George Clooney talks The Ides Of March

We were at at Clooney’s only press engagement at the London Film Festival, check out what he had to say on new movie The Ides Of March

In The Ides of March, which he also co-wrote and directed, George ‘Triple Threat’ Clooney stars as a faintly Obama-esque ‘hope-and-change’ US presidential contender, whose campaign – and more specifically the backstabbing, double-dealing, and dirty tricks involved therein – threatens to corrode the strong sense of idealism of his precocious young campaign adviser, played by Ryan Gosling.

The 50-year-old Oscar winner was in the UK to promote the movie last week as part of the London Film Festival, and was there at Clooney’s only press engagement of the festival to hear how The Ides of March came about, as well as to glean the actor’s thoughts on politics, Hollywood, and why he’s going to Hell after he dies.

Q: The Ides of March is adapted from a play, Farragut North, by Beau Willimon. How did the project come to your attention?

GC: The play had come to Warner Bros, and [my writing partner ] Grant Heslov and I had been working on a morality tale more along the lines of Wall Street, and we thought there was a way to tie the two projects together. I liked the idea of the questions the play was raising.

Q: Did you get your actors – including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei – to bone up on political movies beforehand?

GC: I recommended documentaries like The War Room [about Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign] Journeys With George [following George W. Bush’s 2000 run], and Primary, which was about the race for the Democratic nomination between JFK and Hubert Humphrey in 1960. It’s amazing how little has changed since then.

Q: How much of the movie is coloured by your father’s experiences of running (unsuccessfully) for Congress in 2004?

GC: There were certainly elements of it. There’s at least one scene in the movie between my character and his wife [Jennifer Ehle] that comes almost directly from a conversation I had with my father about how there are hands you have to shake that you wouldn’t normally shake during an election. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.

Q: You have a habit of making topical movies that engage with social and political issues.

GC: I’m interested in making films that ask questions that don’t particularly provide answers. I grew up in that era – the 1960s and 70s – when there was a tremendous amount going on in my country. You had civil rights, the anti-war and women’s rights movement, and the drug counterculture, and they were reflected later in film. I think there are a lot of things going on in the world right now that are started to be reflected in film too.

Q: How closely do the themes of the film reflect the modern political world?

GC: We all know that scandal is not uncommon. This was written before the John Edwards and Anthony Wiener scandals in the US. We were just in France and someone there thought it was about Dominique Strauss-Kahn. I think people will position onto it whatever their government ailment is. But I think the themes and issues in the movie – namely power and hubris – are pretty timeless, and not necessarily restricted to government.

Q: There are no heroes and villains in this movie per se. Did you deliberately set out to blur those lines with the characters?

GC: The question that the film is trying to raise is: is it worth it? If it betters yourself and harms someone else, is it worth it? Sometimes the answer might be yes. If negative advertising, and saying rotten things, and bending the truth means the right guy gets into office, then it’s worth it I suppose, in terms of the consequences for people’s lives.

Q: Surely there isn’t much difference between succeeding in politics and succeeding in Hollywood? How Machiavellian is Tinseltown?

GC: Well, when I die I go to hell, I know that. Actors are not like that. The business can be that way. I’d argue that most actors are pretty kind to one another because you’re so lucky and privileged to get to the position of being in a film, and you understand that it’s not just your brilliance that got you there, but that you’re standing on the shoulders of a lot of happy accidents along the way. So I think I recognise a certain generosity amongst actors that I certainly don’t see in politics.

Q: Imagine a scenario where actors had to take out adverts on TV campaigning against one other for movie roles?

GC: There’d just be shots of me in the rubber Batman suit. “For your consideration. Ass!” Matt Damon would be the one taking that ad out.

Q: Would Hollywood be more forgiving of a personal scandal than the political realm?

GC: I think Hollywood is a little more forgiving because they don’t expect us to be saints along the way. It depends on whether you’re trying to make a living off your personality, or if you’re just an actor.

Q: Is this movie the closest you’ll get to ever running for public office?

GC: I have a very good life and a very comfortable existence. If I want to, I’m able to dip my toe into issues involved in politics, like the Sudan or Darfur, and I’m happy to do it. I don’t have to compromise like a politician would. It’s much nicer where I am.