"Born in Hungary. Raised in Uruguay. Moved to Montreal. I tried to blend in but it didn't quite work, and eventually, I discovered that being different was actually something I could use, I could build upon. It often won me more foes than friends, but it worked for me."
You created the persona?
"I'm not sure I entirely created it or if it was simply painted upon me and I wore it and I wore it with relish. I was a CEO of a large publicly traded company that was the industry leader for many years. Sensitivity was not front and centre when it came to inspiring confidence in financial markets."
He is suddenly a fascinating portrait of a man who pushed himself to sublimate an aspect of his personality that he can now unearth and wave in the faces of all those too afraid to live their dreams. Oh yes, there is power in his choice, the power of disengagement. The ability to play the game, win it, then quit, diminishes those left playing. It's just a game, after all, and if you can't win it, if you can't figure out the rules, then you're not a player, but a pawn.
"It would have been very seductive to keep going," Lantos says. "But there are various layers of dreams, and when some of them were realized, I disciplined myself to move on to the next."
His dream for Serendipity is to produce films at his own pace and of consistent quality. "I have no desire to make formula [films]but I wouldn't entirely pigeonhole the films I make as 'auteur.' Some will be pure entertainment, fun."
So far, Lantos has released three movies: David Cronenberg's eXistenZ, Istvan Szabo's Sunshine and Denys Arcand's Stardom, which will open the Toronto International Film Festival in the fall. He has 11 films in the works. "My development slate is eclectic. From Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion to Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version to a film noir by Bruce MacDonald to a comedy that [actor]Paul Gross wrote and will star in."
There are no first-look deals with some of the directors, such as Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg, with whom he has had long working relationships. But Cronenberg is writing a script for him, and Lantos will produce Egoyan's next film, due out next year.
For all his New Agey talk about life and his love of film's storytelling power, it's hard to figure out what Lantos wants. He admits he no longer has anything to prove. He says that his greatest validation for Sunshine, a romantic epic about three generations of a Hungarian Jewish family through the turmoil of the war and the Holocaust, was not the Genie award for the best Canadian movie, but on the night of its premiere when his children turned to him and said, "Now we understand where our grandmother came from."
Is making money not important any more? He shakes his head -- no. What then is the "internal voyage" about? Again, a pause. A puff on the cigar. The gravelly voice from behind a screen of smoke: "I have known intuitively that happiness is not the same as success. They are easily confused but they are entirely different."
You're looking for happiness then? "I'm looking to allow time for it," he says slowly.
Half an hour later, back in my office, Lantos calls from his limousine on the way to the airport. There's just one thing he wants to add.
"The other validation for Sunshine that means a lot is that it is the most successful independent film in the American marketplace this summer." Was this The Mogul rearing his head again? Perhaps. Or maybe The Dreamer was worried that he had come across as though he wasn't interested in playing the game -- at least a little bit and on his own terms.