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An Oral History of The Freshman: Matthew Broderick, Andrew Bergman, and Michael Lobell Revisit the 1990 Comedy

On Marlon Brando meeting John Gotti, trips to Tahiti, and man-eating lizards

The Freshman Oral History
The Freshman (TriStar Pictures)
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Blockbuster Month is celebrating the true titans of the genre. All month long, you’ll read through a variety of features digging deep into the greatest hits of Hollywood, from popcorn classics to underrated gems. Today, Andrew Buss takes a slight detour and revisits a blockbuster contender with this hilarious oral history on 1990’s The Freshman.

On July 20th, 1990, The Freshman hit theaters with all the right pieces. It had solid pitch, one of Hollywood’s sharpest scribes in writer/director Andrew Bergman, and ’80s icon and heartthrob Matthew Broderick. To top it all off, the mob comedy managed to even wrangle the Don himself Marlon Brando, who had all but retired by that point.

It wasn’t a summer blockbuster, but it was a success for TriStar. Critics loved it, audiences enjoyed it, and the box office returns managed to nearly double the budget. In the years since, however, it has garnered a cult following, and many view it as one of the last great works of Brando’s legendary (and oft-puzzling) career.

 

To commemorate the film’s 30th anniversary, we recently spoke with writer/director Andrew Bergman, producer Michael Lobell, and star Matthew Broderick. Together, they shared a number of stories, from an infamous dinner between Brando and John Gotti to how they got those damned lizards to move throughout the shopping mall.

Read below and remember you’re never too old for this nonsense.


The Story

Sometimes a dose of reality gives you an idea you can’t refuse…

ANDREW BERGMAN (WRITER/DIRECTOR): There was a clipping in a newspaper, sometime in the late ’70s to early ’80s, about a mafia guy who had been arrested for smuggling endangered species into the country. I cut the clipping out and said, “Well, there’s something here. It’s a great, bizarre notion.” A guy named “Fat Vinnie” Teresa was the guy who had been arrested in Seattle. You have these ideas and they get filed somewhere and you trot them out when they become useful. When they bloom. So, that was the story with this one.

MICHAEL LOBELL (PRODUCER): For The Freshman, when [Bergman] wrote the first draft — and he’s always been great about doing rewrites —  he would give me the first draft and I would make comments. This happened all through the years. So, the first draft wasn’t right. If I remember correctly, it had an Asian theme. But finally, when he got going on the second or third draft, it became really, really close to what it is.

BERGMAN: It was a very tough script. The script took me forever to write. I painted myself into one corner after another. But it turned out ultimately.

LOBELL: Originally, [Brando’s] name was not Carmine. His name was something like Jimmy. And when I read it, he said to me, “I think we should get [Jack] Nicholson to play Jimmy.” And I said, “Nicholson? I read the thing twice. It’s Brando.” And he paused, which is a great habit of his, and then he started laughing. He said, “Brando. Oh my God.”

BERGMAN: He said, “Why don’t we send it to Brando? What’s the worst that happens? He says no.”

The Freshman Oral History

The Freshman (TriStar Pictures)

LOBELL: And I knew Brando’s great friend and ex-agent Jay Kanter, who was involved with Alan Ladd Jr. for years at The Ladd Company and at 20th Century Fox. So I said to Andy, “I’m going to get the script to Jay.” So I got the script to Jay and I said “Jay, I know Marlon hasn’t worked. He doesn’t want to work. Blah blah blah.” But Jay read it and he called me back a day or two later and he said, “This is the funniest thing I’ve ever read. It’s hysterical. I’m sending it to Marlon.” I said, “Great.” So I told Andy and he said, “Okay. Let’s see what happens.”

BERGMAN: And [Brando] read it and said he really liked it. And then a couple of months later we flew to Tahiti and closed the deal.

