His company is called Serendipity Point Films. A receptionist answers the phone with a singsong voice, saying "Serendipity!" as though it was a beauty spa specializing in aromatherapy body wraps. The building, a slim greystone townhouse, is designed according to feng shui principles, and has the feel of an exclusive club. You have to ring a doorbell to be let in through the glass and iron front door.
At the centre of the onyx and limestone courtyard, a huge golden cappuccino maker, the size of a small motorcycle and with an eagle atop it, stands behind a bar, situated beneath an open stairwell, flooded with natural light from a three-storey wall of glass. Lantos won't divulge the cost of the property or how much he spent rebuilding it under the guidance of architect Andrew Volgyesi and interior designers Cecconi Simone. "It was not done for any practical or logical business reasons," he offers.
He is still a big spender. He is still single. (He passes politely on the subject of his personal life, although he admits he is no longer living with girlfriend Debra Thier, a photographer.) He still goes to the airport, as he will following our talk, in a limousine. But he looks different. His hair is long, bouncy, cut in the style of a choirboy. Not a grey hair on his 51-year-old head. He is thinner. The mustache has gone. He comes towards me, down the length of his long living room of an office, a shortish man with his beige linen shirttails untucked over black pants. He motions to the couches.
Asked how he finds the adjustment from honcho to independent producer, he stretches out in his seat, and props his feet, shod in black slip-on sandals, on the glass coffee table. "I have to correct you," he says in his rumbling accented voice. "I was not a honcho. I was a slave."
He doesn't miss the buzz of running a big company? Serendipity employs 12 people. Alliance, at the time of the sale, had close to 500. "If there was any chance of me missing it, I wouldn't have done it," he says, adding that he had become keenly aware of how precious time is. "I wanted to be able to control my time and allocate it and invest it along with my energy where I saw fit."
But this may be a comment from his own carefully crafted script for The Sequel.
Stephenson says there are times "when he misses the heft of a big company behind him." Loewy acknowledges that "for sure, he [Lantos]misses the rush you get every day from running a big organization, the sense of adventure." But neither one thinks that his mourning of what was is significant. They are both quick to point out that the sensitive, dreamy side of Lantos, so much in evidence during this interview, is a part of him that was always there, just buried and longing to get out.
"What is it in your character that makes you want to opt for serenity?" I ask him. He pauses, puffs on his cigar. "There's another way of asking that question," he responds. "Why did I do the other for as long as I did if in fact this stage is compatible with who I really am?" His wide craggy face cracks into a smile. "I did the other as a means to an end."
It's not really you? The Mogul character?
"I never called myself a mogul. I think because this country has never had one, someone was drafted for the job." He gets up to retrieve his lighter, then sits down again, leaning forward, silent for a moment, as he touches a flame delicately to the tip of his cigar. "I discovered a long time ago that whether I like it or not, I stand out from a crowd. For a long time when I was a kid I thought that was a drawback. I was different for the very simple reason of geographic dislocation.