There’s an hour to go before the pilot episode of Catch-22 unspools to Emmy voters at the Television Academy in the San Fernando Valley, and George Clooney is feeling pretty confident. He and his Smokehouse partner Grant Heslov have completed work on their six-part miniseries based on Joseph Heller’s classic World War II novel, and it is days away from its launch on Hulu.
Both men directed two episodes each and play small but pivotal roles in a drama that has top-flight writers—Lion’s Luke Davies and War Machine’s David Michôd—plus a stellar cast of vets—including Hugh Laurie and Kyle Chandler—who surround a strong crop of young actors headed by Christopher Abbott. Abbott stars as Yossarian, the pilot who decides his survival is most important, amid rule changes that escalate the number of dangerous missions that he and his fellow soldiers must fly before being sent home.
Clooney has a right to feel especially confident today, 24 hours after he learned that the Sultan of Brunei had rescinded the death sentence he’d threatened to impose on LGBTQ citizens of his country, which would have permitted fatal stoning for those convicted of homosexual acts. This came after Clooney wrote two columns on Deadline to get the word out about a boycott of the Sultan’s five-star hotels around the world, most notably the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. When he thanks me for giving him the space for his cause, I tell him it’s like congratulating a spotter when someone has set a bench press record: it’s all you, George.
George, standing up publicly to the Sultan of Brunei and watching him blink shows you pick smart fights. But as I read your interviews, and see how journalists focus less on your series and more on your politics, I wonder: how much do you worry about polarizing a potential audience?
George Clooney: I feel like every person has to make their own decision. I grew up during the Civil Rights movement and the Women’s Rights movement in the ’60s, as well as the Vietnam War protest movements. If you weren’t actively participating in some form of questioning your government, questioning society—if you weren’t part of that—you weren’t really living. You weren’t in the room. Now, most people in our industry feel like it’s probably not for them, and they shouldn’t do it. Me, I pick fights. I like to pick fights.
They’ve been worthy battles and it is not hard to admire someone who doesn’t suffer bullies, but there must be a price.
Clooney: Yeah. My dad always told me to pick good fights. You know, films do this really well sometimes, but they can’t lead the charge. People always say, “Well, are you going to write something about Trump?” I say, “Not yet—we don’t know how this ends.” All the President’s Men came out two years after Watergate, but they stamped a moment in time so we can look back and say: “That’s where we stood, and that’s what we believed in.”
And that’s what Grant and I wanted to do in our careers over the years. To have stuff where you go, “Oh, that’s what they were thinking, and that’s what they were looking at.” There certainly are people that would never go see anything that I’m in. That’s OK, I still make a good living, you know?
I remember, there were only a few of us in the beginning of the [Second] Gulf War. Only a few. I was against that war, and it was quiet out there. I had big-time directors whispering to me, saying, “I agree with you.” People were doing protests, picketing my movies and stuff. I called my dad and I said, “So am I in trouble here?” I said some stuff about how we shouldn’t go to war, and my dad’s like, “You got money?” I go, “Yeah, I got money.” He goes, “Then just shut the f*ck up. You’re a grown man, you make decisions. You can’t demand your right to speak freely and then say, ‘But don’t say bad things about me.’”
Grant, as George’s partner, when you’re sitting there and the questions about Trump or something else off-topic floats by on a hook, do you ever think, ‘George, don’t swallow the bait?’
Grant Heslov: No. I don’t think you give up your right to be a citizen if you become a movie star. It makes me proud.
Clooney: Also, we don’t swallow all the bait. You should see how much bait we let float past. Every day, there’s bait.
Heslov: We get a lot of chum in the water.
And sometimes you get the Sultan of Brunei to back off stoning people to death for being gay.
Clooney: Honestly, it just doesn’t happen like that often. I just did Ellen DeGeneres’s show. She also stood up on this issue, and she said, “God, this is great.” I said, “We’re not taking a victory lap.” First of all, the law is still on the books.