LOBELL: One day, out of the blue, Brando called him. They had this long conversation. Andy called me up and he said, “He wants us to come to Tahiti to meet with him.” And I said “What’d you say?” And he said, “I said ‘Can’t we meet in L.A.?” I said “Why did you say that? He wants us to come to his island. Are you kidding?”

So we called David Madalon, who was the head of Tri-Star at the time, where we developed this. And I said to him, “David, how would you feel about Marlon Brando playing Jimmy?” And there was a pause and he said, “I just got goose bumps. What’re you talking about?” And I said, “Well, he read the script and he wants Andy and I to come to see him in Tahiti.” And he said, “He’s never going to do the movie, but I approve the trip.”

Which, by the way, would never happen today.


The Trip

The Freshman Oral History

The Island of Dr. Moreau (New Line Cinema)

With a blessing from the studio, Bergman and Lobell flew off to Tahiti. As the plane neared Brando’s island, Lobell said they could see the star “wearing sort of a moo-moo wrap around, with his thumbs in his ears, sticking his tongue out.”

During the trip, they wound up having long conversations with Brando about the part, went snorkeling, had dinners where Brando recited dialogue from On The Waterfront, and regaled them with stories. Eventually,  talk turned to the script.

LOBELL: He took us to his cabin, which wasn’t any more upscale than where we slept. There was a small bookshelf, some chairs — it was very simple. We sat around in the chairs and we talked for quite a while. A long time. Among the things he said was, “If I do this, I can’t have the name Jimmy. It’s too normal an Italian guy. I need something special.” Which is why he became Carmine, by the way.

And then he said to us, “I’ve read the script three times out loud. And I want to look like Don Corleone, but I’m not going to play it like him. I want to look like him. Look, you guys think about that and if you don’t agree, then we’ll be friends and you’ll get somebody else.”

Just before we were going to leave, Andy asked him where the men’s room was. So, he sent Andy to the men’s room, and I guess because Marlon had this old-fashioned idea about producers, he leaned over to me and said, “Listen, I want $3.3 million for the movie.” [Laughs.]

BERGMAN: It was relatively an easy get to get him. I was shocked by how easy it was. Not just surprised. Shocked.

LOBELL: Andy came up with the idea when Matthew and Bruno [Kirby] go into the club and Matthew says, “Oh my God, he looks just like…” And Bruno covers his mouth because he was going to say The Godfather. That was not in the script. Andy put that in there to make it work [with Brando looking like Corleone]. And it made the whole thing work.


The Cast

The Freshman Oral History

The Freshman (TriStar Pictures)

Now that they had their secret weapon in Brando, they could literally get anybody they wanted for the film. And when we say anybody, we mean anybody.

BERGMAN: We thought of Robert Downey Jr., who was playing that type of role at that point. Michael J. Fox was certainly a possibility. Those were the contenders. And they all would’ve been great. And Matthew was like the hottest guy going at that period. It was after Ferris Bueller and all that stuff. And he was a hard get.

MATTHEW BRODERICK (“CLARK KELLOGG”): I was very aware of The In-Laws. I knew who Andy Bergman was and I really admired him. So an Andy Bergman script is already pretty exciting. But then they said Marlon Brando would be playing Sabatini. And I remember I thought, Well, Marlon Brando is never going to do this movie. That’s what I always thought.

So when they asked me to do it, I said “Yeah, but I know it’s not going to be Marlon Brando. At the last minute it’s going to be — I don’t know — somebody else.” But as it got closer to shooting, I kept saying, “Did Marlon Brando drop out yet? When does Marlon Brando drop out?” Really, we got to Toronto and started rehearsing, and I would say that. Until Marlon Brando showed up in Andy’s apartment to rehearse, which he did, I thought it was all a ruse.

BERGMAN: Literally, I showed him pictures of me and Marlon. And then he committed to the picture once he knew Marlon was going to be in it.

BRODERICK: My only hesitation was, “Should I be playing a college guy?” Because I was sort of concerned with trying to move on to more adult roles. When you’re young, you’re worried about the next thing: “How do I transition out of teen stuff?” So, if I had any qualms with it, it was just that. But I always loved the material.

