George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett Talk 'Monuments Men' Movie

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If George Clooney is half as fun as in this press conference, can you imagine what it's like working for him as a director on the set of THE MONUMENTS MEN? THE MONUMENTS MEN stars Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and John Goodman are spilling the beans on working with handsome George on camera and off, and learning more about the real-life story of the Monuments Men.

George Clooney stars and directs the World War II drama based on the real story of an American platoon sent on a treasure hunt to save priceless art held by Nazi thieves behind enemy lines before they destroy it. THE MONUMENTS MEN opens February 7th and the director, actors and producer Grant Heslov sat down in Los Angeles for a press conference promoting the movie.

Q: This film deals with a heavy subject matter but the film is done in a light manner. Was that always the angle you were looking for?

George Clooney: Yes, we wanted to make an entertaining film and we liked the story but we weren't all that familiar with the actual story which is rare for a World War II film. Usually you think you know all the stories and you wanted it to be accessible and I like all those John Sturgess films. We thought of it as a mix between Kelly's Heroes and The Train and we wanted to talk about a very serious subject that is on going and we also wanted to make it entertaining. That was the
goal.

Q: Bill Murray, how did you get involved in the film?

Bill Murray: Well George told me the story that he was going to do about a year before and I though gosh that really sounds like fun. I wasn't invited to be in the movie a year before I just sort of thought that would be really great. Then suddenly about a year later he said,'Would you like to be in this film?' I thought about it for a whole year so then I said yes. The story is so fascinating and untold and to do it with this group of people was not just...everyone is so good they're all good actors but they're so much fun. I watched the movie for the first time last night and there were a number of times when I said, 'Oh yeah we got this shot' then we sat down and we laughed for about 40 minutes in. George and Grant take care of everyone on the job. I never been so well taken care of on a job and never felt so protected and covered and all of us as actors had great scenes to do, we all had a chance and a turn to do a wonderful piece of work. We got to see a great story unfold, were able to go to great places and got
to eat well and laughed a lot and I think we would all do it again tomorrow.

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Matt Damon: And if enough people see the movie we will (laughs). Please, Please tell everyone you know.

George: We can do a prequel. With younger actors.

Matt: Wait what?

Q:  Cate, how does it feel to be nominated for an Oscar? Your whole role was with Matt. Did you want to expand you're role with the other actors?

Cate Blanchett: I thought I was going to be with Bill Murray because...well look I'm deliriously happy about the first bit. But George as we know is an incredible raconteur and I think that carries across to the way he makes films and the way he tells stories about what's going on in the rest of the world, the other part of his life.

In a way this film is a synthesis of those things but the way George would come to each of us and pitch the story of Monuments Men was not dissimilar to his character in the film going around and gathering the characters in the film. Yes, most of my stuff was with Matt and unfortunately at the time in Berlin was incredibly short.

George: The pitch to her was that she wouldn't have to work with Matt. I lied.

Cate: I think we have aged relatively well since the last time we worked together which was in Ripely in Italy. So it was a slightly different endeavor and in-between time he made Behind the Candelabra. Fortunately I didn't see it before we started filming.
(laughter)

George: Oh, we did!

Cate: Mama Mia!

Q:  You seem to direct every 3 years what attracts you to directing and how different of a director are you now?

George: Well George Clooney has learned to speak about himself in the 3rd person (laughs). The timing for directing is that it usually takes that long to develop a piece and pre production and post production. I prefer directing opposed to doing other things, directing and writing seems to be infinitely more creative. As far as how I've changed well you try to do is learn from people that you've worked with. I've worked with the Cohen Brothers and Soderbergh and Alexander Payne, I've worked with really great directors over the years and you just try to see what they are doing and then try to steal it, that's the theory. You go 'Oh I like that, I'm going to do it that way.' So the truth is that your development you hope is the same as everything. You succeeded some and you fail some and you keep slugging away at it. I really enjoy it. It's fun, I like it more than acting now. It's tricky directing yourself obviously.

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Matt: Well, since you refer to yourself in the third person.

George: Yeah, I say George you were very good. (laughter) so anyways I do enjoy directing I don't know whether it's improving or not but it's certainly evolving in different directions.

Q:  Do you guys still go into parts having self-doubt?

Cate: Yes, projects like this don't come along that often with ensembles like this. For me the power of the story is that it shines a light and a perspective on what we previously thought were very well known facts. There is a shot in the film where they find the barrel full of wedding rings and gold fillings and we all have seen those horrendous pictures and the power of cinema is that it draws on that collective history. I feel the film harnesses our understanding of the second World War but yet opens the door to a very particular and noble and quirky bunch of guys and girls who really changed where we are now and what we understand our contemporary culture to be.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the casting process?

George: Casting was fun, we couldn't get Brad so we got Matt.

Matt: That's OK I got to work with Cate Blanchett.

