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Sony Film Chief Tom Rothman Compares Great Actors to Star Athletes: ‘The Audience Knows Talent When They See It’

Plenty of Hollywood studio executives are sports fanatics — pre-pandemic, the floor seats at any given Lakers game often looked like the executive check-in at the Academy Awards.

But Tom Rothman, chairman of Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group, has taken his love of the game to a much more philosophical level during a recent and rare sit-down interview. The executive appeared on “Suiting Up With Paul Rabil,” the audio series from eight-time lacrosse world champion Paul Rabil.

Rothman himself wielded a lacrosse stick in his day, in his early education and at Brown University. The men discussed the correlation between gifted athletes and transcendent artists.

“What you’re saying is, in the creative arts, it’s more subjective, and in sports it’s more objective. From the outside that’s true, but from the inside it’s not,” Rothman noted to the host, who has also welcomed industry figures like entrepreneur Mark Cuban and director Peter Berg.

“Even someone like me, who was been a decision maker about what talent get what jobs for many, many years. I actually don’t ultimately make those decisions, the audience makes them. I actually don’t determine what actor is a movie star and what actor isn’t, the audience does. I am one of many gate keepers. Everybody has got to get their chance, get the ball. When the starting quarterback goes down and they call your number, you’ve got to step up. But ultimately those myriad and, in some ways, undefinable qualities that make great art, are equally determinative in sports,” he continued.

Rothman said that, not unlike current and former sports legends, it comes down to gifts.

“The way that God reached out and touched Michael Jordan, or Steph Curry, or Paul Rabil on the forehead, and said, ‘You’re going to be on the field with a lot of people who do what you do, but you’re going to be able to do it just a little better than anybody else.’ That’s the same finger that touched Denzel Washington. The audience knows talent when they see it,” he said.

The pair also discussed Rothman’s lengthy career, the two historical offices he’s occupied (Darryl Zanuck’s at Fox and Louis B. Mayer’s on the Sony Pictures lot), and the streaming revolution. Check out the full conversation at Spotify and other podcast services.

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