BERGMAN: I always said it was like ringing a dinner bell in front of the cowboys. Once Brando was in the movie, you could get any actor you wanted for any part.

LOBELL: And then we had Bruno, who had played Young Clemenza in The Godfather. So Bruno, he didn’t even read the script yet. We met in a bar at a hotel. Bruno grew up in New York, and he was real skeptical. He said, “So you guys have Marlon Brando, huh? Really?? You have Marlon Brando?” He totally didn’t believe us. Because nobody had Marlon Brando for 10 years. He said, “I told my agent ‘If Brando’s in the movie, I don’t even have to read the script. I’m doing it.’”

BERGMAN: It was love at first site. We didn’t read him. He came in, we met him, we hung out with him, we said, “That’s the guy.” He was just perfect. He couldn’t believe it. He said, “I don’t need to read?” I said, “No. You don’t need to read. You’re this guy. You’re it.”

BRODERICK: Bruno and I turned out to both be from New York City. He was from Hell’s Kitchen, I was from Greenwich Village. So, a little bit different. But we did grow up in New York around the same time. His father was an actor, my father was an actor. And for whatever reason, from the time we basically met, it seemed like we had known each other for 30 years. I don’t know why that is, but that’s just how it was.

BERGMAN: He and Matthew became fast friends. They were friends until Bruno died. Close friends. And you could see that in the movie. You just see it. You see that develop, that relationship.

BRODERICK: He knew all the sort of connected guys in Little Italy and stuff from doing Godfather II and I think other movies at that time. He was very into preparation and into getting the hair right, the clothes, every ring he had on his fingers. He did a lot of research. And we would tease each other because I basically did no research ever. But he was very prepared.

LOBELL: We read a bunch of girls for the part of Tina Sabatini. Andy and I saw Penelope Ann Miller do Our Town on Broadway together. She was just fabulous. Right at the time we were casting the movie. We also read Marissa Tomei, who was fabulous, but she was too young. And we finally read a few of the girls with Matthew. And when we decided on Penelope, we told Matthew and he said, “I knew you were going to choose her.”

BERGMAN: [Laurence] Olivier would’ve done it. He would’ve played Larry London because he wanted to work with Marlon again. But he was ill and he was in London and there was no way he could fly in to do it. But he would’ve done it. He absolutely would’ve done it. When I say we could get anybody, we really could get anybody. Although Max [Schell] was fabulous in the movie — and very inventive.

LOBELL: Another great moment for me was Maximillian Schell, who was sort of an icon in the business, who played Larry London. When Marlon did The Young Lions a 100 years ago, Max was a young German actor. They were casting the part of this young German and they brought a lot of actors in. Along with the director, Marlon was responsible for picking Max, and they hadn’t seen each other since that movie.

Max never forgot that Marlon had helped him get that part, so when Max arrived, he told me, “I want to say hello to Marlon.” So I brought him over to Marlon’s trailer, I knocked on the door, and said, “Marlon, somebody here wants to see you.” And Marlon came out, they looked at each other, they hugged each other, and they had tears in their eyes.

It was fabulous.

Click ahead to hear about meetups with John Gotti and killer lizards…


The Shoot

The Freshman Oral History

The Freshman (TriStar Pictures)

Shooting took place in both New York and TriStar studios. With the first day of rehearsals in Toronto, this would be the first time the cast would get to meet Marlon Brando.

BRODERICK: I was with Bruno Kirby and Andy [Bergman] and Penelope Ann Miller. I think we had started a few days earlier. We would go to Andy’s apartment in Toronto — he rented a sublet — and we’d just read through scenes and discuss things. And my memory is Marlon was a little bit late, and I thought, Well, there you go. He’s late. He’s not coming.

