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The Ides of March - George Clooney interview

The Ides of March, George Clooney

Interview by Rob Carnevale

GEORGE Clooney talks about some of the issues surrounding his political drama The Ides of March and why he felt it was a timeless tale with plenty of resonance.

He also talks about the film in relation to his own career and why he has no intention of running for office even though he intends to keep dabbling in political issues whenever he feels compelled. He was speaking as part of a press conference held during the London Film Festival.

Q. What convinced you that Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North had cinematic potential?
George Clooney: Well, it was a play first and when the movie was brought to Warner Bros, Grant Heslov, my writing and producing partner, thought we should take a look at it. We’d been working on a morality tale probably more along the lines of Wall Street and we thought there was a way to tie the two together. I liked the questions that the play was raising. My character [in the film] isn’t in the play at all. He’s spoken about but he’s not in the play. But we thought it would be a fun world to examine and ask questions.

Q. How much is the film coloured by your father’s recent experiences of running for office?
George Clooney: There were certainly elements of it. There’s a scene in the car with Jennifer Ehle and myself that was pretty much directly the result of a conversation I had with my father about running for Congress. There are hands that you have to shake that you wouldn’t normally shake and it’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is… just to raise finances alone unless you’re independently wealthy, which my father isn’t. Even a small congressional district in Kentucky can cost you a couple of million dollars to run. So, you end up having to… not make deals but you end up having to do all those parties and show up at all those events and shake hands with people that you normally wouldn’t find attractive. So, there were plenty of scenes about that.

Q. All your films treat the audience as adults. So, how frustrating for you is it when you’re putting something political across such as this that people in our industry are obsessed with who is on the red carpet on your arm?
George Clooney: [Smiles] Well, I understand both worlds. I grew up around it all. I’m interested in making films that ask questions and don’t particularly provide answers. I grew up in that era of filmmaking which took place when there was a tremendous amount of things going on in the country in the ‘60s and ‘70s. You had the Civil Rights movement, you had the anti-war movement, the women’s rights movement, drug counter culture and those were reflected in film. I think there are a lot of things going on in my country and in the world right now that are starting to again be reflected in film and I like those kinds of films. On the other side of it, I know what those questions are and I know why they’re asking them, but I’m a big boy now and I can handle it. But I do prefer to talk about the films.

Q. How closely do the themes of this film – morality and compromise – reflect the modern political world?
George Clooney: I do know that there are certain deals made all the time for cabinet posts, I know that for sure. We know that scandal is not uncommon. I think people will position whatever their government ailment is around it. But I think that it reflects things that are pretty timeless. And they’re not necessarily restricted to government – they can apply equally to power or hubris.

Q. You’ve been quoted as saying that the film could have been made three years ago but there was such a period of hope and optimism in America with Obama’s election. The film is out now, so has something changed?
George Clooney: Oh I think that the hope part of the hope message has sort of been damped down a bit. It’s all cyclical and it’ll change back again. I feel optimistic about the way our country works in that sense. But this is a fairly cynical look at politics and it wasn’t a very cynical time in our country [three years ago]. It took about a year of working on the Healthcare Bill for that to change and for us to lose a sense of politeness. But we go back and forth and we’ll get it back.

Q. Was the idea of compromise that underpins this story one of the big appeals for you?
George Clooney: I think that one of the questions the film is trying to raise is: “Is it worth it?” Is what we do to elect our officials… it’s basically the same question that we all are facing at one time or another… if it betters yourself and harms someone else, is it worth it? And sometimes the answer might be ‘yes’. I mean, if negative advertising about someone results in some rotten things being said about them but the right guy gets in office and those elections have consequences in other people’s lives, then it’s worth it I suppose. So, the question is always at what point is that moral scale where it’s actually worth doing.

The Ides of March

Q. Will the relationship between Hollywood and politicians in the US improve and become less cynical in both directions? Or will it be the public that demands change from both?
George Clooney: I don’t think that Hollywood will have much to do with changing politics. Hollywood usually reflects things. It takes us two years to catch up. We have to write a script and shoot a film, so we usually just hold a mirror up after it’s happened. We don’t usually lead the way. And politics will be changed in general… right now in the United States 95% of the people who win elections have the most money. That’s it. So, money is a big part of elections right now. But that happens all the time.

