'Action' holds the key to Steven's psyche

What makes Steven run?

That’s the question some folks are asking — the “Steven” being Steven Spielberg who, on the cusp of his 65th birthday, has become omnipresent, if not omniscient, in the entertainment community.

Steven is everywhere, doing everything. As a director, he is in post-production on two films, “The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn” and “War Horse,” is prepping “Lincoln” and has his name on every movie around, from “Super 8″ to the “Transformers” sequel to “Cowboys & Aliens” to “Real Steel.” In TV, he is executive producer of three new primetime series and is involved overall with six shows. He seems to attend every function, from the premiere of “Super 8″ to the DGA’s 75th anniversary event.

Besides all this, he runs DreamWorks, working closely with his partner Stacey Snider, consults on theme parks (he receives a reported 2% of the gross from Universal’s parks), presides over a family, sails his new boat (which he has rigged to run dailies) and clearly has little time to count his billions.

None of this is to suggest that Spielberg is a greedy power freak. Indeed, he is surely Hollywood’s most admired director and arguably its most revered elder statesman.

“Steven is the nicest superstar I know, except I don’t really know him and I’m not sure how many people do,” observes one Hollywood CEO. “I can’t believe anyone can consistently be as gracious and polite and still be so busy.”

I first met Spielberg when he was a tortured young director shooting “Jaws” not far from my parents’ house on Martha’s Vineyard. He was coping with an absurdly lean budget and a uniquely unwieldy fake shark and should have behaved like a Hollywood brat, but even in those desperate moments he came across as a nice guy. He was busting his budget but I sensed he would come out OK. I never thought the picture would change the face of his industry, however.

So why is he driving himself so hard? Ask his associates and you get a range of answers. Several projects simply came together back-to-back, they explain. He is not one to duck previous commitments, especially when it comes to mentoring other filmmakers, like J.J. Abrams. Further, his sense of noblesse oblige prompts him to step up to his duties on industry boards and philanthropies.

And, despite his impeccable politeness, Spielberg is intensely competitive. Having worked so hard to raise the money to refinance DreamWorks, he seems determined to remain at the center of the action. Even in TV, “Steven will not put his name on things unless he is intimately involved with them,” says Darryl Frank, the co-head of DreamWorks Television.

And then, again, Spielberg is about to be 65 and, friends say, is responding to intimations of mortality. Spielberg adamantly refutes the Tarantino theory that a director’s best work always occurs in his young years and that the post-sixties period is usually disappointing.

Spielberg is not contemplating retirement, but I’m not sure he ever contemplated omniscience. So maybe the best explanation to what makes Steven run is simply that he never planned to slow down.

Why should you when you’re Steven Spielberg?

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