Whatever she touches 'turns to gold' — can Dede Gardner do it again at the Oscars?
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
"Moonlight," "12 Years A Slave," "Vice," "The Big Short" - these films were all produced by a powerhouse with a little-known name. Dede Gardner is the only woman to have won two best picture Oscars. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, Gardner and her partners at Plan B Entertainment could break that record at this year's Academy Awards.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Dede Gardner produced three big films this year. "Blonde" stars best actress nominee Ana de Armas.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLONDE")
ANA DE ARMAS: (As Norma Jeane) Marilyn Monroe only exists on the screen.
DEL BARCO: Another film, "She Said," is a drama about The New York Times investigation into former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SHE SAID")
SAMANTHA MORTON: (As Zelda Perkins) This is bigger than Weinstein. This is about the system protecting abuses.
DEL BARCO: And best picture nominee "Women Talking" dramatizes a group of abused women in a conservative religious colony.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WOMEN TALKING")
CLAIRE FOY: (As Salome) We know that we've not imagined these attacks. We know that we are bruised and infected and pregnant, and some of us are dead.
DEL BARCO: Gardner says these films have something in common.
DEDE GARDNER: They obviously, all in their own, in respective ways, deal with sexual assault. Violence against women is a real thing all over the world. In very different ways, all three movies are insisting on this truth.
DEL BARCO: Gardner has made a career of producing audacious movies.
GARDNER: I've kind of always had a gut instinct about it. I don't see any point in telling stories that have already been told. I'm really interested in what other people have to say.
DEL BARCO: Gardner was born in Chicago in 1967 and studied English at Columbia University. She worked in theater and at the William Morris Agency in New York before coming to LA, where she worked her way from location scout to Paramount Pictures director of development. Seventeen years ago, she was hired as president of Plan B Entertainment, a production company founded by Brad Grey, Brad Pitt and his then wife, Jennifer Aniston.
GARDNER: I knew I wanted to produce, and I knew I wanted to be very hands-on. They were clearly very smart and they had optioned some really interesting books. I didn't think any of those three principals would be on the ground on the set for months at a time producing the movies. So I thought, oh, maybe this is a real opportunity to do that.
DEL BARCO: At Plan B, Gardner finds stories to make into films, then works on financing, casting, production, logistics, editing, promotions. She helped steer "Moonlight" and "12 Years A Slave" to top prize Oscar wins and five others to best picture nominations, including "Selma" in 2015, "The Big Short" in 2016, and "Minari" in 2021.
JESSIE BUCKLEY: Basically, whatever Dede does, it turns to gold.
DEL BARCO: Jessie Buckley is one of the actresses in "Women Talking." She says Gardner has changed the culture of making movies.
BUCKLEY: The age of bullying and creating a kind of power dynamic on set is gone. And you have women like Dede who are actually paving the way for a much healthier and humane way to create. She's a producer who consciously thinks about creating a set where there is care on a set.
DEL BARCO: That includes ensuring there are therapists on set for the cast and crew in case they're triggered, according to "She Said" actress Carey Mulligan.
CAREY MULLIGAN: She was always there to make the set feel really comfortable because obviously we were touching on difficult things. There were real survivors who were participating in the film.
DEL BARCO: Mulligan says Gardner also makes sure her productions are family-friendly with decent working hours.
MULLIGAN: It just makes a huge difference. You know, we'd be done in time that I could get back and put the kids to bed.
FRANCES MCDORMAND: She says, how do you make a change if you want to give respect to your cast and your crew? You bake it into the budget.
DEL BARCO: Actress Frances McDormand says she always admired Gardner's film choices, and she sought her out to co-produce "Women Talking."
MCDORMAND: Her personal politics when it comes to storytelling is really - there's an edge to it that is always exciting. And she's just articulate. I think that she could, in fact, direct a film. Her intellect is so crisp and so expansive. She understands that a film - a really good film - is not made by committee, that it has a vision, and that vision comes from one person.
DEL BARCO: Gardner says she cherishes her relationships with visionaries like filmmaker Barry Jenkins, who directed "Moonlight."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MOONLIGHT")
ANDRE HOLLAND: (As Kevin) Who is you, Chiron?
DEL BARCO: Jenkins and Gardner worked on several projects, including "Moonlight" and "The Underground Railroad" miniseries.
BARRY JENKINS: Dede is this combination of an extremely, like, hyper-intelligent person, but also a hyper-empathetic person. As a producer myself now, she's a great example to follow. You know, she's very adamant about protecting the artist's voice.
DEL BARCO: Gardner says protecting those voices is important as the film industry has become more risk-averse.
GARDNER: Yes. It feels to me like a moment where people are sort of battening down the hatches and picking the safe lane. I understand it. The theatrical landscape feels much less reliable than it used to. So I get it. But also, I want daring, risky stuff to be made.
DEL BARCO: With a new investor, Plan B is expanding, and Dede Gardner says she's excited about making even more daring and risky movies.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Hollywood.
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