More important is what you do with that awareness. I have a foundation called The Sentry, and we chase warlords. The way it started is, we used to try to shame them, catch them doing bad things. You can’t shame them. You realize that, after you get them on the front page of The New York Times and nobody does anything. So then what we did is, we hired all these forensic accountants and we started chasing their finances. You find out, OK, they’ve got $400 million in a western bank. So then I go to the western banker and say, “You’re laundering money for a warlord.” And they go, “I didn’t know, because it’s a shell company.” They obviously didn’t look so hard, but OK. So I say, “Well, now you know. And I’m going to hold a press conference in a week, and either you’re going to say, no more credit, that you’re out of business with them, or I’m going to say you’re complicit.” It’s amazing how quickly that changes things.
And that’s what happened in Brunei. It changes when all the banks, when Citicorp and Goldman Sachs and all these guys say, “We’re out of the Brunei business.” That is how you screw with them. You can’t make the bad guys do the right thing, but you can make the good guys do the right thing.
Exactly how much of that tactical maneuvering would the character you play in Catch-22— the marching-in-formation-obsessed commander Scheisskopf—have been capable of figuring out?
Clooney: Oh, none of it. I play maybe the dumbest military leader you’ve ever met, but I’ll make a good parade.
There was so much ground to cover over six episodes of Catch-22. With all those extra hours, what was different from the original movie version that Mike Nichols directed in 1970?
Clooney: That was really broad.
It certainly felt more satirical in tone than your miniseries.
Clooney: It’s interesting because [Alan] Arkin wasn’t playing Yossarian that way, and [Charles] Grodin probably wasn’t, but certainly Orson Welles and some of the other characters were; Jon Voight and Martin Sheen. You look back at it and it’s of a time. When Mike used to talk about it he’d say it felt like some guys were acting in different films than other guys. That’s tricky. What was his quote? That making that movie was like being pregnant with a stillborn baby? I read the book when I was 17, and that’s a mouthful to try to do in a two-hour movie. And he shot it all during golden hours, didn’t he?
Heslov: A lot of it, yeah.
What do you mean by golden hours?
Heslov: Magic hour. Dusk. It’s an hour and a half, when the light is most beautiful. The light is low.
Clooney: So if you think about your days, if you’re just shooting an hour and a half… They shot for a long time. That was the old days, when you had a little bit of cash.
Heslov: When Chris [Abbott] is up in a tree, naked, in the last episode? That was shot in magic hour.
What did the book mean to you, Grant?
Heslov: This was a seminal book for me. I read it first in my tenth grade English class, Mrs. Glashinko. That same year, I read The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men…
Clooney: And To Kill a Mockingbird? Yeah.
Heslov: It was a big year. And I was, coincidentally, a huge Marx Brothers fan—they were my favorites. And this, even though it’s very different, spoke to me that way, because there’s a lot of that kind of humor in this movie.
Clooney: The repetitiveness.
Heslov: The repetitiveness and the insanity on both sides.
Both of you have rapid-fire, absurdist monologues that certainly remind of the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, or Abbott and Costello, with all the irrational logic. Grant, your Doc Daneeka gets the privilege of explaining what Catch-22 actually means.
Clooney: Grant got applause at a screening last night, at the end of his Catch-22 speech.
Aside from acting, you each directed two episodes and you were executive producers. How hard is it to deliver that rapid-fire dialogue, with everyone waiting to see you screw up?
Heslov: I’ll tell you. It’s a lot harder than it used to be.
Why is that?
Clooney: It’s harder to remember things now. It’s the weirdest thing. Acting and memorization is also a muscle. When I did ER we were doing 10 pages of doctor dialogue. You show up and go, “Yeah, CBC across four units, supraventricular tachyarrhythmia…” Boom! Done. I wouldn’t have to study at night, I’d come in and do it.
Heslov: That one was particularly hard because the dialogue doesn’t really make sense, so you really have to memorize it and find some emotional connection to it.
Clooney: And he’s directing himself!
