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Syriana - George Clooney interview

George Clooney in Syriana

Compiled by Jack Foley

Q: Why was the time right for you to make this film?
A. Well, it was an interesting time. When we decided to do it three years ago it was even a tougher time, politically. Anybody who talked about anything, raised any questions at all, was framed as unpatriotic at that point. So, I thought it was fairly brave of the studio to be willing to jump onboard and take on some of the subject matter.
When you see the film, it’s not an attack on the administration at all. It is certainly questioning 40 or 50 years of flawed policies in the Middle East, which I think everyone agrees with. Most of the conservatives who have seen the film agree with it. Most of the Liberals agree with it. So, to me, it wasn’t that. I felt we were fairly safe in taking on the subject matter. My job was to know as much as I could so I wouldn’t marginalize the piece. But I’m not the writer or the director.
I spent a lot of time with Bob Baer, who’s a really interesting guy. For him, it was much more about the disenchantment of how little he was needed anymore. After the Berlin Wall came down, the decision was made by several administrations, including the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, which was: surveillance equipment would take care of it; you don’t need people who speak Arabic or Farsi. What you realize, of course, is that it would have been very helpful to have those people. We look at the problems with some of the evidence that led us into other places. It would have helped to have people in there speaking those languages. He’s very disenchanted with all of that.

Q: What was the morale of the people there towards you? What was it like shooting this during the high holy holidays?
A. It’s an interesting thing to be shooting in Morocco and Dubai during Ramadan. And the Emir had just died, who, in Dubai, was basically the man who made Dubai what it is. He was about 100-years-old. So there was a huge funeral and Mubarak and everybody showed up at our hotel. You think I had security guards – we look like the Mickey Mouse Club with these guys showing up. It was an interesting time to be there because you can’t eat during the day, and you have to play by their rules, which is a good thing. It’s a nice thing to do. But it’s very hot, and it’s a very different world. I was concerned with the idea that they wouldn’t understand what we were doing, that they would think that we were making a movie where it’s just black and white, bad guys, terrorists, because we’re not the most popular country overseas. We were concerned with the idea that they didn’t think we were just flat out trying to characterize them as the evildoers.

Q: What was it like learning fluent Arabic for this movie?
A. Brutal. I had a roommate in college who was Iranian, so I understood and could speak a little bit of Farsi, which helped. There are some similarities, so it helped with the accent. But there are no Latin derivatives. So it was a tricky thing to do. You learned it phonetically. You just did it over and over. I did it for two months, just to do those few paragraphs.

Q: Do you think that the film is doing things that journalism ought to be doing? Is that the place of a film to expose these things?
A. I think the difference between journalism and film is that I don’t think films are designed to provide answers. I think films are designed to ask questions. I think journalism is designed to ask questions to get answers. We’re actually just asking questions and sparking debate. That’s what we tried to do with Good Night, and Good Luck and it’s the same thing with this. For me, my job was to understand what Bob was doing as a producer of the film, to be well enough informed on the subject to understand the plot lines and what we were trying to tell.
For Good Night, and Good Luck, I double-sourced every scene, because I owed it to the people whose story I was telling, which was a true story, not to get anything wrong. If you got anything wrong, it would all be marginalized, which is the popular thing to do right now. There are some people out there that are anxiously trying to talk about what a great guy McCarthy is, which still blows my mind. So, with this film, my job was to be as best informed as I could be in general.
After that, I try and make it entertaining – because it’s still a film. I think the good news about both these films is that they’re not civics lessons. They’re actually entertaining films. Tough, not easy, but entertaining films.

Q: Did your political views change at all after making this movie?
A. No, it doesn’t change things. And it doesn’t necessarily reinforce things either. What it really does is it opens your eyes to other issues and other thoughts. I remember standing on the roof of a building about four stories up as a siren went off, which would go every three hours during Ramadan. And you’d hear a prayer over loudspeakers – we were in Casablanca then – and everyone in South Dakar got out in the middle of the street and faced Mecca. A sea of people got out of their car, got out on the streets and kneeled down, faced Mecca and prayed. We were sitting there watching this and thinking, ‘if we think that we have religious clarity or any kind of a belief system that overrides anyone else’s…’ When you see that, it would scare you – the idea that you could in some way bomb the Islamic fundamentalists away – and these were Islamic fundamentalists – but those guys are that passionate.

Q: What do you think would have to happen to better realize the potential of television media to inspire thought and enlighten as well as entertain and distract?
A. I don’t know. I was hoping that in putting a film like that out there, it would open the discussion for people who are in those positions – some of them are friends of mine. I understand that having watched what happened with my father as an anchorman, I understand that the idea is that news has a problem, which is, they’re losing viewers. And how do you keep news out there and how do you preserve it? Do you preserve it by destroying it along the way? And what do you do to not let that happen?
So, it’s one of those difficult fights. I understand that it’s not black and white and easy. But I think it’s something that should be constantly waged and talked about and argued about, until somebody can come out with some solutions. I’m concerned about the same things that you’re concerned with and that my father has been concerned with his whole life and fought – which was finding ways to have room for both, but not losing content along the way.

Q: Can you comment on being made one of Peoples’ Most Sexiest Men Alive?
A. I was a little hurt that pretty boy McConaughey now takes over. It’s a big responsibility; it’s a heavy crown for him, Mr. Abs himself. But I think he can handle it. We’ll see. Pitt did it twice. And he was really the only guy that could handle it two times. Brad ‘Pretty Boy’ Pitt. I was a little disturbed that Matt Damon didn’t get front page.

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