In 44 BC, on March 15 (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).
We speak to the two leads about filmmaking, power, politics and celebrity, all of which are so terrifically intertwined. And, of course, we ask for their opinions about each other.
The Renaissance man talks film, politics and bribery – just don’t ever ask him about dating
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?
Paul Chi. 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.
Golden boy Gosling talks to us about George’s pranks, Eva Mendes and being an ‘it’ guy
Describe George Clooney as a director.
Well, he’s very specific and he knows exactly what he wants. There isn’t a lot of ambiguity in his decisions.
Did you ask him why he chose you to star?
He said he chose me because everyone else said no! But that’s fine with me.
How different is it to be directed by a director who is also an actor?
It didn’t feel that different. When he was directing, he was able to compartmentalise to a degree, which was interesting. But he was doing so much: he co-wrote it, directed it, produced it, and starred in it. At the same time he is checking the situation in Darfur on his cell phones. And he has 20, at least 10 practical jokes in the works at all times. Multitasking, you know!
He is famous for playing pranks. How did you deal with it?
You have to be on the alert all the time.
Did he get you?
Yes, he did.
Did you get him back?
No. It’s impossible.
What does the film poster represent for you? Those two faces, yours and George’s characters kind of blending... maybe it means that in the end, it doesn’t really matter who is the president?
No, it says that George Clooney is trying to show how much better looking he is!
Do you trust the press?
How different is it to play a silent character as you did in recent action film Drive, compared with Ides of March where you have so much dialogue?
They were different experiences and each offered something different. I feel there is something nice about not talking. Like you can say more by actually saying less. It’s nice to have space in the film and it’s much rarer to be able to work that way.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on The Gangster Squad, a ’50s gangster picture with Sean Penn, who is playing the mobster, Mickey Cohen, Josh Brolin and Emma Stone. A great cast.
You seemed to have been working non- stop. You are everywhere, the ‘it boy’ of the moment. How has your life changed with all that attention?
I’m pretty sick of myself! It seemed a pretty good idea at the time. Around the time I turned 30, I started to feel very creative, more creative than I had been before, which is good, and I like that.
Brad Pitt recently said that you have the most interesting career...
No he did not! That’s the first time I’ve heard that! It’s such a compliment to have someone you’ve been admiring and following for years appreciate you. Some of Brad’s movies are what got me excited about making films, you know?
How different is the pleasure of acting for you today compared to when you started?
I used to have a whole list of guys I wanted to work with, but I’m at the point where I want to work with the same ones. I’ve been really lucky between Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) and Nicholas Winding Refn (Drive). I just finished another film with Derek called Beyond the Pines and it was the best experience of my life. It’s very different from Blue Valentine. Bradley Cooper, people are not going to believe how great he is, and Eva Mendes, hers is the best acting performance I’ve been around to see.
You recorded an album two years ago with your band Dead Man’s Bones. What are your tastes in music?
I grew up listening to a lot of music from the ’50s and ’60s: Buddy Holly, Del Shannon, The Shangri Las… It gave me a taste for that style. And I still listen to those a lot.
Finally – what car are you driving?
Oh, I’m driving my car from Drive!
The Ides of March is in UAE cinemas from October 27