Heslov: That was the other hard part. Normally, if I was in a scene, or if George is in a scene, and we’re directing ourselves, the other one’s there. Particularly in a scene like that, you don’t have to quite worry so much about the directing. But George got sun-poisoning that day.
Clooney: Yeah. I got really sick. Heatstroke. We were shooting outside, I got heatstroke, and suddenly I had like a 104-degree fever—it’s hot out and I’m freezing.
Heslov: I’d had it the week before. And it just compounded a scene that I was already very anxious about. It was really the only scene I was anxious about because it’s, you know, it’s…
Clooney: It’s an important scene…
Heslov: It has the title in it.
Clooney: It’s great.
Heslov: It worked out well.
How many takes before you felt that way? First one?
Heslov: No. I nailed it…
Clooney: In 30 takes?
Heslov: I probably did more takes on that than I did on anything else.
Clooney: It’s actually the most embarrassing thing when you’re directing yourself, and you do more takes on yourself.
Heslov: But only because I kept f*cking the lines up. Oh, I f*cked the lines up terribly. What compounds it is, not only are you trying to remember lines, you’re also directing as you’re acting. And you see the camera’s in the wrong place and you’re like, ‘Aargh,’ or whatever.
Clooney: Or you’re watching the camera move while you’re saying a line, and you’re thinking, ‘This is too soon,’ and it throws your head off a little.
George, when your character delivers the rapid fire lines, combined with the gauntness, it reminds me a little of Lee Ermey and his snappy boot camp insults in Full Metal Jacket.
Clooney: We thought about that when we were doing it. But you know, that scene is twice as long as when you see it on screen, so it’s a really long monologue. It’s six or seven pages.
Heslov: The scene in the hangar was a long scene. We cut some of it because it was too long. We knew it.
Clooney: The studio note on the script was, “Cut it down,” and we were like, “We are going to cut it down, but we just don’t know what will work and what won’t, so let us shoot the whole thing. It doesn’t cost you any more money.”
But you have to deliver. You alluded to how much harder it is than when you were younger. How many takes?
Clooney: Well, not that many. I was ready because I didn’t have to direct anything. I had long monologues and not much else to do. I had to be really tight on those, so I worked really hard on them because I was… You know, you get in a place where you start to panic about things like, Do I know my lines? Also, particularly if you’re directing at the same time, if you screw up, you look like a dick. You don’t want to do that.
Heslov: He was great, and that scene was particularly tough because there’s a lot of snappy dialogue. You can’t think, you just do it.
You each have your onscreen moments, but this is about the young actors who fly the planes and get killed all around Yossarian as he watches his mission quota rise and tries to do anything he can to get out of flying more missions. This was quite a coming-out party for Christopher Abbott in that role. You watch, and immediately think, This guy is going to be a star.
Heslov: That’s how we felt when he walked in and auditioned for us.
Clooney: We do taped auditions for some people. He came in and did, what, five or six lines? We were like, “That’s our guy.” I mean, you could just tell. At the premiere, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle were both there, which was nice of them to show up, and I walked over and asked, “What do you think?” And the first thing Matt said is, “That f*cking guy’s a star.”
Grant and I spend a lot of time looking for young, proper leading men that can carry a movie in a grownup, adult way. It’s harder than you think because they can do comedy and drama, that kind of thing.
Why is it harder than when you first came up in the industry, George?
Clooney: Everybody likes to look back at certain periods of time. There was a long period of time in Hollywood where there was Paul Newman, or Gregory Peck, or Robert Redford, or Warren Beatty, or Steve McQueen… I can go down the list. And then there were the character leading men, like Gene Hackman and Al Pacino. It’s hard to find those guys right now. And when Chris walked in we thought, Well, our problems are solved.
What qualities did he have that made you feel that way?
Heslov: His tone.
Clooney: And, you root for him.
Heslov: Yeah, he could do sh*tty things, and you’d still like him.