Then the doorbell rang and we all went to the hallway to look at the door and — boom — there was Marlon Brando with — I’m sure I’m wrong about this — but I remember a tan Volare sweatsuit and sun glasses. I think he was on his knees; he had crawled in because he was sorry he was late. So, it was his way of apologizing and also kind of breaking the ice. My memory is that he crawled into the room saying he was sorry. And then he was quite charming.

I remember that day being like an out-of-body experience. You’re sitting across the table from Marlon Brando. It took me a great deal of time to get used to that. I don’t know if I ever totally did. But he was very talkative, and he made us all feel comfortable. It was a great day. When we read through the script, he would have little words he wanted to change. He’d say, “I don’t think he would say it this way.” He improved his character’s grammar because he didn’t feel he should be so street-y. I remember that a little bit.

LOBELL: First of all, [Brando] promised he would lose weight, because he was huge. Much bigger than he was in the movie, by the way. He asked me how to do it, and I told him to stop eating bread and all the carbs he ate. I introduced him to rice cakes. So one day, very early, I walk into his trailer and I see a bowl with like 50 rice cakes in it, and he’s eating them. And I said, “Marlon. You can’t eat 50 at a time! You eat two or three!” But he went on a diet. I would say he lost at least 25-30 pounds before he did the movie.

BRODERICK: I remember a day or two before we met him, he was supposed to be checking into the hotel, the Sutton Place, where we were all staying. Bruno Kirby, who was beyond excited that Marlon Brando was coming, hung out in the lobby like a detective from an old movie with the newspaper.

He sat on one of those chairs for hours. He wanted to see when Marlon came from the airport and walked into the lobby of the hotel. I kept walking into the hotel and saying, “What’re you doing?” And he’d say, “Marlon’s coming today. I’ve gotta be here. I wanna see that happen.” I don’t know if he was successful or not. It might have been one of the newspapers with the eyes cut out.

LOBELL: We made a deal with TriStar. We didn’t want to go to Toronto at all. But we said, “We’ll go to Toronto, but whatever in the script is New York, New York, we want to shoot in the city.” And they agreed. So we shot all the exteriors in New York.

BERGMAN: It was a difficult shoot. Marlon was very cooperative, but you’re dealing with a large gorilla in the ring — and he’s not naturally a comic presence. So, the way to get him to be funny was tricky — it was a matter of misdirection — and you just want to keep the atmosphere light.

We also had horrible weather. We shot three weeks in New York, and it rained every day, so we were behind schedule. Then we shot eight weeks in Toronto, which was okay. But it was a great experience. Start to finish, it was an amazing, fantastic experience. Difficult, but fantastic.


The Dinner

The Freshman Oral History

John Gotti in People Magazine

Before moving production over to Toronto, the cast and crew held a New York wrap party in Little Italy, where they all were watching a fight with Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Heards on the television. They weren’t alone.

BRODERICK: We were having a cast and crew dinner at some very nice Italian restaurant. The first or second assistant director came over with this crazed look in his eyes and he said that John Gotti wanted to see us. He wanted to see Marlon, but a group of us went across the street to the Ravenite Social Club. I was there, Bruno was there, and I don’t remember if Penny was with us at that time. My girlfriend was with me. It was amazing.

BERGMAN: There was some big boxing fight. We all went. I had to work the next day, so I wasn’t going to go schlepping around, but they went to the Social Club on Mulberry Street, which was Gotti’s place. So, they went in and Marlon was crapping in in his pants. All those wise guys thought he was one of them, and he walked in and apparently somebody said, “Will the real Godfather please stand up?”

BRODERICK: I grew up in the Village, so I’ve worked around Little Italy since I was a little boy. It’s right by Chinatown and my family would go over to both of those places all the time. That place where John Gotti was you would walk by and people would whisper about, but you would never go in. It was amazing to get to go in, and it looked pretty ordinary in there, as I remember.

I think there was a card game going on. I was pretty quiet, but Marlon jumped right in and I remember him and Mr. Gotti chatting and laughing. I remember the card tricks; I believe Marlon did some card tricks. But it was absolutely surreal to be with Marlon Brando and John Gotti in one room. It was really more than I could handle. So I could barely remember it in some crazy way. I just remember feeling faint.

