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George Clooney's 10 Best Bits of Insight, Palm Springs Panel Edition

Photo of Steve Greene By Steve Greene | Indiewire January 8, 2012 at 1:23PM

George Clooney talks to Palm Springs about his next project, being a jerk to his co-stars and why he delayed production on "The Ides of March."
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LA Times writer John Horn and George Clooney at the Palm Springs International Film Festival
LA Times writer John Horn and George Clooney at the Palm Springs International Film Festival

Ever since Clint Eastwood retired from acting, George Clooney has taken up the mantle of Hollywood’s chosen do-it-all man. His involvement with “The Ides of March” and “The Descendants” earned him the Chairman’s Award at this year’s Palm Springs Intenational Film Festival Gala in recognition of his achievements and responsibilities of actor, director, writer and producer.

On Saturday, Clooney spoke to a packed audience at

Palm Springs'

Annenberg Auditorium after a screening of “Ides." Wearing a shirt emblazoned “Cincinnati” (a homage to one of the “Ides” shooting locations and the city whose NFL team was in a playoff game at the time of the panel), Clooney answered questions from the moderator, LA Times staff writer Jorn Horn and eager members of the crowd.

We collected some of Mr. Charisma’s best lines of the panel for your perusal:

His next project also has a Presidential bent.

“Grant and I are adapting a book called ‘The Monuments Men.’ In the late '30s and '40s, Hitler and Goering stole all of the great art out of Europe and hid it in salt mines and castles. President Roosevelt put together a group of men, several of whom in their fifties, the guy who started the New York Ballet, the guy who ran the Met, and landed them in Normandy and said, ‘Go find the art!’ It’s a great story. It’s going to be fun.”

Directing yourself means being a complete jerk to your co-stars.

“The one really crappy thing is when one actor tells the other actor what to do. I have to do that as a director. You’ve already broken that one thing that you’re not supposed to do. The next thing you can’t do is do more takes on yourself than you do on that other person. You just go, ‘Aaahhh, I think I got it.’”

His biggest directing tip came from Sidney Lumet.

“In his book, he says that on the first day of shooting, set up a shot that you’ll never use. Get everybody in the crew around you, do the first take, say ‘Action! Cut! Print.’ Then move on. Then everybody on the set will think ‘Oh, shit.’ Because they may not get another crack at it. I’ve done it every time and it’s unbelievably effective.”

Making the governor a Democrat was a conscious decision.

“Once I knew that I wanted him to be a governor, I knew because I’m known in certain circles as a Democrat, I didn’t want to make him a bad-guy Republican. Then it would become a political issue that I didn’t want to deal with. I wanted it to be a film about how we elect our officials and the deals we have to make in life.”

Some of the philosophy of his “Ides of March” character came from an actual governor and a family member.

“The piece with Charlie Rose is from a piece that I heard Mario Cuomo talking about the death penalty. I thought it was best argument. Some of the pieces about the ideas of oil were issues that my father was writing about in the late ‘70s when my father ran for Congress.”

...but the one line that was his?

“I always say the Democrats are so terrible at doing what they do well, talk about it well. When you say, 'Are you for the distribution of wealth?,' you should say, ‘I’m against the distribution of wealth by the government.’ Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, you can argue this either way.”

His showdown with Gosling was the first scene he wrote.

“I woke up one night in the middle of the night and I wrote the scene in the kitchen between Ryan [Gosling] and I. That was the first scene I wrote for the screenplay. Then I sent it to Grant [Heslov] and we worked backward from there.”

Shooting “The Ides of March” was delayed because the country was too devoid of cynicism.

“We had put it together, we had gotten it greenlit and we were in pre-production. Then President Obama was elected and everyone was in such a good mood. We were sitting at a dinner table talking about locations and it suddenly dawned on us, ‘We can’t make this movie because people are so happy.’ It took about a year. A health care bill and the Tea Party later and everyone’s pissed off. Grant got on the phone and said, ‘I think we can make this film again. It’s time now.’”

He agreed to do “The Descendants” sight unseen.

“The first conversation is Alexander [Payne] calling up and saying, ‘Do you want to do a movie?’ I’ve had this happen once before with the Coen Brothers, where they hand me a script and they say, ‘Do you want to do a movie?’ and I just say, ‘Yeah.’ They ask, ‘Would you like to read the script?’ I say, ‘OK. But yes. I will do it.’”

He thinks being Governor of California is harder than President and has little interest for either.

After a few of the questions had alluded to this possibility, one audience member concluded the panel by bluntly asking if Clooney would consider a pursuit state office. “Running this state? Wow. I met with Gavin Newsom -- some day I think he may end up being governor -- he’s an interesting guy. I asked him, ‘So, are you gonna keep doing this?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Why?’ I think you have to be much tougher than entertainers are in terms of criticism and you have to be much more compromising than I could ever be. I don’t want the downgrade in housing.”

This article is related to: Ides Of March, George Clooney, The Descendants, Alexander Payne