His accomplishments are not insignificant. He has been involved in all Canadian English-language feature films (plus one French-language film) selected in Cannes -- ever -- with the exception of a National Film Board movie in 1969.
Two years ago, Loewy and Lantos sold Alliance to Atlantis Communications in a reverse takeover, forming Alliance Atlantis, with revenues of $750-million at the time and a ranking among the top 12 film and television studios in North America. Loewy stayed on as chairman of Alliance Atlantis Motion Picture Distribution. Lantos cashed out with a reported $60-million and a deal, worth $100-million, to produce films exclusively for Alliance Atlantis over no less than three years. He had negotiated a golden parachute and a very cushy landing.
That was the beginning of the sequel -- his morphing from the cinematic figure of The Mogul in all his eighties-style excess to a more subtle, more sensitive persona of an independent movie producer, The Dreamer.