Clooney: Sam Rockwell was like that when we did Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. If you get an actor who can do that Jack Nicholson version of acting, where you can do really crappy things and people still want you to succeed in the story? I’m not sure that that’s a skill as an actor, it’s just a quality. You can’t quite learn that. You just have it. And Chris had it from the minute he walked in. There was a paranoia to his character that could really become grating if there wasn’t a charm to him, and when we were watching him we felt like, OK, we can put a lot on his shoulders and let him run.
Things have changed. When you did all those series and finally hit on ER, it was a stepping stone to movie stardom. But unless you covet the superhero or Star Wars films, movies are lagging behind TV now, to the point where it seems the smart move is to use momentum to get on a limited series.
Clooney: Limited series, yes.
Heslov: Look, if Chris was just doing theatre, he would be happy. He just loves to act. But I think that what you’re saying is interesting because you can do these series now that are only, like, 10 episodes a season, and then go do movies. It’s different than when George was doing ER—not only were they doing 26 episodes, they also ground you down to nothing because they would shoot these crazy hours, and he was still doing both.
Clooney: I was doing both the series and movies, seven days a week for five years.
Heslov: But now, you can do these and you can kind of have the best of both worlds.
Is that the advice you would give a rising star, George?
Clooney: You know, when we did Good Night, and Good Luck, it was this black and white period piece for $6.5 million at Warner Bros. Well, Warner Bros. isn’t going to make that any more, but Netflix will make Roma. I think the advice you’d have to give him is, “Don’t worry about the medium that you’re working in, worry about the story.” Because there’s really good stuff happening in the streaming services that is great for actors.
It doesn’t mean that movies are dead. It just means that you have to be able to not concern yourself with how it’s going to be seen. Just be concerned with the story. I think Chris gets that; it’s sort of his process.
It’s similar to something Kevin Costner said in explaining why he’s starring in the series Yellowstone. He would love to be making the movies he did early in his career, but feels people might not come out to see them, and there’s something to be said for telling a story in 10-hour bursts. It does make one lament the future of theatrical films, though.
Clooney: Yeah. But in one sense theatrical is doing better than ever when you see Avengers making $2 billion.
Heslov: In two weeks.
Clooney: In two weeks! So there is life. We’re hoping to do that with our next movie.
You’d better put the Batman suit back on, then.
Clooney: Yeah, you don’t want to see me in that.
Heslov: No, he said we want to make $2 billion.
Clooney: Yeah, not $200.
I mean, some forms of this have created change, but I see a great world where both can exist, and I think that where you get into trouble is when you start trying to say, “Well, this is television, and that’s film.” I think the streaming services have made it good for us, because we get to tell stories.
I can still recall visiting you in your office, where there was a picture on the wall of you in the Batman mask. Is that still there?
Clooney: I was just in there looking at it today, actually. It’s right behind my desk.
Is it still a reminder to not take a role for the wrong reason? Back then, the thought was that it would make you a global superstar…
Clooney: Yeah. I’m a big believer that the lessons you learn are not from successes. When you’re successful, you’re brilliant and everybody’s happy and they all love you. It’s when you fail… [You have to] understand that it is your fault, by your decisions or by your performance. There are tons of reasons why things fail, including timing and things like that. But you learn from failure.
It’s good to have Batman sitting up there. We look at that and laugh a lot—it’s good to have as a proper reminder. After Batman & Robin I really realized that you can make a bad film out of a good script, but you can’t make a good film out of a bad script. It’s that simple. And for me, the next three films were O Brother, Where Art Thou, Three Kings, and Out of Sight. Great films because they were good scripts.
I got killed for Batman & Robin. The next film I did was Out of Sight. I didn’t learn how to act along the way. I was just supported by a much better script. Over my career, I came to feel it comes down to screenplay; if you’re going to spend a lot of time on something, if you’re going to direct or produce it, that’s going to be a year and a half out of your life, every day.
Heslov: Absolutely. You know it’s very rare that you read a script that you feel like this one [for Catch-22] from Luke Davies and David Michod, that was so ready to go, and where you just say, “Let’s do this.” It’s only happened to us a couple of times. We just read them, we loved them and we loved the story. We loved the idea of taking this journey with this coward.