George: It was really fun. I think pretty much to a man...Grant and I sat down and were writing it, we hadn't thought of Bob (Balaban) then we went to an Argo party and we saw Bob, and we had this part and we knew we wanted Bill in it and we kept thinking who are we going to put opposite of Bill, who Bill can give a really hard time to. Then we were at this party with Bob and we looked over and I said 'oh it's perfect' and Grant said it's perfect. So we called Bob up the next day.
The rest of the gang we wrote it with them in mind so that helps a little bit when you're writing.

Bob: So now I have to go to all parties now. I can't stay home now.

Q:  How was it working with these actors who had to portray Nazi's?

George: I do feel bad for the actors though. For about 75 years these actors, German actors, had to play Nazi's. You bring them in to read and you just say,'Yeah I know I'm sorry but I do need you to be sort of really mean.' Then they would say, 'maybe my character joined the Nazi's
because…' and I would say, 'No, no he's a bad Nazi. You're going to just have to be bad.'

Cate: It did feel right to shoot in Germany with the film dealing about what is culture and would you die for it. It is a country ever since the second World War that had to ask itself massive moral questions and it has reinforced it's identity based on culture. The amount of artist living and working in Berlin is un-parallel and it's one of the strongest economies globally and it's because it's understanding of it's importance of culture and it felt fantastic working there.

 

Q: George is known for playing practical jokes on set. Where there any this time around?

Cate: We signed something that we wouldn't reveal anything, the horrendous atrocities that happened on set.

Matt: I read somewhere that he took in my wardrobe by an 8th of an inch,every other day. He had the wardrobe department do it because he knew I was trying to loose weight. This was a job where I would go back and forth to New York where I was living with my family and then I would come back for 2 weeks and every time I came back the pants were tighter. I thought it was weird because I have been going to the gym.

George: He was eating like a grape but was saying I don't understand.

Matt: So it's nice having friends like that.

George: I'm just looking out for you. I was busy so I didn't have a whole lot of time this time around. There wasn't a lot of goofing around.

Q:  John Goodman, how was it working with Jean [Dujardin] this time around.

John: Working with Jean was great this time around. He spoke English this time. This was probably my happiest film making experience. This last year making this film was just wonderful.

George: Jean is also really fun and he's really funny and he really loves what he does. The minute he walks into the room he's just funny and everyone just gets it.

Grant Heslov: He's like the french George. They're like twins.

Q: Has getting a film made changed over the years for you?

George: I think Grant and I as partners for a long time have been interested in trying to find stories that are unique and stories that aren't necessarily slam dunks for the studio to make and that would require and would consist of us picking it up and carrying it in. This one, as the cast grew it became a lot easier to swallow. But it's hard to make films like this. It was hard to get Argo made but it took us a long time to get Argo made. It was hard to get Good Night and Good Luck. I had to mortgage my house for it, so we are just trying to do films that are not necessarily, well where people would obviously say yes lets make it. Sometimes they're successful and sometimes they're not but they're the ones we want to make. I think our inspiration in general is to try to get stories made. If we didn't go after them, they probably wouldn't get made because the others are going to get made anyways.

Q: Cate how is it working with George and how are you feeling today with your nomination? And compared to Woody Allen, how does George compare?

George: Oh! Easy, easy, easy. (Laughs) Oh! There are so many jokes.

Matt: Working with George was very similar with working with Soderbergh which makes sense since they work so much together over the years and had a company together. George is obscenely talented as a director. It can be a little annoying being his pal because it's like maybe God said maybe one time I'll give one of them everything. How about this and how about this. We'll make him handsome and I'll tell you what as he gets older he'll even look better so in closing I
think...honest to God it was one of the best experiences that I've had and I've worked with the best directors around and he belongs in their company or even ahead of it.

Cate: Working with Woody is like an emotional strip club but without the cash (laughs). My morning has been great I love talking to the press (laughs). No, but I am very happy to be working with these fellas.

Q: Are any of these Monuments Men still alive and have they seen the film?

George: There are a few of them still alive. They were the younger ones obviously.

Grant: A lot of families have reached out to us saying my grandfather was a monuments men, here are some pictures. I got a letter from one woman the other day who didn't know anything about this book and through the press of the film saw the cover of the book and her grandfather is in that photo. So she's going to come to the premier.

Q: George you have been in one of the most amazing films this year, Gravity. I just wanted to know what you thought about Alfonso Cuaron's nomination.

George: I thought the film fell apart about half an hour into it (laughs). Alfonso Cuaron again is one of the great geniuses in the game. He really is a genius. He hasn't made a bad film. He had a great love of what he does. I can't tell you what an honor it was to work with him and see what he was doing. Man I'm telling you, we had no idea what was going on because it was two years of post productionfinishing it. It was crazy, they were doing stuff that they hadn't even invented yet in terms of CGI.

 

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