FANTASTIC AT 50
If presidents were elected on charm alone, Lake Como’s most famous resident would be a shoo- in, writes Neala Johnson
GEORGE Clooney sees eguide coming. For the second time.
‘‘ Uh- oh. Round two? Oh, boy,’’ he shakes his head. Then he anticipates the question: ‘‘ I know! I’m 50.’’
No, that’s not what we were going to ask but it makes one thing clear: for a 50- yearold who makes movies about some very serious topics, Clooney ( pictured) sure spends a lot of time looking for punchlines.
On this particular day, he charms the socks off a bunch of journalists from around the world by largely ignoring their serious questions and instead making jokes about his alcohol intake.
Few can play the superstar game like this and get away with it – Clooney is pure velvet. If one wanted to segue into politics, one could say his mastery of the media and the masses is reminiscent of Bill Clinton.
It would then be a simple leap to this next question: Mr Clooney, would you ever consider running for president of the US?
‘‘ Oh, doesn’t that sound like fun? Doesn’t it look like fun, what President Obama gets to do every day? Gosh. I can’t think of anything more fun.’’
Clooney is, in case the tone didn’t translate, being sarcastic. ‘‘ Um, no. I have no interest at all. None. I never have. I like the idea of being able to press issues I think are important and I can do that from the outside and I can take sides. Unfortunately, in our election process, you have to make so many deals along the way it’s very hard to take one side you think is completely right.
‘‘ It’s not for me. I’d have to give up a much nicer house.’’
The closest we’ll get to seeing Clooney as the leader of the free world, then, is The Ides of March.
In his first film as director since the not- so- loved Leatherheads in 2008, Clooney stars as a state governor battling to win the Democratic nomination to run for the presidency.
When his talented young campaign manager ( Ryan Gosling) takes a meeting with a rival candidate’s campaign team, a morality thriller plays out.
Clooney may not want the top job in real life, but often, as he puts it, ‘‘ presses issues’’.
He spoke out against the war in Iraq back when it was terribly unfashionable and took a caning for it in the US media. He did not back down, having inherited his ideals from his news- anchor father Nick.
Clooney once said of he and his father, ‘‘ We’re both hopelessly liberal Democrats’’.
Why is taking a stand on social issues so important to him?
‘‘ I’ve had a lot of luck in my life and luck is only good if you spread it around.
‘‘ So you want to look out for other people along the way – it’s how I was raised.
‘‘ People are overly kind to me about going to the Sudan and things like that and the truth of the matter is, that’s what you’re supposed to do, you know, if you’ve been lucky enough to have success.’’
Clooney co- wrote the screenplay for The Ides of March, which is based on a play called Farragut North, with his long- time collaborator Grant Heslov.
Stay off Twitter in general if you’re running for something
They argue that the speeches Clooney makes in the film, covering issues such as extremism, fair distribution of wealth, and the US’S dependence on oil, are more ‘‘ soundtrack’’ than real commentary.
‘‘ I know it sounds silly, but it really isn’t a political film,’’ Clooney says. ‘‘ It deals inside the world of politics, but it’s really about this young man’s journey.’’
Still, their content seems heartfelt. Some were even based on the writings of Clooney’s father from ‘‘ 20- 30 years ago, that still seem pretty relevant’’.
Clooney and Heslov went into production on Ides in 2008, only to hit a major roadblock: the election of President Obama.
‘‘ Everyone was so hopeful that Grant and I realised we can’t make this movie right now because people are too happy. We needed them to be cynical. It took about a year, then I looked over at Grant and I said, ‘ I think we can make that movie now’.’’
The cynicism has certainly come back to US politics in a big way – from the budget crisis to Senator Anthony Weiner sending pictures of his private parts to young ladies via Twitter. No surprises what advice Clooney offers to aspiring politicians.
‘‘ Don’t sleep with the interns! Don’t take pictures of your parts and email them to anyone. Stay off Twitter in general if you’re running for something. But probably my favourite one would be don’t touch the interns. Always good advice.’’
