'The Descendants': George Clooney Talks Hit Film At Toronto Film Festival Press Conference
On Friday, George Clooney swept up Toronto with "The Ides of March," the political drama that he co-produced, co-wrote, directed and starred in. A day later, Clooney still has hold of the attention of the masses assembled for the Toronto International Film Festival, but it's another film to which the focus has now shifted.
Early Saturday morning, a packed house of journalists and film industry workers waited in line for nearly an hour, all eagerly anticipating the first screening of his other buzzy film, the much quieter family drama, "The Descendants." Written and directed by Alexander Payne -- his first film since 2003's "Sideways" -- Clooney stars as a beleaguered husband, father and lawyer trying to cope with the fallout of a critical head injury suffered by his wife, the deceit it subsequently reveals, and the pressure of handling both his daughters and extended family.
Clooney has been receiving major raves for the role, and it's actually being touted as his best chance at an Oscar this year. Shailene Woodley, of ABC Family's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," stars in a breakout turn as Clooney's older daughter Alex, while supporting roles are filled by Rob Huebel, Judy Greer and Matthew Lillard.
The cast is set to participate in a press conference this afternoon, and we'll bring you the details, with quotes as accurate as fast and furious typing during a live event can provide.
Clooney is now talking about awards -- it's nice, but more of a note in his bio -- and wanting to do memorable projects, projects that last more than an opening weekend.
And he ends it with a quote about colostomy bags.
How did the cast bond?
Alexander Payne: I think they arrived in Honolulu about ten days before shooting. And yes we did rehearsals, but fairly casual ones where we just read the script, but not very long per day. I think it's very important in those circumstances, not formally for the director, but for them to get to know each other and that shows up. They're all interested in finding things in common and that shows up on screen.
George Clooney: I think the most important rehearsal you can do is just spend time together, and I think [Payne] makes a great environment for that.
Reflect on your career, from TV to movies
George Clooney: I was on some pretty crappy TV shows -- and I was pretty crappy on the shows so I can't just call the shows crappy -- but you always think of yourself as a film actor, you think now I'm on this crappy TV show but I'll have this great film career soon that I wasn't actually having. You're at first just trying to get a job... and then it's just getting lucky. With ER, that was just luck. We were supposed to be on Friday nights, we wouldn't have gotten a third of the viewers we would have gotten on Thursday night. We got 35 million a week... Immediately I went from obscure to being able to get roles... That wasn't me, that was luck. I was still the same actor... I got a good couple of lessons with some not great films, and then I realized if I'm going to be held responsible, I have to care about the whole film.
On choosing acting vs. directing
George Clooney: My career path for the last 10 years or so is to direct. Directing takes a long time to get done. My day job is acting, That's how I make my living, and directing is something I want to do... so in between [directing jobs], if I get to work with good directors, there we go.
How did you learn to direct?
George Clooney: Before I did my first film I read Sidney Lumet's book on directing, which was helpful. He teaches you tricks... setting up a first shot, even if you're not going to use it... It doesn't hurt to watch some of his films, I think 'Network' is a masterpiece, I think he had as good a decade as anyone.
Alexander Payne: Clint Eastwood, at least whose footsteps you're at least indirectly following, could point to Sergio Leone as someone he studied, I imagine you had that relationship with Soderbergh. Did he have much influence?
George Clooney: Stephen and I, after we did 'Out of Sight,' we put this company together, and his idea was he wanted to infuse back into the studio system, the independent vibe of the 60s, he wanted to reinvest that back in the studio system. I liked the idea of non-linear films, I liked the idea of not having tell the story from the beginning to the end, that less is more, you can trust the audience to catch on.
Reporter says he was crying at the end of the film. What's your reaction to me crying?
Alexander Payne: [He's speechless] I enjoy movies where I am made to feel something. And if that happened with you, I'm very happy with that. Thanks for telling me.
Now we're in the portion of the press conference when the young actors are glowing about working with Clooney and Payne. Smart career move!
