At this point in his accomplished, eclectic career, George Clooney enjoys the luxury of taking his pick of film projects that inspire him. In 2011, those were two films: the political drama The Ides Of March, which Clooney co-starred in as well as directed and co-wrote; and The Descendants, co-written and directed by Oscar-winner Alexander Payne. The latter picked up five Oscar nominations, including a Best Actor nom for Clooney, his third in the category. Clooney will be busy on Oscar night, as he’s also up for Adapted Screenplay with his Ides co-writer Grant Heslov. Clooney talked with Deadline Awards Columnist Pete Hammond about his busy season.
AWARDSLINE: What made you most happy about The Descendants?
CLOONEY: I just wanted to work with Alexander first and foremost. I hadn’t read the script when we met in Toronto a little over two years ago. He said, “Do you want to do this movie?” And I said “Yep!” And then he sent me the script and I was just thrilled. It was sort of the same experience I had the first time I met with the Coen brothers and they said “Do you want to do a movie?” and then they sent me O Brother, Where Art Thou? and I was like how lucky I am!
AWARDSLINE: That is such a great character and so tricky to pull off, the tonal shifts and all.
CLOONEY: You know I always would argue that, in general, those kind of tonal shifts are a credit to the director and the writer, who happen to be the same guy. Because tone isn’t something necessarily actors can play. I can play what’s available to me in the scene and the director can adjust your levels, but he’s the one who is really affecting the tone. So my hat goes off to how good he is in handling comedy and drama.
AWARDSLINE: For you this year, as was the case with Syriana and Good Night, And Good Luck in 2005, you wind up having two movies that are players in awards season. Is that by design?
CLOONEY: You know I did Alexander’s film almost two years ago, now. So it is never by design. I just do the work. Ides was a film that we knew we wanted to come out before the primary season started because we just felt like once that happened everyone is just going to be so sick of politics, pretty quickly, and we’d like to be out first.
AWARDSLINE: Ides Of March has become more pertinent now than when you made it. It’s surprising how true it is all of a sudden.
CLOONEY: It’s actually kind of funny to see the film — I just recently watched part of it again, I hadn’t seen it in a few months — and how quickly things change. I suppose the truth of the matter is they are just universal themes that are all just constantly recycled.
AWARDSLINE: How did you put together the kind of cast you’ve got here? Is the play the thing here? The script?
CLOONEY: Look, you’re not going to get those guys unless they really like the script. It’s that simple. Everybody had a part that they thought they could dig their teeth into. You know, to get those guys together they have to want to do it, it’s not like they are going to get paid. Grant [Heslov, Clooney’s writing and producing partner] and I talked about it, that the craft service guys made more than most of us made on the film. (Laughter.) We’re not trying to get rich; we’re trying to make the movies we want to make.
AWARDSLINE: You are obviously in a position to do that at this point in your career.
CLOONEY: Well, I’ve made money before and if I need to pay for my house in Italy, I do a commercial overseas. And I am unapologetic about that because I’m flying to Australia tomorrow to do a speaking engagement, which will pay enough to keep a satellite over the Sudan and the money goes directly to that. So I feel like I have a way of generating a living and a way of doing what makes me most happy in terms of films and that’s the kind of films I’ve been able to make for the last 10 years really.
AWARDSLINE: Now let me ask you about the awards season. I just know you love going out every night doing Q&As and things.
CLOONEY: I haven’t had to do them for about a month now, it’s been really nice. (Laughter.) Although I really gotta say, I do enjoy the Q&As because I haven’t been doing [them for a while]. I just did Letterman, but I haven’t done a talk show in five or six years. And I haven’t done junkets and I haven’t done press because I am sort of like done. You know the questions that you get asked, in general, have very little to do with the film and I’ve done them and they have not helped the film. Burn After Reading did really well and I did nothing (to promote it); Leatherheads totally tanked and I did everything. So I get an understanding that it really doesn’t matter on a certain level. I enjoy doing the Q&As because that’s part of the world that I enjoy, the back and forth of actors. It’s a place that I actually have some fun and I’ve enjoyed that part considerably.
AWARDSLINE: You still love the whole process of filmmaking, don’t you?
CLOONEY: I love, love, love making movies. And more so in terms of the creative process of finding a project, getting it to a screenplay and getting a screenplay made. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to find a piece and work it and work it and work it and then, you know, write a piece that says, this takes place at a rally at a college and then all of a sudden there’s this giant flag built and you’re at Xavier University or Miami University and there’s all of these hundreds of background artists and kids and it’s being made. It’s such a creative thing. It’s just really exciting to be able to try to do stuff that you are proud of.