The most penetrating insights do not always come from the mouths of specialists.
It doesn't take long once Stephen Frears has settled into his seat and ordered a citron pressé before the well-known British film director says something that has me looking at the sports business in a slightly new light.
"The William Morris agency earlier this year bought IMG," he says, deploying a resonant, actorly voice to make himself heard above the hubbub of a crowded Monte Carlo café.
"So William Morris know that sportsmen are now bigger than film stars."
If you want to explain the multimillion-pound-a-year salaries today commanded by top footballers in an even somewhat rational manner, this strikes me as not a bad way of looking at it: yes, all he does is kick a ball for a living, but he's as big as Johnny Depp.
Frears, whom I arranged to meet at the recent Sportel convention in Monaco, where he was on the Golden Podium Awards jury, is currently making his own contribution to combining the worlds of film and sport with a movie about Lance Armstrong, the cyclist whose rise and fall have been as precipitous as any Alpine stage of the Tour de France, the race he for so long dominated.
"The Armstrong story seemed like a modern story - the amounts of money, the cancer, everything like that. It seemed very, very modern," Frears says.
"He was a conman. He was also a brilliant cyclist. He also survived cancer. You can't make easy assumptions. That's what makes this so interesting."
I have enjoyed Frears's work over many years, starting with My Beautiful Laundrette and Prick Up Your Ears in the 1980s, but I had not previously associated him with sport. Checking his filmography, however, I see that the Armstrong film will be his third sports-related project in recent times, after Lay the Favourite, a comedy on sports gambling starring Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight, a television film about the boxer's refusal in 1967 to report for induction into the US military.
"It's the politics of sport that are interesting," he says. And later, "It's a big thing in people's lives - sport."
When I remark that he seems to have enjoyed a long career in the singular world of movie-making without ever having made a bad film, he laughs off the compliment - "Don't you believe it; it's kind of you to say so" - before homing in eventually on a common thread linking sporting and film-making success.
"If you make a successful film, everything has to be in the right place," he explains. "If all these things are in the right place, you have a chance. I remember thinking it with The Queen [a 2006 film, starring Helen Mirren and dealing with events around the time of Princess Diana's death in a Paris car accident, for which Frears received an Academy Award nomination]. Everything was just right...
"I guess it's the same if you win the Tour de France. Everything has to be in place. Or if you win the Champions League. Everything has to work.
"If something doesn't work, you won't win it. So it's sort of miraculous."
How does Frears set about acquiring the depth of knowledge in a subject such as competitive road cycling that must be necessary to make a really convincing feature film about it?
"You just start making a film and it's like going to school," he says.
"You have to know what Sestriere is. And you have to know about the individual drugs. You have to have all that detail at your finger-tips."
He refers to Oprah Winfrey, the chat-show host whose televised interview with the seven-times Tour de France winner in 2013 elicited his public confession to using banned substances, including erythropoietin (EPO), and blood transfusions to enhance his cycling performance, in an excruciating sequence of one-word answers to five questions.
"Oprah said they had four days and they sat in a room with these things on the wall learning like children."
At the outset, did he disappear for a time with a pile of books?
"I read a review in the London Review of Books by David Runciman on Tyler Hamilton," he says. Former top cyclist Hamilton's book, The Secret Race: inside the hidden world of the Tour de France, written with Daniel Coyle, was the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2012.
Eventually it was another book - Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by Sunday Times journalist David Walsh – which Frears and his team bought. Frears says he had been told about Walsh by Paul Smith, the fashion designer and one-time racing cyclist; Smith, he says, "was a tenant of my dad".
American actor Ben Foster is to play Armstrong, and Frears says the film will be finished next year. Armstrong, he says, is not collaborating on the venture.
Highlighting another occupational hazard of the movie business, Frears reveals, "I have to do one more day with Ben, but I may not be able to do it until after Ben has finished another film - because at the moment he's the wrong shape. So I have to wait until he has got back to the right shape."
Has he been filming at real Tour de France locations?
"I shot on the Paris-Roubaix [a notoriously tough one-day road race in northern France]," he says. "Yes I shot on the cobbles. And I shot on a pass called the Galibier [used many times by the Tour]...
"You do the best you can. It's so huge. When the Tour took me up Mont Ventoux, there were quarter of a million people there.
"It doesn't really exist the Tour de France. It's a perfect television event. In other words, if I go to a football match, I can see the football match...but the Tour doesn't exist in that way.
"I was taken by the Tour and I was in a car just behind the first lot of cyclists. In the middle of these guys, in a sort of bubble. And then there's this insane world all around us. And beyond that a quarter of a million people on top of Mont Ventoux...
"So it's like a circus."
Had he arrived at any conclusions about the sort of person Lance Armstrong is?
Frears, 73, has achieved the sort of age and authority where he is perfectly prepared sometimes to pause for long moments before responding to questions. This was one of those occasions.
"The truth is I have no idea," he replies eventually.
"The fall is so spectacular. Lance's fall is so spectacular it must be indescribable. You can't imagine what goes on inside his head."
David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 World Cup and London 2012. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed here.