Interviews: GEORGE CLOONEY (Bob Barnes) Q&A

QUESTION: Why was the time right for you to make this film?

GEORGE CLOONEY: Well, it was an interesting time. When we decided to do it – it was a couple years ago, or three years ago, really – it was even a tougher time, if you remember, politically. Anybody who talked about anything, raised any questions at all, was framed as unpatriotic at that point. So, I thought it was fairly brave of the studio to be willing to jump onboard and take on some of the subject matter. When you see the film, it’s not an attack on the administration at all. It is certainly questioning 30 or 40 or 50 years of flawed policies in the Middle East, which I think everyone agrees with. Most of the conservatives who have seen the film agree with it. Most of the Liberals agree with it. So, to me, it wasn’t that. I felt we were fairly safe in taking on the subject matter. My job was to know as much as I could so I wouldn’t marginalize the piece. But I’m not the writer or the director. I spent a lot of time with Bob Baer – really interesting guy. For him, it was much more about the disenchantment of how little he was needed anymore. After the Berlin Wall came down, the decision was made by several administrations, including the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, which was: surveillance equipment would take care of it; you don’t need people who speak Arabic or Farsi. What you realize, of course, is that it would have been very helpful to have those people. We look at the problems with some of the evidence that led us into other places. It would have helped to have people in there speaking those languages. He’s very disenchanted with all of that. You guys have all seen him out speaking before, so that’s not something new.

Q: What was the morale of the people there towards you? What was it like shooting this during the high holy holidays?

GEORGE CLOONEY: Interesting. It’s an interesting thing to be shooting in Morocco and Dubai during Ramadan. And the Emir had just died, who, in Dubai, was basically the man who made Dubai what it is. He was about 100 years old. So, there was a huge funeral, and Mubarak and everybody showed up at our hotel. You think I had security guards – we look like the Mickey Mouse Club with these guys showing up. So, it was an interesting time to be there because you can’t eat during the day, and you have to play by their rules, which is a good thing. It’s a nice thing to do. But it’s very hot, and it’s a very different world. I was concerned with the idea that they wouldn’t understand what we were doing, that they would think that we were making a movie where it’s just black and white, bad guys, terrorists, because, as you guys know, we’re not the most popular country overseas. We were concerned with the idea that they didn’t think we were just flat out trying to characterize them as the evildoers. But I don’t know how you can translate that very well. If you have 400 extras who were all Muslims and a lot of them Islamic fundamentalists that are there with you, working side-by-side with you, I’m not quite sure if they ever understood that or not. They may when they see the film.

Q: What was it like learning fluent Arabic for this movie?

GEORGE CLOONEY: Brutal. Well, I don’t know if any of you can speak any of those languages. I had a roommate in college who was Iranian, so I understood and could speak a little bit of Farsi, which helped. There are some similarities, so it helped with the accent. But there are no Latin derivatives. So, it was a tricky thing to do. You learned it phonetically. You just did it over and over. I did it for two months, just to do those few paragraphs. I wake up in the middle of the night going (speaks Farsi) just because you had to learn it that way.

Q: And what did you just say?

GEORGE CLOONEY: I said “Hello.” (speaks Farsi)

Q: Do you think that the film is doing things that journalism ought to be doing? Is that the place of a film to expose these things?

GEORGE CLOONEY: Well, no. I think the difference between journalism and film is that I don’t think films are designed to provide answers. I think films are designed to ask questions. I think journalism is designed to ask questions to get answers. We’re actually just asking questions and sparking debate. That’s what we tried to do with Good Night, and Good Luck and it’s the same thing with this. For me, my job was to understand what Bob was doing as a producer of the film, to be well enough informed on the subject to understand the plot lines and what we were trying to tell. For Good Night, and Good Luck, I double-sourced every scene, because I owed it to the people whose story I was telling, which was a true story, not to get anything wrong, because if you got anything wrong, it would all be marginalized, which is the popular thing to do right now. There are some people out there that are anxiously trying to talk about what a great guy McCarthy is, which still blows my mind. So, with this film, my job was to be as best informed as I could be in general. But I always felt that way about anything. And then, to try and make it entertainment – because it is still a film. I think the good news about both these films is that they’re not civics lessons. They’re actually entertaining films. Tough, not easy, but entertaining films.

Q: Did your political views change at all after making this movie?

GEORGE CLOONEY: No, it doesn’t change things. And it doesn’t necessarily reinforce things either. What it really does is it opens your eyes to other issues and other thoughts. I remember standing on the roof of a building about four stories up as a siren went off, which would go every three hours during Ramadan. And you’d hear a prayer over loudspeakers – we were in Casablanca then – and everyone in South Dakar got out in the middle of the street and faced Mecca. A sea of people got out of their car, got out on the streets and kneeled down, faced Mecca and prayed. We were sitting there watching this and thinking, ‘if we think that we have religious clarity or any kind of a belief system that overrides anyone else’s’. When you see that, it would scare you – the idea that you could in some way bomb the Islamic fundamentalists away-and these were Islamic fundamentalists – but those guys are that passionate. And see how poor they are, and that is the only thing they have. It was scarier to me because I thought, ‘Well, I understand,’ in no way justifying what happens, obviously. Nobody here is saying, ‘the guys who are bombing people are good,’ but understanding how it can happen. And understanding why it can happen was really interesting.