Q. What was the trickiest thing for you about playing a politician?
George Clooney: The funny thing is that playing a candidate is tricky because you always think that actors have this gigantic ego, and they do, but the ego it takes to be able to pose for a photo that involves having your chin up like this [poses like a political candidate for a poster campaign]… politicians have a tremendous amount of ego to be able to do it. It’s very hard when the product your selling to an entire country is yourself and you’re just selling the hell out of it all the time. You know: “I’m better than everybody else in the room…” Listen, we have to have it and we need someone who’s really good at it but ego was something that was really tricky to embrace as a politician. They really are saying: “I’m the best!”

Q. What do you think of British politics and is there a story you’d like to tell?
George Clooney: [Laughs] No! Here’s the smart thing to do… come over here and start talking about British politics! I know very little about it but I love watching the House of Commons because I think it’s fun. It really is! You know: “Order!!!” We don’t do that and it’s very fun… I can’t quite figure out what happens. Every time I watch it I’m not sure who won but I enjoy watching it. But I find politics in almost every country I go to be incredibly different and incredibly similar and I’m never surprised by anything.

The Ides of March, George Clooney

Q. The film shows a side of politics where you have to trade your soul to get to the top. How Machiavellian is Hollywood?
George Clooney: Well, when I die I go to hell, I know that [laughs]! Actors aren’t like that. The business can be that way, there’s a certain cut-throat element. But while I’m sure you guys have all met a few actors that you’d like to take their heads off, but most of them are pretty kind to one another because you’re so lucky when you get to be in position where you get to be in a film. You’re very privileged and you understand that it’s not just your brilliance that got you there… that you’re sitting on the shoulders of a lot of happy accidents along the way. So, you recognise that in one another. And so I think that there’s a certain generosity in most actors that I don’t see in politics.

Q. Notwithstanding your father’s campaign, is this the very nearest you’ll get to running for office in anything at all?
George Clooney: I think you just saw what would happen if I took office [laughs]. No, I have a very good life and I have a very comfortable existence. If I want to dip my toe into issues involved in politics, like in Sudan or Darfur… those kinds of issues where I can actually have some involvement then I’m happy to do it, and I don’t have to compromise as a politician would. So, it’s much nicer where I am. And they’re a lot smarter than I am. I tip my hat to them.

Q. What compels you to keep having a crack at directing and acting?
George Clooney: I did hundreds of hours of television as an actor before I even started getting into film work, so in some ways it feels like I’ve done a hundred films. I’ve been doing it a long time and you start to realise that creatively you need to continue trying new things. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways of doing that as an actor but you want to be able to be creative in this industry and if directing is something that you’re interested in and writing is something that you’re interested in it is an incredibly creative process. Acting is one element in a film. Directing is sort of the painter using all of those elements – sound and music and camera and putting it all together. And that can be fun and exciting. If you fail, it’s incredibly upsetting… much more upsetting than when you’re an actor. But when you succeed it’s incredibly, incredibly exciting, so I like the risk of it all.

The Ides of March

Q. Do you think you have too many skeletons in your closet to run for office? And when the film talks about the importance of loyalty, is loyalty something you hold dear in your personal relationships?
George Clooney: Loyalty, yes. I find it to be my favourite quality in people. I find it to be a tremendous quality. As far as skeletons in the closet, I think at some point we’re going to have to start getting to the realisation and the point where you just have to start every candidate with the phrase: “Yeah, I did it!” And then just go on from there and talk about the issues because it’s going to be very hard to find people who haven’t smoked a joint or drunk some pond water along the way! We’re in a strange state in our world where we sort of have that belief – and I have it too – that if it’s written down there’s got to be some truth in it. We haven’t quite got to the spot where you go: “Well, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.” It could actually be completely made up and made to look very nice. So, we have to get to the point where scandal and those kinds of things are less and less important because otherwise we won’t have anyone willing to run as politicians.

Q. Is that the same for actors?
George Clooney: Sure, but Hollywood is a little more forgiving because they don’t really expect us to be saints along the way. So, it depends if you’re trying to make a career off your personality.

Q. What interests you about politics? Is it something you discussed with your parents from childhood?
George Clooney: Well, my great-grandfather was a Mayor, my father was an anchorman for 40 years and if were an anchorman in Cincinnati, Ohio, you were also very politically involved. I grew up at a time where I think most people had a social and political conscience. Some of the biggest changes in our country’s political history happened at the time I was growing up, so I was raised to be a part of those things and to participate and I will continue to do that as much as I can.

Read our review of The Ides of March