And just back to that question that you asked earlier about Yossarian: for me, Yossarian is me. When I watch this as a viewer, he’s me. It’s like he’s the id, but it’s outside, because we’re all full of fear. We all have that feeling that we’re cowards, but he acts on it, he really talks about it. I was attracted to that.
What was most important to preserve from Joseph Heller’s book?
Heslov: The most important thing to me was tone. But the idea for this really was to turn it more into a much more linear story. Do you remember the book at all?
I haven’t read it since college.
Clooney: It bounces all over the place, and that’s what the movie tried to do in 1970—just bounce around.
Heslov: So the idea really was to tell Yossarian’s story, and from the big picture, it’s like, you kill somebody off every episode, and each episode takes a little bit more of him.
Clooney: Yeah, we’re just trying to take a little piece of his sanity away every hour. I think that was an important thing to keep. I haven’t read the book in 40 years.
You know, it’s a funny thing with reference material. I remember the story pretty well, but I like to read a script, and do that script, and not be too slavish to the book. Because times change. This is a book that was written by a guy who was a bombardier in 1944 in World War II. Then there was the Korean conflict, and then Vietnam. So things change. People thought it was a protest book on Vietnam, which it was, but military guys didn’t hate it either, because they liked making fun of the bureaucracy of war and how sh*t rolls downhill. And so I looked at it as, “Let’s serve these six pieces in the best way we possibly can.”
The book didn’t hold women in high regard.
Clooney: No. I didn’t read the book again before we started this, but I thought the female characters were great in the script. We cast my cousin, Tessa Ferrer, as the most moral character in the whole show.
She plays Nurse Duckett, to whom Yossarian confesses his fears and tries to get her to keep him out of the skies. In the book, she was his lover.
Clooney: I didn’t recall that, and then a couple weeks ago Luke [Davies] started talking about how the women were treated terribly in the book. I had forgotten or probably didn’t pay attention when I was 17 years old, but we certainly don’t do it in the show.
Most World War II films are about selflessness and sacrifice in the last Great War. There is a timeliness to this story that shows someone whose priority is survival, which is a basic human instinct.
Clooney: Grant and I looked at this first because we thought they were really well written scripts. Secondly, we are in an absurdist moment in our history; not just American history, but world history. You look around the world and you see what’s happening in Brazil’s new elections and the Philippines, in Venezuela and places like Hungary, which we thought was moving in the right direction. There’s lots of insanity going on. Italy’s doing some pretty crazy stuff. And we think, Well, so the absurdist thing is in some ways reflective of that, but it’s also important to have these conversations about how idiotic war is in general.
Heslov: We have always talked about it’s never a bad time to discuss the absurdity of war.
Clooney: I was asked a question the other day—aren’t there righteous wars? Of course there are righteous wars. World War II was a righteous war, but it came about because of someone behaving absurdly. Well, several people: the Italians and the Japanese and the Germans. So it’s still about the absurdity of mostly old men making decisions that young men have to pay for with their lives.
Part of what we thought was really interesting to us was that we wanted you to look at them and see how young and happy and sort of beautiful they are—and how they’re going to lose their lives. How unfathomable that is, no matter any way you look at it. Even if you’re a huge pro war, pro-military hawk, and you believe those are all the things that have to happen, it’s still absurd.
There are some horrific moments of carnage.
Heslov: That was the big challenge. Balancing that.
One moment you’re laughing and the next you’re floored by what has happened to a character, a young soldier you cared for. Does much rewriting go into establishing that balance?
Heslov: We didn’t rewrite much; mostly we talked about the idea that everything had to be played for real and serious—that was the only way that we thought we could really pull that off. We could never be winking during the funny stuff because, if you did, then you could never make that transition. Chris has the hardest transition probably in Episode 6, where there’s this horrific scene where a guy dies in his arms and, literally, he turns to madness. And then, just a few minutes later, the audience is in hysterics laughing. That was a tricky turn.
Clooney: That was a big turn also because we start with the balls blown off stuff.
