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George Clooney Talks About "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"
by Rebecca Murray and Fred Topel

George Clooney, Drew Barrymore and Sam Rockwell
on the set of "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind"
Photo© Miramax Films - All Rights Reserved.

 More of this Feature

• Interview with Sam Rockwell ('Chuck Barris')
• Interview with Drew Barrymore ('Penny')

ADDITIONAL "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" INFORMATION:

• "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" Photo Gallery
• "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" Trailer, Credits and Websites
• George Clooney
• Sam Rockwell
• Drew Barrymore
 Related Resources

• News on Upcoming Releases
• New in Theatres or on Video
• Movie Reviews
• Casting News
 Elsewhere on the Internet

• Miramax Films

George Clooney makes his directorial debut with the biopic, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," based on the book by game show host/possible CIA operative, Chuck Barris.

In addition to directing and co-starring in the movie, Clooney called in a few favors to cast some of Hollywood's biggest names in "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind." Julia Roberts appears as an undercover agent who passes secrets and becomes sexually involved with Barris (played by Sam Rockwell). "Ocean's 11" co-stars and Clooney buddies, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt, appear in cameo spots as "Dating Game" contestants (blink and you'll miss their scene). Even "Confessions" lead actor, Sam Rockwell, had a Clooney connection. Rockwell starred in "Welcome to Collinwood" for Clooney and Steven Soderbergh's production company, Section 8, prior to winning the lead in "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind."

In this interview, Clooney discusses acting versus directing, casting "Confessions," and his personal take on the reaction to the Clooney/Soderbergh collaboration, "Solaris."

GEORGE CLOONEY (Director/'Jim Byrd')

How did you decide on the cast for this movie?
First of all, I don't really care for any of them. They're just a tool to be used. They're just tools to be used. They're cattle. Actors are cattle. Who said that, Hitchcock? He meant it.

Does it matter what's true or not in this guy's story?
I don't think so. It was important for me not to ask him the question when I met him. I thought it was incumbent on me not to ask him. I wanted to be able to tell the story, true or not. I wanted to be able to say I think it's a really fascinating story - if it's not true - that someone as successful as Chuck Barris felt the need to write that story. So I felt it was important not to know the answer. I have opinions on it, and I sort of lay some of them on.

What do you want the audience to take away from this? Is it entertainment? Is it comedy?
It's a little of everything, you know? I think that the trick is, when films were made that I really liked, which is like 1965 to 1975, what they take away is that they walk out and they're discussing it afterwards. They're questioning things and asking questions. It certainly isn't a straight comedy by any means. All you really want them to do is certainly be entertained and certainly have some conversations when they walk out.

How close is the finished film to your original vision of this movie?
That's the funniest thing. [Cinematographer] Tom Sigel and I were talking about that, because I storyboarded every shot in every scene, and we shot every one of those storyboards. Tom Sigel and I were saying that the funniest thing is it's actually pretty close to what we started with in the very beginning. We sat around and we drew up all of those transitions. We planned all of it out. It's the way we want this to look.

We started with the color palette in the very beginning. We thought in order to go back in time, most people remember things through film. I don't remember the 50s - I wasn't around for them - I know the 50s through Technicolor. Not Technicolor as it was shot, but Technicolor as it has faded now. So we started pulling out old films and old "LIFE" magazines and looking at colors that fade first. We started to try and paint all the sets and the actors, everyone, different colors, so we could de-saturate certain colors out, and then paint them back in later. We focused on that for the 50s. For the 60s, we focused on very lensy sort of shots. Rack focuses and zooms, and things like. When you watch a Western in the 60s, you just all of a sudden see the lens moving like crazy. It reminds you of the 60s. We shot the 70s, most of that stuff handheld. We thought that reminded you of the rough-hewn feel of the handheld, and the presence of the camera in the room. Those kinds of things were also part of the shooting of it. Because we built the transitions in, we weren't able to really edit them out. You sort of hem yourself in to using the things that you shot.

Did you pick the songs?
Stephen Mirrione found most of the music. He's the editor. He was phenomenal. He's so much more than just an editor. He got the Oscar for "Traffic" and he deserved it. He's really brilliant with music, too. I'd come in and he'd go, "Here's these selections. I think this is the best." He'd play it and you'd go, "It's perfect."

