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).