Catholic society goes Hollywood in attempt to defend its image
Here’s the script: the Holy Ghost works through a Jew to defend Opus Dei against the Da Vinci Code. “I love it,” says Michael Levine, the urbane Toronto lawyer who is agent to the stars and Canada’s pre-eminent deal maker in the entertainment world.
Mr. Levine might well love it. He’s the Jew. But, as he points out, there has been a slight misconception about his role.
By the time the story had had a couple of days to acquire legs this week, the gossip floating through Toronto’s literati set was that Mr. Levine had personally arranged a meeting between the chief executives of Sony Pictures and the Canadian head of Opus Dei to sort out how Opus Dei would be portrayed in the film of the blockbuster Da Vinci book that is due for release next spring.
Which is not close to what he did. Although Mr. Levine — who certainly found appealing the story of a Jew being point man for an allegedly secret, cult-like ultraconservative Roman Catholic organization — offered a chunk of time for free, giving advice and making useful connections for Opus Dei Canada’s vicar, Rev. Fred Dolan.
Why pro bono? “I see it as a social justice issue,” Mr. Levine said in an interview. “I’m not very sophisticated in these matters, but I figured they were entitled to their day in court. So I said I won’t take money from you.”
Author Dan Brown’s mega-blockbuster Da Vinci book, which Father Dolan says presents a grotesque caricature of his organization, portrays Opus Dei as the sinister force behind the book’s central plot.
It kills, drugs and corrupts people and the book’s scariest villain is a crazed sociopathic killer who is an Opus Dei monk.
The top people in Opus Dei, with its headquarters in New York, obviously did not want a movie starring Tom Hanks beating them over the head from where the book left off.
So they asked around the international organization for ideas.
This all took place in March, 2004.
Father Dolan had met Canadian TV personality and producer Robert Scully (Canada is such a small country).
He asked Mr. Scully what Opus Dei should do — “I said to him, ‘What have we done to deserve this?’ ” — and Mr. Scully directed him to Michael Levine.
Mr. Levine says maybe it was thought that there was a Jewish connection between him and Hollywood.
In any event, he met with Father Dolan — whom he described as a character out of central casting as a priest — and gave him some advice and some Hollywood names, which the priest passed on to the New York headquarters. Father Dolan said, laughing, that New York was impressed. Mr. Levine also tried to get published an article the priest had written defending Opus Dei, but was unsuccessful.
The New York hierarchy got only as far as an exchange of correspondence with Amy Pascal, chair of Sony’s motion picture group (Ms. Pascal insisted Sony simply intended to put out a popcorn-popper movie that offended no one). But Father Dolan got further.
He took a trip to Hollywood and met two people whose names he’d been given by Mr. Levine, and one of them told him, “If someone gives you a lemon, make lemonade of it.” And that piece of advice, said Father Dolan, altered his view of the situation.
He now saw the book and the coming film as a wonderful opportunity to talk to people about Opus Dei and explain what it really is about, and let them meet a real human being who belongs to the organization.
“It’s a great teaching moment,” he said.
He said he felt like the Holy Spirit was finding a way to help him. In Christian dogma, the Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost, is the presence of God on Earth, working through various people to achieve divine will.
“Michael Levine was exceptionally nice,” Father Dolan said.