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Confessions of a Dangerous Mind - George Clooney Q&A

Compiled by: Jack Foley

For his directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, George Clooney decided to opt for a movie that had been in development hell for years. Speaking at a press conference at London’s Claridges Hotel, he outlines the challenges of directing, the awkwardness of masturbating on-set, and what it means to be famous…

Q. This film could be regarded, in Hollywood terms, as the hottest script that was almost never made. What were the problems in bringing it to the screen?

A. The problem was that it was a great screenplay, but it fell right in that area where it wasn't cheap enough for a real independent studio to make and it wasn't expensive enough for Warner Bros to make, and it didn't fall into any of the categories that they knew how to sell. So they used it as bait for five years, bringing in good directors and saying, 'Hey, that's great, but why don't you take a look at this?' They would always do another project.

It ended up getting about $5 million in pre-production costs. We started off once with with Curtis Hanson and David Fincher and PJ Hogan and Bryan Singer. I was attached as an actor in the role that I play.

And because of that there was so much money against it, that it wasn't going to get made, period. I thought, if I grab it and do it for scale, and get everybody else to do it for scale, we could get the film made for way under what it'd been budgeted at. That was my pitch to Harvey [Weinstein, of Miramax]. I told him how I wanted to make the film, what I thought the aesthetic of it was and that I could do it about $10 million cheaper than anybody else. That was important, I thought, as it wasn't a film designed to make a huge amount of money.

Q. So did you inherit a lot of producers that you had never met?

A. Yeah, there were like nine executive producers and I've met like three of them. I was literally at the premiere in LA, and two guys came up to me and they go, 'this is great, you know, congratulations'. And I'm like, 'er, who are you?', and they go, 'I'm your executive producer! [goofy laugh]'; 'Oh, nice to meet you, you schmuck!'

Q. How much of an influence was Rosemary Clooney on you, as she is mentioned in the movie.

A. When I moved out of Kentucky, I lived with her for the first year of trying to be a struggling actor living in Beverley Hills. She taught me a lot about the trappings of fame. She learned the hard way, you know? She didn't tell me how to deal with it, I just saw it from what went through her life. She was famous and then not famous. And you realise that she didn't become less of a singer along the way; she realised that things change and she had nothing to do with it. So I learned a lot from her. She was not ill, or we didn't know that she was ill, when we shot that scene and put her name in, we just put it in because, actually, it was factual. And then afterwards she got sick and she passed away and about two weeks before we finished the film, I guess I wanted to try and find some song that Rosemary had sung to put in the end, but only if it could be the right song. And then I found this version of 'There's No Business Like Showbusiness', which is sort of the perfect song. It was fun to be able to do that for her because she was a big part of my life.

Q. Were there any surprises in directing for the first time?

A. The funniest thing is that all the things every director goes through, I thought I could shortcut, but there was no getting around those issues. I have a golf club that I left stuck in my wall at the office over at Warner Bros, when after two months of screen tests and everything I still wasn't able to get Sam [Rockwell, who plays Chuck Barris].

I slammed it into the wall and put a date on it and left it hanging there. There were a lot of difficulties, especially when people are investing the kind of money that is needed to make a film. I understand that and I was willing to play by all those same rules. But we got it made, and it was worth the fight, and Sam was the right guy to get on board. But I did keep thinking, you know, 'This should be easier'.

Q. How did you get Brad Pitt and Matt Damon to cameo?

A. I had to pay Brad and Matt $20 million. That was rough. And they both had to audition for the roles, which I thought was embarrassing... We were on the tour for Ocean's Eleven, and I said, 'Burt Reynolds was on The Dating Game and he didn't get picked, and Tom Selleck was on and didn't get picked'.

I thought it would be funny if those guys came out, because the third contestant was our storyboard artist, who played the 'stud bachelor'. That was a pure and simple favour. I still, to this day, can't believe they did it, that they showed up for a shot that we didn't even stop the camera on. But that's what sort of great friends they are and speaks to what nice men they are.

