In 44 BC, on 15 March (a day called ‘the Ides of March’ in the Roman calendar, renowned for its bright full moon) Julius Caesar was ambushed and stabbed 23 times by his fellow politicians. The plot had involved more than 60 men, and was the reason behind the line ‘beware the Ides of March’ in Shakespeare’s play named after the late leader. It is also the inspiration for George Clooney’s latest film, which tackles those timeless chestnuts: politics and betrayal.
It tells the tale of a Democratic primary campaign: Clooney, 50, is our Caesar, the candidate running, and Ryan Gosling, 30, our silly young Brutus, a press secretary who becomes corrupted by the power that envelops him. Cue plenty of scandal, scheming and bad decision-making (particularly from the ego-driven character played by Gosling).
The film has enough acting chops to feed an army: George Clooney stars in, directs, produces (alongside Leonardo DiCaprio) and co-writes the film; golden-child Ryan Gosling leads the cast, and the supporting cast (including Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a role originally planned for Brad Pitt) is nothing short of stellar. In fact, in total the cast has 13 Academy Award nominations (three of these awards were bagged) and 23 Golden Globe Nominations (six of which were taken home).
In this interview we speak to George Clooney about filmmaking, power, politics and celebrity, all of which are so terrifically intertwined.
Can you tell me about George Clooney the film director?
Tell you what? I don’t want to blow anyone’s mind, but he’s pretty much the same guy as George Clooney the actor. I’m basically the same height, same hair, pretty much the same. I’m not quite sure what you want me to say about it except that I’m lucky to work with a great bunch of actors who elevate the project. That’s the secret to directing, working with really good people. How’s that for a political answer?
What do you expect from actors as a director, and how did you get such a terrific cast together?
Well, I had some pictures of a few of them in compromising positions. So, I got them to say yes. Actually, pictures of some of them together, but we’ll let you guys figure that out. Listen, they liked the script and they wanted the parts. I forgot the question, I’m so confused by the photos.
Tell us about Ryan Gosling: what made you want to cast him and what do you think of his performance?
I think he knocks it out of the park. Look, this is a difficult role. You’ve got to be the centre of a hurricane and carry everyone’s point of view on your shoulders and it’s a very difficult thing to do. It requires intelligence in an actor, which doesn’t always happen for some reason. Working with Ryan was just a delight.
We watched this film and decided never to vote again. What’s the point?
That’s what I tried to do.
It’s a rollicking piece of entertainment but it does have a cynical message: crush the idealist.
Well, I think you have to remember that films don’t lead the way. In general it takes about two years at the very least to get a film made. So, if this film reflects some of the cynicism that we’ve seen in recent times that’s probably good. It’s not a bad thing to hold a mirror up and look at some of the things we’re doing. But that wasn’t what the film was designed to do. I mean, honestly, the idea for us was that there isn’t a person that you’ve ever met that hasn’t been faced with certain moral questions. Every one of us has been faced with that idea of, like, ‘Well, if I take this job which is better, I might be screwing over my boss who I like.’ Everybody has made or makes moral choices that better themselves while hurting someone along the way.
There’s talk about the entertainment business being competitive. Have you ever been outmanoeuvred like some characters are in this film?
Which is harder, directing or dating in the spotlight?
Well, it’s funny. I knew someone would do it. I’m a little disappointed that it’s you. What’s your name?
The hardhitting interview by Paul. Listen, I think it’s tremendous that you asked the question. Go back and tell your editor that you asked the question. Good for you.
Did you model your character on any particular American politicians?
There are just so many ways to get in to trouble with that answer, do you know what I mean? No. People thought that it was about the John Edwards thing, but this was written long before the John Edwards thing broke. We didn’t really model it after anybody. There were enough examples that we could just pick up on little pieces as much as we wanted to.