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The Men Who Stare At Goats - Jon Ronson interview

The Men Who Stare At Goats

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JON Ronson talks about the movie adaptation of his book, The Men Who Stare At Goats, during a press conference held to mark the UK premiere of the film at the Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival.

Q. Were you at all nervous about what Hollywood might do to one of your labours of love?
Jon Ronson: No, just when I was selling it, Nick Hornby said to me: “Don’t interfere, because they know how to make films, and we don’t.” So, I didn’t interfere, and I read Peter [Straughan]’s script, and I thought it was completely brilliant, and then when I heard that Grant [Heslov] and George [Clooney] was making it that was obviously incredibly exciting, so I was never nervous at all. It wasn’t my film, so it was an easy ride for me; I watched it as an audience member and really loved it.

Q. How do the film’s characters compare to any of the men that Jim Channon told you about when you were researching the book, and did you get to meet any of them?
Jon Ronson: I met all of them. Jeff Bridge’s character, Bill Django, is based completely on Jim Channon, and he looks and sounds exactly like him, and everything he does in the movie is real, from the learning how to be invisible – which he downgraded to just trying to find a way of not being seen. I said: “Like camouflage?” And he said: “No!” George’s character is based on four or five different people, but they were all quite similar to each other.

You see bits of Guy Savelli, the goat starer, who now runs a dance studio in Ohio. There are certain things that George does with his face that are exactly what he did. He really did show me his hamster-staring video. At the end, the hamster gets up and brushes itself down, so it’s an inconclusive snuff video at best. But it’s very accurate.

Kevin’s character is the most fictional of all the characters in the film. There was a guy called Sidney Gottlieb who would spike everyone’s drinks with LSD all the time, but other than that, it’s pretty much made up, unlike the other characters.

Q. The idea of being all that you can be is a very important part of the story, how far do you think you can go all the way when you’re dealing with the paranormal?
Jon Ronson: I don’t believe in any of it at all, I think it’s all nuts. My scepticism sometimes feels like a black cloud of misery, so in some ways I envy Grant [Heslov]’s beliefs.

Read our review of the film or our interview with director Grant Heslov