The Monuments Men marks George Clooney’s fifth directorial effort and as usual, he’s assembled quite an impressive cast. Starring Clooney along with Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman and Cate Blanchett, the film deals with a little known story from World War II which focuses on George L. Stout, an American art conservation specialist who recruits a group comprised of museum directors, curators and art historians to head into Germany. They are tasked with rescuing works of art and other “culturally important” items from Hitler before he destroys them. While the film can often times feel like a playful heist movie, it also speaks to the great need for art preservation and the importance of protecting historical legacies.
Sony recently held a press conference for The Monuments Men at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California. In attendance were Clooney, who was his usual cheerful self, writer Grant Heslov and several of the cast members: Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and John Goodman. Together, they discussed why this particular World War II story was an important one to tell, what kind of pranks Clooney would pull on the cast, what was appealing about the film and more.
Check it out below and enjoy!
The movie deals with a heavy subject matter, but it does so in a light, fun and whimsical way. Was there a desire from the beginning to make this story appropriate for a broader age audience?
George Clooney: Yes. We wanted to make an entertaining film. We liked the story and we were not all that familiar with it, which is rare for a World War II film. Usually you think you know all the stories. We wanted it to be accessible, and I like all those John Sturges films. We thought of it is sort of a mix between Kelly’s Heroes and The Train and we wanted to talk about a very serious subject that’s ongoing still, and we also wanted to make it entertaining. That was the goal.
Bill, could you talk about what appealed to you about playing this character, and how was it to be a part of this production?
Bill Murray: George told me the story that he was going to do about a year before and I thought, “This really sounds like fun.” Suddenly about a year later he said, “Would you like to be in this film?” I thought about it for a whole year, so I said yes. The story is so fascinating and, as they say, untold. George and Grant take great care of everyone on the job. I’ve never been so well taken care of. I never felt so protected and covered. Everyone had great scenes to do, everyone had a chance to do a wonderful piece of work. We got to see a wonderful story unfold. We got to go to great places, we got to eat well, we laughed a lot and I think we’d all do it again tomorrow if we had to.
Matt Damon: And if enough people see the movie, we will (laughs). Please, please tell everyone you know to come see this movie.
There are 600 pieces of art that are still lost, what is being done about that
George Clooney: There is a lot of this art that has been found and is in other people’s homes or museums quite honestly, and some of it is repatriating that. It’s a long process and it’s not particularly easy. Generationally, it seems to be getting more towards returning it to the rightful owners. Sometimes it’s tricky because it’s very hard to raise sympathy for someone named Rothchild who had the largest private collection because people think they are pretty wealthy and that’s not such a big deal. But still, you want it to be returned. It is a long process, it is a continuing process and to be quite honest, it’s also about looking at the loss of artifacts and art that’s going on in Syria right now. It’s understanding how important the culture is to each of these countries and trying to find a way to get them back. That’s a long, long process. This art that was found in Germany recently, about a billion and a half dollars’ worth of art, some of that was actually found by the Monuments Men and given back to the people who were to then give it back to the original owners, and they didn’t. The guy kept it. So it looks like that art is going to get repatriated as time goes on and that’s a good thing. If it opens up the discussion a little bit, that’s really helpful.
Cate, congratulations on your Oscar nomination for Blue Jasmine, what was your reaction to that? Also, we thought you were going to be working with all the guys in this movie, but it turns out that most of your scenes were with Matt Damon. Did you want to expand your role any to work with the other actors?
Cate Blanchett: I’m deliriously happy about the first bit and was deliriously happy about what this film was saying. George, as we all know, is such an incredible raconteur, and I think that that comes across into the way he makes films and also the way he tells stories about what’s going on in the rest of the world. In a way, this film is a synthesis of those things. I felt that the way George would come to each of us and obviously pitch the story of Monuments Men was not dissimilar to his character in the film going around to gather up the people. Yes, most of my stuff was with Matt. We have aged relatively well. The last time we were together was in The Talented Mr.Ripley in Italy, which was a slightly different endeavor. And then he did Behind the Candelabra, but fortunately I hadn’t seen that before we did this film (laughs).Next
George, you seem to direct a movie every three years. What attracts you to directing and how different of a director are you now?