Q: I would imagine Bob Baer’s worldview can be a real education.

GEORGE CLOONEY: I can’t tell what his political bent is. He spent a long time with me at my house. My sense is he’s probably a bit of a conservative who was ticked off at the Clinton administration mostly for his being taken out of the CIA slowly, or leaving the CIA – but equally as ticked off at the way that the information was used in the lead-up to the war. He was pretty mad about that as well. I think certainly the ex-operatives, and a lot of the people who were there in the CIA, felt the same way. I know the people in the State Department did. But he’s such an interesting guy. If you’re on a set, they’ll have a police expert; he’s a cop. He’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I killed six guys, shot this guy in the head three times. I capped him three times.’ They always tell you some story that probably didn’t happen. Here’s a guy who has probably done some pretty amazingly heinous things. And he’s like, ‘Yeah, there were some things that had to be taken care of that happened. But they didn’t want to side with us on that. So, I don’t really recall what happened.’ I’m like, ‘Well, the whole place was blown to bits.’ ‘Yeah, that’s probably what happened.’ Everything is very vague. He doesn’t ever say he has done anything, which makes you feel like he’s really done a lot. It was very strange having him at your house because he’s very smart, and he knows a lot about what he’s talking about, especially in the Middle East.

Q: What do you think would have to happen to better realize the potential of television media to inspire thought and enlighten as well as entertain and distract?

GEORGE CLOONEY: I don’t know. I was hoping that in putting a film like that out there, it would open the discussion for people who are in those positions – some of them are friends of mine – to say, ‘Okay, we understand that this is a dilemma. I understand that having watched what happened with my father as an anchorman, I understand that the idea is that news has a problem, which is, they’re losing viewers. And how do you keep news out there, and do you preserve it? Do you preserve it by destroying it along the way? And what do you do to not let that happen?’ So, it’s one of those difficult fights. I understand that it’s not black and white and easy. But I think it’s something that should be constantly waged and talked about and argued about, until somebody can come out with some solutions. I am concerned about the same thing that probably you-all are concerned with and the same thing that my father has been concerned with his whole life and fought, which was finding ways to have room for both, but not losing content along the way.

Q: Talk about the through-line of the family throughout the course of the film despite the politics of the characters.

GEORGE CLOONEY: There’s a through-line that you have to look for, which is fathers and sons. I think that’s an interesting through-line all the way through this. There’s a lot of moral ambiguity between them. Some of them play better than others; some of them are clearer. Sometimes it’s because when you’re telling such a multi-layered story, it’s hard to flesh out all of the other parts of the story. You’re not quite sure what Bennett and his father’s issues are. That to me became less important as you watched the film and more just an interesting piece of the thing. I thought what Stephen did with fathers and sons and showing just these relationships, flawed or not, along the way, helped land all the questions and answers that these guys are going through with much more weight. Bennett has to come back and look at his dad in the eye, after doing some of the things he has done. And I’m failing at both my job and my son. Because I’m not doing either one of them well. And Matt’s character had done everything right. Everything would have been fine had nothing bad happened. But something bad happened along the way. And I think the two boys and the one father, the Pakistani boys, is a really interesting storyline too.

Q: Do you own a hybrid?

GEORGE CLOONEY: I have an electric car that goes zero to 60 in four seconds. It’s faster than the Porsche Turbo, which is fun. It will go 150 miles before a charge. Quite honestly, I certainly had to make those considerations. I’ve always ridden a motorcycle almost everywhere. It wasn’t about gas; it was because I liked riding motorcycles, but they don’t use a lot of gas. I figured, I can’t do a film about oil corruption and consumption and drive a Bronco – seems a little ridiculous. So I’m learning, and I’m evolving along the way in terms of my own personal responsibility towards fuel because of that. I think if you’re going to get out there and say, ‘let’s talk about these things,’ you’re going to have to participate in all of them. I think you guys know me well enough now; I’m not out there preaching what you should do. I’m just saying, these are questions that should be asked, and along the way, I should probably follow some of my own questions.

Q: Can you comment on being made one of Peoples’ Most Sexiest Men Alive?

GEORGE CLOONEY: I was a little hurt that pretty boy McConaughey now takes over. It’s a big responsibility; it’s a heavy crown for him, Mr. Abs himself. But I think he can handle it. I think he could take it. We’ll see. Pitt did it twice. And he was really the only guy that could handle it two times. Brad “Pretty Boy” Pitt. I was a little disturbed that Matt Damon didn’t get front page. And I think you guys will talk to him later, and ask him if he was at all hurt by that because he campaigned a really good campaign. And we thought for sure he was going to pull it off this year.

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