The other two, Julia and Rutger, but particularly Julia and Drew, you know you have to understand that when we were greenlit to go to work, I got a call from almost every single A-list actress in town, and I mean literally, almost every one, because everybody's known about this, these were great parts. So when I called Julia and said 'I'm calling you about the film', she asked 'Is it for Patricia?', I said 'yeah', and she said, 'I'm doing it'. Literally, it was the exact same thing with Drew.


Q. What was it like directing people making love, when, in Solaris, you were being told how to make love?

A. I like telling people how to get it on. It's much more fun, you know. It's always weird, love scenes are always weird, because it is weird. I mean, 'hey you guys, hop in the sack'. The advantage with Sam and Drew is that they've known each other, so they were comfortable, so there was certainly a shorthand that came in.

But there were really awkward moments. But what was more awkward was the scene that we cut, with Sam, where Chuck is masturbating in the shower. Chuck was on the set that day, and was sitting behind me. Sam's in the shower, and he's kind of going like this [demonstrates masturbating], and all of a sudden I get a hand on my shoulder, in the middle of the shot, and there's Sam going, 'faster!!' Way too much information!

Q. You're the son of a TV chat show host - did that have a great bearing on your choice of subject matter?

A. It was a huge part of it. I grew up on gameshow sets. My Dad had a game show called The Money Maze, which was this giant maze, and the husband would run through it and the wife would stand above it, going 'go left, go right', which is sort of a great statement on American pop culture.

So I was there, I was on the back of those sets, I knew what they looked like and what they felt like. I certainly had an understanding of fame and some of those trappings, and some of the ideas of waking up and having other people's perceptions of you being much different from your own perception.

So, the reason I felt like I could direct, was that I felt this was a screenplay that I knew how to tell the story of. I don't know that there's another film that I would have this sort of personal understanding of.

Q. What did you learn from the Coens and Steven Soderbergh, that you brought to this film?

A. Both Joel and Ethan [Coen] and Steven [Soderbergh] have a great way of running a set, which is fun and easy-going. And both these directors are very responsible with other people's money. I felt it was important to finish ahead of schedule. Steven's films have become famous for bringing back non-linear storytelling, like Nicolas Roeg did before him, so I felt I had a clear understanding of that.

Joel and Ethan showed me the way to use camera as a character, which I think is a great thing, but who I was really ripping off, and who I sent letters of apology to, were Mike Nicholls and Sidney Lumet, and the guys that I grew up loving. This is just a comedy version of The Parallax View, in a way. You know, these were directors that I really paid attention to when I was growing up, that's sort of who I was really trying to emulate.

Q. What advice can you give people about handling fame?

A. There's no advice, really. The trick is that you can't spend time trying to correct all the things that are said that are inaccurate. I'd love to be able to say it doesn't bother me, but it does matter, it matters when you get a bad review, it affects you. My only advice that I got from my Dad, is don't wake up at 70-years-old and say what you think you should have tried, do it, be willing to fail, and if you fail, then at least you gave it a shot.

Q. What's the best thing about fame?

A. Being able to make films that you want to make. Being able to walk into a room and say 'if you do this film, they'll make it'. And films that you think will last longer than an opening weekend. I can't tell you how much fun it is to sit down and have a script, like Solaris, where no one is going to make it, and you can say, what if I could make it? And it gets done.

Q. If you had to take a date to either Solaris or Confessions, which would you pick, and why?

A. Ooh, pick your favourite child! It's impossible, you know, cos I'm proud of both of the films. In the States Confessions was an easier acceptance somehow, so I might stick up for Solaris because it took some real hits. But, you know, I'm really proud of both of them.... I'd bring Sam [Rockwell] as my date.

Do you believe that Chuck really was a CIA hitman?

A. I don't know how much I believed it. I didn't want to officially ask him, because I didn't want him to say, "I made it up." I wanted to tell the story. But I think it's fairly obvious in the film where that all falls.

I mean, we didn't want to answer it completely, because we did want the question out there. But I thought, how interesting if it was all made up, why someone as wealthy and as successful as Chuck Barris, would have to do that.

I thought that was an interesting person to explore, and that's what we wanted to do with the film, explore that guy and explore why it was important to write that story. It was pretty fun. I also love the idea of comparing the CIA to bad television. It just made me laugh, from the minute we started.

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