Feature by Jack Foley
CONFESSIONS of a Dangerous Mind has often been described as one of the best
Hollywood screenplays that never got made.
Boasting a script by Charlie Kaufman, whose Being John Malkovich and Adaptation have earned him a reputation as one of the hottest writers around, the idea of the film had also been linked to such high-profile directors as David (Se7en) Fincher, Bryan (The Usual Suspects) Singer and Curtis (LA Confidential) Hanson.
Trouble was, it fell into a grey area in which it became too expensive for a genuine independent film company to pick up, and not expensive enough for the likes of Warner Bros to take on. Until, that is, George Clooney made them an offer they couldnt refuse.
"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," he told a recent press conference at Londons Claridges Hotel.
"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."
Having successfully pitched the idea, Clooney then set about directing his first feature film with relish, and maintains that he was not in the least bit daunted by the subject matter at hand - that of Chuch Barris, successful game show creator, who claims to have murdered over 30 people for the CIA.
"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'. So I was there, I was on the back of those sets, I knew what they looked like and what they felt like.
"And 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."
Asked whether he believed Barris story, however, the director said he was reluctant to delve too deeply into the facts behind the claims.
"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."
Clooney also felt extremely lucky to be able to cast the people he wanted, going to bat for Sam Rockwell from the start, and convincing both Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore about the roles over the course of a telephone conversation.
Rockwell, in particular, remains incredibly flattered by Clooneys loyalty towards him, saying: "It's really amazing. It's rare in Hollywood that someone will go to bat for you in the way that George did, so I didn't want to disappoint him. It was a big thrill, though. I can't go on enough about what George did for me."
Clooney, himself, relates the story of how he approached Roberts and Barrymore.
"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."
And Messrs Brad Pitt and Matt Damon? How were they convinced into contributing cameos?
"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," he joked.
"But seriously, 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 and I still, to this day, can't believe they did it... But that's what sort of great friends they are and speaks to what nice men they are."
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind has subsequently gone on to draw considerable acclaim and has even been honoured by the Las Vegas Film Critics circle, who named it best film.
Clooney, also, maintains that he had tremendous fun behind the camera, drawing on many of the influences he grew up with. But there were times when things didnt go according to plan, and the pitfalls that beset most directors, also took their toll.
"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," he revealed. "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'."
Having established himself as both an actor and director of genuine worth within the Hollywood infrastructure, what advice does he offer for anyone hoping to achieve the same goals?
"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."
Sound advice, indeed.
RELATED STORIES: Click here for a review of the movie...
Click here for a Q&A with George Clooney...
Click here for a Q&A with Sam Rockwell...
Click here to read about the US reaction to the film...
Click here for access to the start of our Solaris special...