[Gotti] was on the cover of the Post practically every day at that point, so it was like walking into a news story.


The Lizard

The Freshman Oral History

The Freshman (TriStar Pictures)

One of the standout scenes involves a Komodo Dragon that runs loose in a shopping mall. Behind the scenes, things pretty much went down as would imagine, only there was no Komodo Dragon.

BERGMAN: First of all, they’re killers. And they’re gigantic. And they’re endangered. At least at that time they were. I don’t think there’d be any insurance using a real one. So, we used these Monitor lizards who were equally as stupid but not as vicious.

BRODERICK: He was not a collaborative performer that lizard. He would sort of go where he wanted. So that scene had to change while we were shooting. If he didn’t want to go into the Sharper Image store, then we didn’t shoot the Sharper Image store. [Laughs.]. We just shot wherever he went.

BERGMAN: Those lizards are incredibly stupid — and they don’t move! So, the reason the two guys are carrying it all the time is because they don’t move. I didn’t say “Action” and the thing would move. They wouldn’t move. So, they’d just have to pick him up in their arms and run around with him.

BRODERICK: I think they would stuff a frozen rat into him and then you had a few minutes where he didn’t want to kill anything. That’s when we would pick him up, and when they wanted the lizard to walk, they put down a lizard that was absolutely crazy. Once they put it down, it would just start running wherever it wanted. I remember that lizard ran under a car in a parking lot. Nobody could get him.

LOBELL: We were shooting at a gas station, and the lizard got loose. These big gaffers and guys on the crew — huge guys — they were jumping up and standing up on cars. They were scared shitless, and this thing was running. It ran under a car. Everybody was scared shitless.

BERGMAN: And when that lizard got loose in the parking lot, thank god. It was gold! Because we had like three cameras going, we got them going all over the place. It gave it a little action because the big lizards really didn’t move. The smaller, nastier ones moved. But the whole scene in the mall was like a nightmare.

BRODERICK: I remember the lizard, at some point, climbing under a chair in the car that we were in. I think he crammed himself under a chair. And one of the lizard handlers, in trying to get him out, suddenly stepped back from the car and Frank and I noticed there was basically blood spurting out of his hand.

The poor lizard handler said, “No, I cut my hand on his tooth. He didn’t bite me.” [Laughs.] So, he wanted us to believe that he somehow cut his hand on the lizard’s tooth, but that the lizard did not bite him … because he didn’t want us to be afraid that the lizard had bit him. But I’ve always suspected that the lizard might have bit him.

LOBELL: We changed the end of the movie. We were in Marlon’s trailer and we sort of redid the ending, where he and Matthew are walking away into the sunset and Marlon has the lizard on his shoulder. Marlon loved that. That was the real lizard.

BRODERICK: And the nice thing about no CGI is that we really did have to roll with the punches, and sometimes that was better. The lizard running around the parking lot? I don’t think that was scripted. It just happened.

Click ahead to hear about the Brando’s impromptu interview…


The Moments

The Freshman Oral History

The Freshman (TriStar Pictures)

Needless to say, many off-script incidents happened in the final stretch…

BERGMAN: I remember [shooting the scene where Brando tells Clark he’s going to marry his daughter]. It just felt like “Wow. This is better than I thought it was going to be.” It was really good. When you saw those dailies the next day, you thought, Man, we’re really going to have something here.

LOBELL: Matthew was fabulous. I think Matthew, to me, was in heaven. I just thought he was having the time of his life. If I’m wrong, than you’ve heard something that I don’t know about. But he’s great. He’s terrific in the movie. He just had a great time.

