There’s a lot to envy about Relativity chief Ryan Kavanaugh.
He managed to raise more than $10 billion in film financing amid the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. He’s 36 years old. And in his downtime, he’s closing in on a cure for cancer. Really.
After clocking long hours running the ever-expanding Relativity Media empire, the native Angeleno pours his energy into a for-profit biotech business launched two years ago with his father that is fine-tuning a process to eliminate cancerous cells in tissue. The treatment has shown great promise in lab rats and is undergoing Phase I testing on humans. Kavanaugh says it has already proven successful on inoperable brain tumors.
In fact, the UCLA alum bristles at the idea that he is a playboy spending money like a Hollywood mogul of yesteryear — a perception not helped by a Vanity Fair profile that showed him tooling around the Pacific Coast Highway in a vintage Maserati.
“People assume I drive a fancy car and live in a big house and party,” says Kavanaugh, who is engaged to ballerina Britta Lazenga. “It couldn’t be more opposite. I live in a two-bedroom house and drive a 1997 Defender and spend most of my weekend with my family. From Friday night until Monday morning, I don’t leave my house.”
Except, of course, to fly helicopters and ride horses — his two favored leisurely pursuits.
Kavanaugh, who practices transcendental meditation twice a day, is also passionate about politics — a topic that often finds him on the opposite side of the debate from his Hollywood brethren. Though he stops short of calling himself a Republican, he dubs Ronald Reagan the greatest American president ever and was an ardent supporter of John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid.
And while many conservative-leaning industryites keep their views under wraps, choosing instead to vent at super-secret Friends of Abe meetings, Kavanaugh openly criticizes Barack Obama, especially the president’s handling of the economy and Israel.
“I think he’s driving the country into the ground,” insists Kavanaugh, who still hasn’t found a 2012 presidential candidate to back. “But at least now, if you say something critical about Obama, people in Hollywood aren’t quite as passionate about it. History has proven without a doubt (that) printing money, growing government and raising taxes always leads to economic collapse. The more you take in tax from businesses that hire people, the more that goes to the government and less that goes to hiring people and buying goods.”
It’s no surprise that Kavanaugh is something of a renegade. His upbringing was fairly unconventional. The Brentwood High graduate describes his father, Jack, as a renaissance man — a D.D.S., M.D. and M.B.A. who speaks nine languages and is in Phase 3 clinical trials on a cure for cataracts.
Mother Leslie has been a real estate agent for Sotheby’s for 20 years. The parents encouraged Ryan and his younger brother Matthew to be entrepreneurial.
Kavanaugh did just that, starting a baseball card trading company at age 12. He also gravitated toward the speech and debate clubs, which has served Kavanaugh well in his frequent political debates.
Politics offers just one example of how most of Hollywood is zigging, while Kavanaugh is zagging. The slate-financing guru, whose paternal grandparents were both Holocaust survivors, also courts talent and refers to many thesps as close friends — an approach that differs from other studio heads who like to keep their professional relations on a strictly business level.
“Ryan has been a friend for years, and I can honestly say that the man is a rarity in Hollywood,” says actor Gerard Butler, who has worked with Kavanaugh on four films dating back to Butler’s breakout performance in “300.” “He’s a brilliant, passionate collaborator.”
Tobey Maguire, who starred in the Relativity drama “Brothers,” concurs.
“Ryan is a throwback mogul,” notes Maguire. “His accessibility is impressive. I will text him, and 12 seconds later I get his response.”
And though Kavanaugh — who changed his college major about 14 times before settling on business, economics and sociology — comes across as the affable, approachable man-child who forgoes coffee and wearing suits daily, he should not be taken lightly.
“He’s fun and always has a sense of humor,” says Relativity prexy of worldwide production Tucker Tooley, who has worked with Kavanaugh for five years. “People mistake that for casual or light. But he’s very serious when he needs to be serious.”