George Clooney: Well, George Clooney has learned to speak about himself in the third person (laughs). The timing for directing is that it usually takes that long to develop a piece and to go through pre-production and post-production. I prefer directing as opposed to doing other things. Directing and writing seems to be infinitely more creative. As far as how I’ve changed, what you try to do is learn from people that you’ve worked with. I’ve worked with the Coen Brothers and (Steven) 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.” 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, but it’s a lot of fun.
Matt Damon: Well, since you refer to yourself in the third person.
George Clooney: Yeah. I say, “George you were very good” (laughs). So anyways, I do enjoy directing. I don’t know whether it’s improving or not, but it’s certainly evolving in different directions.
Cate, would you say that you still go into roles having self-doubt?
Cate Blanchett: Yes, projects like this don’t come along that often, especially not 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 it 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.
Can you tell us a bit about the casting process?
George Clooney: Casting was fun. We couldn’t get Brad (Pitt) so we got Matt (laughs).
Matt Damon: That’s okay. I got to work with Cate Blanchett.
George Clooney: It was really fun. 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.” 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 Balaban: So now I have to go to all parties. I can’t stay home now.
How was it working with these actors who had to portray Nazis?
George Clooney: I do feel bad for the actors. For about 75 years these actors, German actors, had to play Nazis. 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 Nazis because…” and I would say, “No, no he’s a bad Nazi. You’re going to just have to be bad.”
Cate Blanchett: 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 its identity based on culture. The amount of artists living and working in Berlin is unparalleled. It’s one of the strongest economies globally and it’s because its understanding of its importance of culture, and it felt fantastic working there.Previous Next
George is known for playing practical jokes on set. Where there any that he played this time around?
Cate Blanchett: We signed something that we wouldn’t reveal anything, including the horrendous atrocities that happened on set.
Matt Damon: I read somewhere that he took in my wardrobe by an eighth of an inch every other day. He had the wardrobe department do it because he knew I was trying to lose 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 had been going to the gym.
George Clooney: He was eating like a grape but was saying “I don’t understand.”
Matt Damon: It’s nice having friends like that.
George Clooney: 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.
John Goodman, how was it working with Jean Dujardin for a second time?
John Goodman: Working with Jean was great this time around. He spoke English this time. This was probably my happiest filmmaking experience. It was just wonderful.
George Clooney: 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.
Has getting a film made changed over the years for you?
George Clooney: 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 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. It was hard to get Good Night and Good Luck made. I had to mortgage my house for it, so we are just trying to do films that are not necessarily where people would obviously say “yes let’s 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.
Cate, how does working with Woody Allen compare to working with George Clooney as a director?
Cate Blanchett: Oh easy, easy, easy (laughs)! Oh, there are so many jokes!
Matt Damon: Working with George was very similar to working with Soderbergh, which makes sense since they worked so much together over the years and had a company together. George is obscenely talented as a director. 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 Blanchett: Working with Woody is like an emotional strip club but without the cash (laughs).
Are any of these Monuments Men still alive and have they seen the film?
George Clooney: There are a few of them still alive. They were the younger ones obviously.
Grant Heslov: A lot of families have reached out to us saying my grandfather was a Monuments Man, 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 premiere.
George you were in one of the best movies of this past year, Gravity. What did you think about Alfonso Cuarón’s nomination for Best Director?
George Clooney: I thought the film fell apart about half an hour into it (laughs). Alfonso Cuaron 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. I’m telling you, we had no idea what was going on because it was two years of post-production finishing it. It was crazy; they were doing stuff that they hadn’t even invented yet in terms of CGI.
That concludes the press conference but we’d like to thank all of the talent for attending. Be sure to check out The Monuments Men when it hits theatres this Friday!Previous