Hailing from a long line of filmmakers stretching back to the early days of the medium, producer Jeremy Thomas thinks of cinema as a “family business” (his father, Ralph, was a key helmer on the “Doctor” series, while uncle Gerald directed the “Carry On” comedies). Thirty years after Thomas’ first producing effort, that same business is now acknowledging his impressive career, which has included widely lauded collaborations with directors Bernardo Ber-tolucci and David Cronenberg, in the form of an award for European Achievement in World Cinema.
This is not an honor Thomas would have envisaged 30 years ago. “My intention from the very beginning was to become a film director like my dad,” Thomas muses. “But then I went to Australia and spent three years there, and out of that came ‘Mad Dog Morgan,'” an Outback Western starring Dennis Hopper. Thomas followed up that “reasonably successful” debut by producing Jerzy Skolimowski’s “The Shout,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1978. “I was off and running,” he says.
While Thomas would enjoy a measure of critical and popular success in the succeeding years with “Bad Timing” and “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” his breakthrough did not come until 1987 with “The Last Emperor,” which garnered nine Academy Awards, including best picture, and marked the beginning of a two-decade collaboration with Bertolucci that will yield its seventh film, currently titled “Bel Canto,” in 2007.
“No one’s more enjoyable to make films with than Bertolucci,” Thomas says, “which is why we’ve been able to sustain this relationship. We’ve had very wonderful experiences … and I’ve managed to join him on a variety of these ideas where I could make them partly mine.”
But Thomas is careful not to claim thematic ownership, praising collaborators whose like-minded vision results in what he terms “a Jeremy Thomas taste film.” And that taste occasionally courts controversy, as evidenced by Cronenberg’s “Crash,” though Thomas is quick to clarify that he isn’t making sensation for sensation’s sake.
“There’s often an overreaction to these films because the press needs something to write about in the tabloids,” he says. “And that’s the thing: When you’re making it, you don’t really envision that the film will be that controversial.”
If there is a secret to Thomas’ filmmaking longevity, it is, once again, family. “My daughter is a photographer, my youngest boy is making video clips, and most of my relations on my uncle’s side are in the movie business. It’s incredible, and I hope it goes on so long as (the medium) goes on.”