Before Gosling started shooting The Ides of March, he told eguide he was worried he could ‘‘ fail them all’’ – meaning Clooney and his stellar cast of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei.
Clooney reckons his leading man showed no nerves and that he’s the one who gets ‘‘ star- struck’’.
‘‘ I’m intimidated by talent all the time. There’s a funny thing when you’re around people who are talented – you find yourself in a scene watching them. But I find that to be healthy. Anybody who’s over- confident is probably not paying attention.’’
So is there anything of which the cast should actually have been afraid with Clooney in charge? ‘‘ I’ll hit ’ em. You know, I don’t give a s---!’’ The Ides of March is Clooney’s fourth film as director. He is now leaning more towards this as his full- time job.
‘‘ I want to write and direct as I get older; you less and less want to see yourself on screen,’’ he says. ‘‘ I probably, in general, find it much more creative to do.’’
Yet his on- screen well has not run dry. Ides will be followed by The Descendants, about a father trying to reconnect with his daughters. Of the latter, he has said: ‘‘ If it’s not nominated for Best Picture, I’ll be shocked.’’
Later next year will come Gravity, a 3D sci- fi epic co- starring Sandra Bullock.
As for a full- blown withdrawal from the biz, Clooney reckons there are too many ‘‘ things to do in life’’ to just lock himself away in his Lake Como abode with the new girlfriend ( Stacy Keibler).
‘‘ If anybody has any understanding of the history of what I do for a living, it doesn’t last all that long. So when they give you the keys to the toy box, you want to use it as much as you possibly can until they take them away . . . and they will eventually.
‘‘ I’ll just keep making the films I want to make until people go, ‘ Enough!’, and then I’ll sell my house and hide out somewhere.’’
So if Clooney isn’t up for it, are there any other actors who could fill the job of president? ‘‘ I would always vote for Johnny Depp. You know, we could use a president that could swashbuckle.’’
DIRECTED and co- written by George Clooney, The Ides of March is a flip- sided companion piece to Good Night, and Good Luck, the star actor’s award- winning drama from 2005.
Set in the commie- spooked 1950s, Good Night, and Good Luck was a work of indignation. It railed against the corrupt and misguided who had found a happy home in US politics.
Don’t let them win, the film seemed to say. The game isn’t over as long as someone, somewhere is prepared to get angry.
Set in the present day, The Ides of March is a work of resignation. The corrupt and misguided have settled on Washington as their permanent address.
So there can be no mistaking what The Ides of March has to say. They’ve won. The game is up. What’s the use of getting angry? Get with the program.
The film’s jaundiced take on modern politics does not mean we are in for a lethargically cynical drama here.
No, The Ides of March is a sharp, edgily intelligent affair, a gilt- edged guessing game that knows how to keep the mind involved and inquiring throughout.
Clooney plays Mike Morris, a state governor nearing the end of a campaign which could see him become the next Democrat candidate for president.
Morris is slick, sly and a southerner. The camera loves him. So does the general public. In other words, he’s another Bill Clinton.
Again, like Clinton, Gov Morris is the frontman for a backroom operation that does all the dirty work a clean- skin candidate cannot be associated with.
The rising star – and the most ruthless foot soldier – in the Morris army is Stephen Meyers ( Ryan Gosling), a media strategist with all the answers. And most of the questions in advance as well.
Together with campaign chief- of- staff Paul Zara ( Philip Seymour Hoffman), Myers will do anything to bump his man up the queue to the White House.
However, as good as Meyers is at his job, he may be in it for the wrong reasons. He still has a conscience, but Zara ditched his many years ago. So did his longtime rival, Tom Duffy ( Paul Giamatti). Don’t even bother asking if Morris has his conscience on standby.
You can probably see where The Ides of March will be going from here.
However, you may not be able to confidently pick the twisty, turny, route Clooney the filmmaker has in store.
This is a fine example of topical, intelligent and compelling mainstream cinema. Better still, it is entertaining at all times, too.
And really, with the exemplary cast Clooney has brought in for back- up, how could it not be? The smudged snapshot of politicking presented here stings to look at, but sticks to the truth.