What do you think of George Clooney the actor vs George Clooney the director?
George Clooney: George Clooney likes to talk about himself in the third person, mostly. Listen, I don't like to think in those terms, that you have to completely separate yourself, one from the other. This is one of those films where it's such a good part, it's such a good director, whatever he says, you do. It makes it easy as an actor, I didn't have to think as a director at all.
How did the project come about?
Alexander Payne: I have a very small production company under Fox Searchlight and the novel reached us about four years ago in galley. We optioned it and I at the time was not going to make it, I was busy writing something else. Anyway, two years went by and I finally decided to do it -- this was July of '09. I sat down with the book and started adapting. I flew to Toronto two years ago and told George a script was coming his way and he'd have it by November and I'd like to start shooting in March, and it happened that way.
Which character was more challenging, 'Ides of March' or 'The Descendants'?
George Clooney: This was obviously a lot more challenging to do as an actor, because when you're directing yourself, you're only doing, I'm doing a part that I know exactly what I need done in it, and I'm filling a gap I need in the film, I'm playing the candidate, I know how he had to be and I could fill it. This one is a very uncomfortable zone with a lot of uncomfortable people. Obviously this was a much more difficult part but I also had a much better director, so I was very lucky in those terms.
What did you draw upon playing a father?
George Clooney: I've played a father before, a few times. i dont think you have to shoot heroin to play a heroin addict. I really dont see, you dont have to have those -- most people aren't, I'm not runing for president but I can play a candidate. Most of the time you don't have to have those things in your life to understand what it was like. And I had these girls with me and it was like having children except you get to give them away at the end of the day, which was nice.
What drew you to the role?
George Clooney: It all starts with Alexander. I met him here. I had a meeting with him and wanted to work with him and I was very close to getting 'Sideways' but he gave it to someone else. Before I read the script, I took the project because I wanted to work with him and then I read the script and said, wow I want to do this part, and a really good script in the hands of a really good director, it's an easy yes.
Why did George work as the star for this film?
Alexander Payne: He's the right age, the right look, the right height, and I also had, even though we did not work together on 'Sideways,' he;s really one of the few contemporary stars that I wanted to work with. I expected that we'd hit it off and I had heard what a joy it was to work with him because of all the positive energy he brought with him, and it's true. But it just worked out that he was completely right for the choice.
What's it like to do emotional scenes with George Clooney?
Amara Miller: For the emotional scenes, it wasn't really -- it wasn't really hard for me to pull out emotions like that. In the scene, especially where I find out where my mom was going to die, it wasn't that hard to pull out tears because I have had a family member pass away and I just had to think of that moment, and it didn't really think of it as hard.
Payne points out that Amara had never been in any production before.
Shailene Woodley: When you have George and Alexander and they're giving a comfortable environment, when you have a script as brilliantly written as this one by Alexander, and you're really listen to what George is saying, the emotion comes up naturally. When George looks you in the eye and says your mom is passing away, as a human, for me at least, a natural reaction is you're going to cry.
Is it hard competing with yourself, having two films in the same season, for box office and awards?
George Clooney: I find that it's a very odd thing to think of competition when talking about what I still think of as art. I never think of competing with actors or filmmakers. You still compete at the box office, we're far enough apart that I'm not concerned with that either. We want films to be liked... at the end of the day I don't really think about competition, I don't really think about it, I don't want to think of it as a race with anyone, I don't want to race Alexander, that would be a drag.
How did you get into the role of playing Matt King?
George Clooney: Alexander helps a lot. There's a funny thing that happens; you can make a really bad movie out of a good script, but you can't make a good movie out of a bad script. It starts with the screenplay. It was a really well written screenplay... when you see the film, the thing that is Alexander's specialty is the ability to switch on a dime between funny and sad. It's hard to do, and it's hard as an actor to do.
George Clooney owns this place. He just had all the photographers take photos of his and his co-star's backs. Just because.