Director, co-writer, and Oscar-winning actor George Clooney (Syriana) tackles the world of politics in the thriller The Ides of March starring Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And while the film involves the behind-the-scenes sleazy maneuverings involved in a run for the highest political office in America, Clooney believes The Ides of March could have been set on Wall Street and still had the same impact. At a press conference at the Toronto Film Festival in support of the film's October 7, 2011 release, Clooney explained his take on what The Ides of March (based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon) is really all about.
George Clooney The Ides of March Press Conference
Do your politics influence the roles you choose and movies you direct?
George Clooney: "I didn’t think of this as really a political film. I thought this was a film about moral choices. I didn’t think of it really as necessarily the political side. I just thought it was a fun moral tale. Once you set it in politics, it amps up all the problems and I thought that was fun."
Tell us about George Clooney the director.
George Clooney: "Pretty much the same guy as George Clooney the actor. I’m exactly the same height, same hair...pretty much the same. I’m lucky enough to work with a great bunch of actors who elevate the project. That’s the secret to directing, working with good people. How’s that for a political answer?"
What do you expect from other actors?
George Clooney: "I had some pictures of a few of them in compromising positions to get them to say yes. In fact some of them together, but you guys figure that out. Listen, they liked the script, they wanted to do the part, and you sort of get out of the way mostly."
Do you want people to see the greater good or the cynicism towards politics?
George Clooney: "Well, I think you need to remember that films don’t lead the way. People oftentimes think that films somehow are trying to lead society. In general, it takes a few years at the very least to get a film made. So mostly we’re reflecting the moods and thoughts that are going on in our country or around the world. This film reflects some of the cynicism that we’ve seen in recent times. That’s probably good. It’s not a bad thing to hold a mirror up and look at some of the things that we’re doing. It’s not a bad thing to look at how we elect our politicians, but that wasn’t what the film was designed to do."
"Honestly, the idea was for us that there isn’t a person you’ve ever met that hasn’t been faced with certain moral questions. Every one of us has had that idea of, 'Well, if I take this job which is better, I might be screwing over my boss who I like.' Everybody makes moral choices that better themselves and hurt someone else along the way. Whether or not the means justify the ends, that to me is universal. It could’ve been Wall Street. It would’ve been probably easier on Wall Street. It could’ve been anything. That was our point."
Politicians may say whatever they can to attract as many voters as possible, and there are some politicians who are happy to represent as specific a base as possible. Why do you think that is and will we come back to politicians trying to serve a greater number of voters?
George Clooney: "I think everything is cyclical and I think we’re in a period of time right now where it’s probably not our best moment in politics, in the political cycle. But if you look at the things that Jefferson and Adams did to one another, there’s an awful lot. The 1800 election was pretty evil and pretty rotten, so things change. They’re cyclical."
Why did you want to cast Ryan Gosling?
George Clooney: "Listen, I think he knocks it out of the park. This is a very difficult role. You’ve got to be the center of a hurricane and you have to carry everybody and everyone’s point of view on your shoulders. It’s very difficult thing to do, requires intelligence in an actor which doesn’t always happen - for some reason. Working with Ryan is just a delight. Working with all these actors, I’m quite serious as you all know, makes it very easy. Ryan gives just a tremendous performance in this film and I’m honored that he and everyone else did it."
How was your experience in Michigan?
George Clooney: "We loved it there. First of all, Ann Arbor’s an amazing city. We were there on St. Patrick’s Day and everyone was drinking green beer and getting screwed up. I was like, 'This town is for me.' We loved being on campus there. We loved shooting around Detroit and Ann Arbor. When you go to Detroit, you see a town that’s just resilient, that’s just fighting to win again. There’s an energy to cities like that. I remember New York went through that in the mid-'80s/early '80s. Just watching a city really fighting to get back on its feet and watching the inner strength of the city is just tremendous. We loved shooting there. Could’ve done without some of the weather, but that’s nothing we couldn’t take care of."
Are there any politicians you based your character on?
George Clooney: "There’s just so many ways to get in trouble with that. No, there really weren’t. Some of the speeches I used for some of the things and ideas that my dad used to write about in the newspaper. The idea of him having some of these issues that he has seem to pop up pretty much almost every week in politics, so it seemed familiar to us in a lot of ways. People thought it was about the John Edwards thing, but this was written long before the John Edwards thing broke. We didn’t really model it after anybody. There were enough examples that we could just pick little pieces from everyone."
The poster looked very Obama.
George Clooney: "Yes, I know, well, they do that now."
As an actor/director, do you sometimes just want to be a hired hand?
George Clooney: "Well, my career path for the last 10 years or so has been to direct, but directing takes a long time to get one done. It could take a while. My day job is acting and that’s how I make my living. Directing is something that I really want to do, really enjoy doing so in between those, if I’m lucky enough to have Alexander [Payne] or Steven Soderbergh, or the Coen Brothers or Jason Reitman or Tony Gilroy, really good directors around, then I’m lucky. And that’s what I want to do."
Who gave you directorial advice?
George Clooney: "Before I did my first film I read Sidney Lumet’s book on directing, which is really helpful. It teaches you shortcut tricks like set a shot, the very first shot you shoot, set it even if it’s something you’re never going to use in the film. Set it, do one take, cut, move on, print, move on. Everybody in the crew and everybody in the cast gets nervous because they think this could happen really quickly. It changes the chemistry on set and I thought that was very helpful, especially for a first time director when I was doing it. It doesn’t hurt to watch some of his films. I think Network is a masterpiece. I think he probably had as good a decade as anybody, [Alan] Pakula, '70s film directors."
Did Soderbergh influence you?
George Clooney: "Yeah, when Steven and I did Out of Sight, we came up with this company together. The idea was we wanted to infuse back into the studio system what they had learned and done very well in the mid-'60s to mid-'70s, sort of the independent vibe that we’d learned from independent films later in the '90s. He wanted to reinvest that back into the studio system. I liked the idea of nonlinear storytelling, that kind of thing. So, we started trying to push that back in. I learned a lot about not having to tell a story from the beginning to the end, picking up in the middle and catching it. That less is more and you can trust the audience to figure some stuff out. He was very good at that. He was a huge help to me."
Is it time for you to get the directing Oscar?
George Clooney: "That’s a harsh thing to ask. No, listen, again, I’ve won an Award once so when I die, they say, 'Oscar winner.' It’s a great thing to have on the tombstone. But after that, to me I really like it when people appreciate the work. I really do. I enjoy good reviews much more than I enjoy bad reviews. I enjoy people celebrating the work, but I really don’t have this dying need to collect things."
"There’s a point in time where you start in this that you do get competitive. You can get caught up in it, you’re trying to compete with people, you realize that’s silly. We’re comparing artists and I don’t understand that. So I’m very content to just try to make... You know, I don’t remember who won the Oscar four years ago or five years ago or what director won or what film won. I remember films. I watch Network and that was the year, 1976, where it was Bound for Glory, Network, All the President’s Men, Rocky and Taxi Driver. Rocky won. Rocky’s a terrific film, so are those other four films - and I remember those films really well. I remember movies. I don’t remember awards. So I like films."
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The Ides of March hits theaters on October 7, 2011.