BRODERICK: [Marlon] probably gave me a bunch of different acting things. But one that he gave me that I always remember is we were shooting the scene where he’s ice skating. We rehearsed it and maybe shot one take. I said to him, “I want to try one where I don’t sit next to you. I just want to stay standing up one time. Is it okay with you?” And whenever you said something like, “Is this okay with you?”, he always said, “Yes.” But out of respect I would never try something new without Marlon saying “Sure”.

So he said “That’s fine,” and I said, “I’m going to go tell Andy that I want to do one where I don’t sit down.” And he said, “Don’t tell Andy. Just tell the camera operator. There’s no reason to tell Andy. You’re asking for trouble.” It was an interesting lesson for me because it’s sometimes better to just try it and then the director can say, “Oh, I don’t like it when you stay seated.” Or they can just be happy. So I use that one. But you have to tell the camera operator; otherwise, you won’t be in frame.

But you don’t have to have a discussion all the time.

LOBELL: Our offices were about 400 yards or more from the stage. I’m on the set one day and we’re shooting and Marlon wasn’t working that day. One of the AD’s comes running and says “Mike, Marlon Brando’s on the phone for you.” So, I have to run back to my office, 500 yards or whatever, run up the stairs, get on the phone, and I can barely hear him because there are airplane engines in the background. I said to him “Where are you?” And he said to me “I’m at the airport. I just want to let you know. Sinatra came to town, and he told me that I could borrow his plane and go to Tahiti for the weekend, because we’re not working Monday and today’s Friday. Don’t worry. I’ll be back for Tuesday.” And I said, “Marlon. Tahiti? We’re in Toronto!” And he said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s like my plane. Sinatra’s giving it to me.”

So, I hang up the phone and go back to the set. In between a take, I say to Andy, “You’re not going to believe it. Brando’s going to Tahiti on Sinatra’s plane for the weekend. He said he’d be back to shoot for sure on Tuesday. But I’m not going to tell the studio this. They’ll go ape shit, they’ll want to sue him, blah blah blah. So I’m just going to keep my fingers crossed.” He said, “Yeah, I think that’s the best idea.” So, we finish the day’s shooting and it’s a long weekend ahead of us. My wife was not in town that weekend, and I think Andy was going down to New York.

I go back to the house I was renting, and at about six o’clock the phone rings. It’s Brando. He goes “Mike?” I go, “Where are you?” He said, “I’m at the hotel. You wanna have dinner?” And he started laughing and said, “You wanna have dinner? Let’s go to Orso’s.” I meet him at Orso’s, and he says to me, “So here’s the story.” He tells me that he had plotted this for about a week with his assistant. He told her to get tapes of airplane engines and that he was going to do this to me. He was just going to freak me out. And he set it all up in his hotel room.

BERGMAN: Oh, he was very loosey goosey. All this stuff about method and getting into character was bullshit. He’d be throwing water on paper napkins at Matthew [Broderick] two seconds before we said action. So, it was very playful.

BRODERICK: He enjoyed talking about things that weren’t about movies, too. He was a very curious person about science and types of trees if we were eating outside. He was very knowledgeable and interesting to talk to.


The Interview

The Freshman Oral History

The Freshman (Tri Star Pictures)

After shooting the iconic ice skating sequence, Brando returned to his trailer to do a rare interview with the Toronto Globe & Mail. To everyone’s surprise, he told the publication that the film was going to be a “stinker” and a “flop”, concluding: “After this, I’m retiring.” 

LOBELL: Marlon was very aware of the deals that he makes to the T. And at the end of the movie, we shot the ice skating scene almost last and he did fall a couple of times. The next day, he was very sore and he took a pain killer, and at that same time, somebody from the Toronto Globe and Mail came up to interview him. He said a lot of stupid, negative things to this journalist, and we didn’t know it. Andy and I didn’t know it. The guy came and went after he did the interview.

BERGMAN: We were certainly blindsided. He was on a self-destructive streak, for sure, and that was part of the process. He was pissed at the studio because he thought they owed him 50 grand. So he gave that interview and then, of course, it ran all over the world.

