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July 21, 2021

Rosie O'Donnell shares memory of disturbing '90s meeting with Harvey Weinstein, M. Night Shyamalan

The actress was ridiculed for defending Shyamalan's work on the 1998 film 'Wide Awake'

Movies M. Night Shyamalan
Rosie Shyamalan Weinstein Anthony Behar/Sipa USA

M. Night Shyamalan's latest film, 'Old,' debuts in theaters on July 23. In the 1990s, Shyamalan had a creative disagreement with Harvey Weinstein over his movie, 'Wide Awake,' which starred Rosie O'Donnell as a Catholic school teacher. O'Donnell recalled sticking up for Shyamalan and being verbally abused by Weinstein.

Harvey Weinstein was extradited to California on Wednesday to face additional sexual assault charges, potentially compounding the 23-year sentence he's already serving in New York for similar crimes.

The former Miramax executive's abusive behavior in Hollywood has been widely exposed since a slew of sexual assault allegations against him publicly surfaced in 2017, followed by formal charges in 2018. He was convicted last February of sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi in 2006 and raping ex-actress Jessica Mann in 2013.

Prosecutors in Los Angeles allege that the 69-year-old raped multiple women at several Beverly Hills hotels in 2013. Weinstein had tried to avoid extradition due to his failing health, but it had been expected that he would be required to stand trial in California.

Given how far Weinstein has fallen — and how widespread his insidious conduct was in Hollywood — new stories about him all seem to point to a figure whose power went unchecked because of his industry influence.

Another story about Weinstein came to light from Rosie O'Donnell in connection with M. Night Shyamalan, who's set to release his latest feature film, "Old," in theaters this Friday.

O'Donnell played Sister Terry in the lesser-known Shyamalan film, "Wide Awake," a comedy about a fifth-grader who literally seeks to find God after the death of his grandfather. O'Donnell's role was memorable locally for her character's devotion to the Philadelphia Phillies, one of Shyamalan's trademark homages to his upbringing in Philadelphia.

The film was only Shyamalan's second feature and came just before his breakout, "The Sixth Sense," made him a household name the following year.

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, O'Donnell recalled a terrible meeting Shyamalan had with Weinstein over creative differences about the film:

“[M. Night] called me up and told me he was having trouble with Harvey — that Harvey had recut his movie and would I talk to Harvey with him,” says O’Donnell. “So we had a conference call where he was in the office with Harvey and I phoned in. And I said to Harvey Weinstein, ‘This kid is an artist. You wouldn’t say to Van Gogh, ‘Less blue.’ Your job as the producer and the distributor is to frame it and sell it, but not to change the canvas.’ And that’s when he called me the C-word. And he said, ‘You don’t know anything. You’re just a talk show host. Who do you think you are?’ And I said, ‘Well, this is the last conversation we’ll ever have.’ And it was.”

By the time "Wide Awake" was released, Shyamalan had already sold the script for "The Sixth Sense" to Hollywood Pictures for $2.2 million. He was well on his way to success, but his brush with Weinstein underscores the pernicious influence the former executive wielded over some of entertainment's biggest names.

Miramax reportedly micromanaged "Wide Awake" from start to finish, got the film's cinematographer fired, threatened to shut the production down and stamped much of Shyamalan's flair out of the movie before it ever reached audiences. The film was a commercial dud, grossing just $282,000 on a $6 million budget.

It's a testament to Shyamalan that he didn't let his experience working with Weinstein deter him from going on to much bigger and better things, and a lesson that has probably served him well in the ups and downs of his career as a director.

With "Old," Shyamalan will now be looking to notch his fourth decade with a film debuting at number one in the box office.

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