Which is where the two of you get an unusual screen moment with Yossarian’s two testicles.
Heslov: Yeah, it’s a funny episode.
Clooney: A really funny episode. A big emotional rollercoaster. There is a heightened reality, because you can’t underplay it. If you do, it’ll look like you’re apologizing and it will look like you’re saying, “Well, we’re not really making a satire.” So you have to go for it, but it has to be based and grounded in some sort of reality.
[To Heslov] I think probably the secret that you and I have had over the years in things that we’ve done is casting. When we wrote Good Night, and Good Luck, we wrote it for me to play Murrow. And, as an actor, I wanted to play the part. But as a director it’s like people don’t feel sadness when they think of me. We needed somebody who had some of that, and David Strathairn fit that. You put the right people in the right roles and let them go. We found this kid Daniel David Stewart out of nowhere. He plays Milo Minderbinder, and he’s sort of perfect for it.
The baby-faced entrepreneur who is trading contraband with every country involved in the war, on either side.
Clooney: He’ll be a killer, later in life.
Was he a symbol for the capitalism that is at the root of all wars?
Heslov: That’s what he represents, because the dollar is more important than anything else to him. That one is a little closer probably to home, at least in the world we’re living in today.
Clooney: Certainly, if you look at how, for instance, we went into Iraq unwisely. Some of us believed, and during our occupation—which is what that was —we didn’t use the local cement guy, we brought in Halliburton, which charges ten times the going rate. That also builds a deep distrust and anger at us, because we’re not using their people. That’s very similar to Milo Minderbinder, when you think about it.
What did Yossarian represent?
Clooney: He’s obviously a sort of antihero and there’s an interesting thing with the idea of war in general. There’s a reason why 18-year-old kids get sent to war. It’s because they won’t question authority by design. It’s harder to tell a 35-year-old guy to do that. Because they’re going to say, “Whoever wins this next battle, in 10 years’ time a McDonald’s is going to be here.” Yossarian is that guy at a younger age who feels like, “Is everyone losing their minds and I’m sane?” Now, the beauty of it is you take that character and you put him into what everyone would argue is a just war, and that complicates it and makes it much more fascinating. I just love him because his version of survival is anyone who wants to kill him is the enemy.
It’s also interesting that his actions get a lot of people killed.
Clooney: Yes. Always by accident.
I’d had it pinned in my brain from the book that Yossarian was the smartest guy around, but here he isn’t, he just knows what he wants, which is to make it out alive.
Clooney: So he was dumber in this one, you think?
I guess he had less foresight in what would happen when he made moves like changing on a map where the German occupation line was, and leaving a commander walking into the hands of Nazis he thought were gone.
Heslov: But, even in the book, that’s what he does. And, yeah, these things get people killed. That made an interesting opportunity. Over a six-hour character arc, he completely changes and becomes a guy who cares about these kids.
Clooney: In a way, he actually was getting to the place where he wanted to help, to do something right, and it’s like the Grinch’s heart growing three times larger. You need to take this journey with him, and that’s why we liked the idea of six episodes. If you stopped it after two you’d go, “Well, this guy’s a jerk.” I’m bothered by films that I see where the filmmaker’s trying to tell you constantly from the very beginning that everything’s going to be OK, that everything’s going to work out, and these are really good people. You want to take that journey and be surprised.
The power of this storytelling medium—the limited series with movie stars—really hit me when Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson did that first season of True Detective. I recall McConaughey talking about how most of that first episode would have been cut if it was a movie, and how he had to pace himself to reveal a character over a season-long arc. Imagine how that would have been diminished in a movie.
Clooney: You have Francis Coppola, with all his success, recutting his films. Steven Soderbergh just took the existing film and recut Heaven’s Gate, just for himself and his friends on a movie that actually could have used a little editing. I said to Grant, “Could we have cut Catch-22 down to a two-hour-and-30 minute film and still retain the idea that you care about the characters?” The movie killed all the same people we kill, but you don’t know them at all. So when they die, it just feels like a joke. It’s set up as…
Heslov: A gag.