BRODERICK: I can tell you what I remember from Marlon [telling me]. There was a dispute about his pay. He had a stop date that he felt they had shot them longer than they were supposed to is my memory. It’s a little complicated because he had had to take a break in the middle for other problems. So, he got into some sort of tug of war with the studio about either schedule or money, and my belief is he said, “If you don’t do this, I’m going to trash the film.” And then he trashed the film, having not seen it.

I believe the issue got resolved in Marlon’s favor, and then he tried to un-trash the film. I remember because I was still speaking to him at that time, and he seemed to think that was okay. But I remember thinking, You can’t really un-trash it. It doesn’t look real when they say “Oh, I didn’t really mean that.”

LOBELL: It hurt Andy more than it hurt me because I knew what he was like and I didn’t take it personally. Andy took it personally, but we got over it.

BRODERICK: It was very hurtful. It was hurtful for Andy and all of us. We had been working so hard on it. It was not nice to wake up and see Marlon on the cover of the Toronto newspaper saying “It’s a stinker” or something like that.

BERGMAN: But it was a pain in the ass that we had to deal with it all the time. And you do press junkets, and it’s all they ask. They ask you the same question over and over again. “He was on Percodan. Blah blah blah.” And then the next person would be, “Now about that interview. Did he really…” You eventually just shut up. You felt like a ball player. “Did you really throw a spit ball?” You answer it a hundred thousand times.

LOBELL: And the journalist took it even further, where Marlon said, “I don’t know why I’m doing this,” which he rescinded. And of course when he rescinded it, after he saw the movie, it was only printed in small places as usual.

BERGMAN: C’est La vie. Who cares? The movie’s the movie. Ultimately that’s all that counts.


The Kill

The Freshman Oral History

The Freshman (TriStar Pictures)

With filming wrapped, it was now time to go into post-production. Everything seemed pretty standard; that is, until hands changed at the studio.

BERGMAN: The guy who developed the movie was a guy named Jeff Sagansky. By the time the movie came out, he had left, and the people running things didn’t really give much of a shit one way or another because it wasn’t their movie. That happens all the time. So, they weren’t going to get behind it the same way because there wasn’t the same investment in it. That was a problem.

LOBELL: What screwed us on this movie was right during post-production David Matalon and Jeff Sagansky were fired from the studio. Matalon was the boss, and Sagansky was the head of production — and they were fired. Mike Medavoy took over, and he came to a preview of the movie. This happens a lot when new guys come over and take over other people’s films, but this was really, really unconscionable. He said to us after the preview, “You know, nobody’s going to like this movie. Critics are going to hate it. Blah blah blah.” And they just spent a dime promoting the movie. They killed the movie.

BERGMAN: We had a lot of competition. They opened it in too many theaters. First, they opened it in like eight theaters and it did unbelievable business. Just great business. I think they should’ve stayed in a few theaters and had done it gradually — the way they used to do it. But they immediately went to a million theaters, and we opened against Presumed Innocent, which was a big hit. And Problem Child, which had all the kids. So, we had nobody left. [Laughs.]

LOBELL: When it opened in New York, there were all these rave, rave reviews. Almost across the board. But I believe it was Vincent Canby who compared it to Fellini. He just went nuts for the movie. But it was too late. There was no advertising for the movie.

BERGMAN: Given the reviews, you would’ve thought it would’ve done better. But how many stupendous movies do no business with great reviews?

BRODERICK: I think I was disappointed [when the film wasn’t more successful]. But on the other hand, a lot of good movies don’t do well right away. And a lot of not-that-great movies do well. It’s very mysterious to me sometimes why some movies [don’t do well]. But I think that movie kind of lives on.

LOBELL: Luckily, it’s had a life. I run into people, big stars, and just over the years they go, “You produced The Freshman? Wow. What a movie.” I know how good it is, because I watch it every once in a while and it holds up like gang busters.

BERGMAN: It was much loved. I’m proud of it. It was a great experience. That’s all you can ask.

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