Grant Heslov & Evan Rachel Wood Discuss Bringing The Political Tale To The Big Screen
George Clooney’s new political thriller, “The Ides of March,” which he directs and stars in as fictional political candidate Governor Mike Morris, is a cautionary tale from the perspective of a hopeful political campaign worker Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling). He really believes in Morris and what he stands for. Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it seems, especially when it comes to politics. Soon Myers finds himself in the middle of double crosses from both the media and colleagues, involving a scandal that could unravel everything.
The Playlist recently spoke with Evan Rachel Wood and producer Grant Heslov, Clooney’s longtime friend, co-writer and partner in Smoke House Productions about the film. We asked them to shed some light on adapting ‘Ides’ from an original play, as well as the themes, working with Clooney and the ultimate lesson of this dark political tale (warning: some spoilers ahead).
1. Though based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon, major changes were made in the adaptation to the big screen
Grant Heslov and George Clooney had been developing a political thriller as far back as five years ago, but when Heslov saw “Farragut North,” he felt the similarly themed play would be an ideal vehicle for the project they had in mind. “We knew we had to open it up and we knew we had to raise the stakes in going from a play to the screen,” Heslov tells The Playlist. “And obviously [change] what happens to Evan Rachel Wood’s character in the film as opposed the play. We were more interested in the morality tale so we constructed everything to sort of push Ryan’s character to a place where he had to make some terrible decisions.”
2. Evan Rachel Wood’s character, Molly, quickly goes from being an intern among higher ranking staffers to the key part a dangerous scandal
Molly grew up in the political world as the daughter of the chair of the National Democratic Committee. At only 20 years old, she seems wise beyond her years for an intern on Morris’ campaign. But her confidence quickly disappears when the scandal starts to develop. For the first time, in the film, she becomes a frightened little girl. “I think she always knew it was that dark and I think that’s why she’s so terrified,” says Wood. “She’s young and because she knew the world so well and wasn’t intimidated by these guys, she gets herself in this situation which, she knows right away, could possibly ruin her life and many people’s [lives]. It goes to show that she’s not out to gain anything because she could use this situation to her advantage. At the end of the day, she has a really good heart. She’s just terrified because she knows how dark and dirty that world is. I think that’s what keeps her quiet.”
3. By the end of “Ides,” all the characters face potentially life-changing decisions.
As the twisting storyline of ‘Ides’ plays out, all the characters are faced with the decision to either adapt to the situation or let it destroy them. “Just the way the world works, especially in politics, people are forced to make decisions they wouldn’t normally make just because they have to play the game,” says Wood. “It’s just the way the system works. I think that’s one of the things we’re trying to show about politics and human nature in general, what you’re willing to do to get what you want, for what you believe is the greater good.”
4. Grant Heslov believes the events of this cautionary tale could easily exist outside of the political landscape.
Politics can be a dangerous game. Scandals can rock candidates to their core and destroy careers. And opponents are ever-searching for that one piece of dirt that can do their rival in for good. Of course, these unsavory tactics aren’t necessarily exclusive to the political landscape. “A lot of people need to open their eyes in the business world and the political world and that side of it,” says Wood. “Some of it is for show and playing to their audience, but there are things behind the scenes.”
“We could set this film in the world of big business or media,” adds Heslov. “I don’t think this sort of stuff is just relegated to politics. For us, it was an interesting canvas for it.”
5. Why do so many great actors want to work with George Clooney? Two words: Nerf Gun.
As a director, George Clooney has tackled some pretty heavy material, from the trippy mishmash of “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” to the Oscar-nominated “Good Night And Good Luck.” One way the director lightens the mood is with a regular dosage of practical jokes (or shooting you with foam bullets). “I did get shot with the Nerf gun,” says Wood. “I think I highjacked it a couple times and shot people with it. He’s definitely a prankster and a practical joker. That’s all true.”
Clooney’s acting background and reputation as a generally likable guy also helps him draw top talent. When asked about gathering the impressive ensemble for ‘Ides,’ Heslov told The Playlist they adapted the material with everyone they got in mind (not bad when your cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei). We asked Evan Rachel Wood why she thought actors were so drawn to working with an actor/director like Clooney. “Communication is a lot easier when you’re working with a director who’s an actor because you’re both speaking the same language. You know how to talk to each other, so that helps. But he’s just fun. He’s doing good work, he’s telling great stories and he’s making sure everyone’s having a good experience on the project so he has a happy cast and crew.”
“Ides of March” opens in theaters nationwide on Friday.