Clooney: It comes off like a gag. We couldn’t cut this down, there was no way to do it.
Heslov: Doing it the way we did gave the chance to explore things a little bit more and care about those characters before you had to kill them.
George, you originally were set to play Colonel Cathcart, the career-ambitious leader who kept raising the mission quota on those young pilots with the idea he was going to win the war, or at least get promoted for trying, no matter how many pilots died in the process. You went instead with Kyle Chandler, and it’s interesting both of you at one time would have made an ideal Yossarian.
Clooney: For me it was just bandwidth. At that point, I was directing four episodes, and as exec producers, Grant and I are there for every single shot. It’s different than films where the director is the king. This is one where we had to be there, and this was before Ellen Kuras came on to direct two episodes. Grant and I thought this was way too big a part to try to do while directing and producing. And then the first person we thought of was Kyle Chandler. Part of it was because he is sort of the Gipper, you know?
He will forever be Coach T from Friday Night Lights.
Clooney: Yeah, but as honorable a guy as he is in real life, we just wanted to take him and make him a blowhard. He did something with the part that I wouldn’t have thought of—he made him a buffoon, in a way. He made him big, but still he somehow connected. [To Heslov] Tell him about his first scene. You were directing.
Heslov: Yeah, the first scene that we shot with him was the one where he shoots the gun [to get the attention of the fliers]. When you meet him, it felt similar to the first time we saw David Strathairn [play Edward R. Murrow].
Clooney: Yeah, the first line.
Heslov: You see it and just turn to each other and know that you can relax because you know that that part is going to sail. Every once in a while you cast somebody and it’s not the right fit. And then it’s pushing a rock up a hill.
Clooney: Yeah, it’s hard.
Julia Roberts is doing her second series, Reese Witherspoon, Kevin Costner, Meryl Streep… Suddenly it feels like every movie star is doing a series. Would you star in a series, all these years later?
Clooney: Absolutely. Absolutely. Again, in a way I think that’s probably how it’s going to have to work because studios aren’t making the films. Michael Clayton we made for $17 million, and studios aren’t going to make that. Part of it is the mentality that says, “If I’m going to spend $50 million on a print and ad campaign, I can’t spend $17 million to make the film.”
Up in the Air and The Descendants, those movies are very seldom being made at studio level anymore because they don’t fit the mold. Fair enough, because they’re making big great films and making a lot of money, but that’s not me. That’s not the kind of stories that Grant and I have been telling our whole lives. So, we have to work where the work is, and we have to go where people want to tell stories the way we believe that there’s still an audience for it.
I don’t believe everything has to be a blockbuster. Grant and I, our thing has always been we want our films and our projects, whatever they are, to last longer than an opening weekend. That’s what matters to us. Because no one, when they’re on the deathbed, nobody sits back and says, “Yeah, I had nine films that opened number one.”
Who gives a sh*t? I watched The Verdict with Paul Newman the other day again, for the hundredth time. You just watch it and you think, That is a proper big-time, world-class movie star saying to the world, “I’m a character actor now.” He busted his ass. And you couldn’t make that as a film now. Not like that. The films that you used to get—Three Days of the Condor and those kind of films—you couldn’t make now. Even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid would be hard to make, because the guys die in it.
[To Heslov] Also, the other thing is, I’m 58 years old now and you’ll be 56 soon.
Clooney: We get to do the stuff we like to do, and work on projects we dig, and we’re not forced out of the industry because we’ve gotten too old or because our taste has a much smaller or much narrower appeal. So for us this is a great time.
Heslov: And there is something nice right now, in that we’ve got this project coming out and it’s like, well, we don’t have to think about box office. We don’t have to think about that right now.
Clooney: Yes. That’s funny. We haven’t actually had that experience. But in general; the accolades are fun. We’ve won Oscars, and it’s great. But the most fun is making the stuff you love, and being on set, and working with the sound guy and the mixer and the composer. It’s fun.
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