Why "If I Had a Hammer?"
That was one that I came up with. The funniest thing about it was, I wanted it to be a dumb folk song. Not a dumb folk song, a fun folk song. Actually not a dumb folk song at all, I actually really like the song. But I wanted it to feel wrong with someone singing it, a little Asian woman singing it. It just seemed so out of place and sort of screwy. We were trying to come up with some sort of musical montage to play at the end. I like the idea of montages in this film, because it's sort of doing it with Elvis singing horribly, doing a standard love montage with this awful sort of singing. The juxtaposition seemed perfect with Chuck's life.

Someone told us you were born to direct. Do you think that's true?
Yes. When I came out I said, "Action." No, it wasn't something that I was looking to do. I didn't sit on sets paying attention like that. I paid attention, and I'm always on sets because I like sets. I tried for years as an actor to get onto a set, so I like staying on them. I don't go in my trailer. Also, you know, I'm from Kentucky, we try and stay out of trailers. It's not a status symbol for us, you know. So I paid attention. But this, I didn't direct this because I wanted to direct, I directed it because it had fallen apart so many times that it wasn't getting made. We were in pre-production, we were about eight weeks from shooting, and they pulled the plug from us financially. We had about $4.5 million against it, which meant it wasn't going to get made, because now it was going to be a $40 million film. So I thought if I came on board as a director, for scale, and was able to bring everybody else on inexpensively, if I could get the film back down to 30, including eating that $4.5 million, then I was going to be able to get the film made. That was a big part of my pitch to Miramax.

My father had a game show when I was growing up called "The Money Maze." I know what those sets look like. I showed the guy how to do cue cards. I grew up on them, and knew what it looked like and smelled like. And I know something about some of the trappings of fame, so I thought I had a unique take on it. But a lot of the pitch was about budget.

When did you first become attached to this movie?
About six years ago, as an actor in the same role.

How many directors have been attached to it?
Well, there was Curtis Hanson and there was David Fincher. There was several directors attached, and several actors attached. Mike Meyers was attached, Johnny Depp was attached. Several different actors were attached.

Couldn't you have started with an easier project? This is a crazy movie.
Sure. But first of all, if you're going to do it, you might as well do it with a great screenplay. It doesn't make sense to me to go, "Well, I'm just going to learn. I'm going to cut my teeth on a mediocre screenplay." You might as well work with the best. I have the best cinematographer, I have the best editor, I have the best sound guy. I got all the people, I called in all my favors to work with people that I thought, "Why not work with the best people I can?" It's the best screenwriter out there.

How hard is it to go back to being an actor after directing?
Here's the great news: the two films I go back to work on, the day after I finish shooting principal photography are Stephen Soderbergh's "Solaris" and then four days after we wrap "Solaris," I start shooting "Intolerable Cruelty" with Joel and Ethan [Coen]. So it's not hard to go back and work with those kinds of directors, where you watch and you go, "Wow." Just when you think you're sort of smart and you know what you're doing, you go, "Oh, I know nothing about film making," when you see those guys work, you know?

What are the benefits of having Sam Rockwell, who is familiar but not famous, as opposed to a Johnny Depp? There is something different about watching a guy you don't know.
Especially when the guy that we don't know, the guy that we're telling the story about, is sort of an obscure celebrity. When you see Will Smith as Muhammad Ali it's OK, because Will is a really charismatic actor, and Ali is really charismatic guy that we know so well, probably as well as we know anyone. Chuck we remember, it's been about 20 years since we've seen him. Someone famous would detract from that. Someone we know, we'd go, "Hey, that guy's doing a really good job as Chuck Barris."

I just think you should have the right actor in the right role. Period. And Sam looks like him. Sam is one of the best actors I know, and actors are very aware of Sam and have been very aware of him for a long time. He's due. And most of all, he was the right actor for the role. He was the right physical type. He's a wonderful actor. I couldn't be more pleased with his performance in this role.

What did you make of the reaction to "Solaris?"
It depends. It depends on who's reacting. Some people liked it. Oh, you mean, the box office? It's flopping. The only movie I've done that lost money before was "Out of Sight," and it's arguably the best film I've been in. You can't really worry about the box office. You've got to try. It'll make money foreign, and it will end up doing OK. It's too bad. But I'm thrilled I made it, I'm proud of it. I think it'll be a film a few years from now that people will still be talking about and rediscovering.

You were prepared for a polarized reaction?
Yeah. We knew it from the minute we started it, and were aware that that would happen. That's OK, I don't mind that. I think if you're going to try and do them and you're just looking for them to succeed, then I'm not going to be able to do the films I'm trying to do.

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