CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND - Q&A with George Clooney and Sam Rockwell
Movie Review by S Felce
George Clooney talks about his directorial debut with CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND and according to him, this was the 'hottest script in town', but it risked never being made. So Clooney decided to use his own company, Section 8, which he runs with Steven Soderbergh, to get the film made, and moreover, he decided to direct it. In fact, as the son of a TV producer, who grew up on TV games' sets, he felt he knew how to tell the story. He decided to work for scale and he asked some of his famous friends such as Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore to do the same. But his smartest move was to get Sam Rockwell for the role of Chuck Barris.
Rockwell is here with Clooney at Claridge's Hotel in London and the two of them take us through the process of making CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, the real Chuck Barris, the problems associated with fame, the state of TV and, thanks to Clooney's humour, much more!
Here's the whole story:
(To Sam Rockwell) You were very lucky to meet with the real Chuck Barris before the movie started. Could you tell us what it was like to get close to him and what did you come away with to prepare you for the movie?
SAM: It was great! Chuck is a really warm guy and a very funny guy to hang out with. I spent two and a half months with him, he taped my lines on a tape recorder and we hang out together. He was really generous and very sweet about hanging out. And he trusted George and he trusted me as well.
(To Sam) What did you come away with?
SAM: Well, we didn't want to know too much about the CIA stuff, because we only wanted to tell the story. Also, we wanted to tell Charlie Kaufman's version of his story, which takes a little bit of poetic licence
GEORGE: It takes about as much poetic licence as Chuck took with his own life!
(To George Clooney): This movie can be seen as the hottest script in Hollywood that was almost never made. What were the problems to bring it to the screen?
GEORGE: The problem was that, even if it was a great screenplay, it was not cheap enough for an independent studio to make it and it was not quite expensive [enough] for a studio like Warner Brothers to make. The script was around for about five years. A few directors were interested, but they all went to do other projects instead. It ended up getting about 5 million dollars in pre-production costs. We started off once with Curtis Hanson and then we had P J Hogan. There were a bunch of directors attached to the project. I was attached only as an actor in the role I play. Because of that so much was against it that it was never going to be made. So I thought, "If I grab it and do it for scale and I get everybody else to do it for scale, some actually pay us, we can make the film for under the budget it was budgeted for." So I told the studio how I wanted to make the film, how I thought the aesthetic was and that I could make it 10 million cheaper than anybody else. This was important, because the film wasn't designed to make a huge amount of money.
(To George) The film featured a song from your auntie Rosemary Clooney and she was mentioned in one scene. How much influence was she for you?
GEORGE: She was a big influence. I moved out from Kentucky and I lived with her for the first years I was trying to be an actor. I was a struggling actor living in Beverly Hills.... that was strange! Anyway, she taught me a lot about the trappings of fame. She learnt it the hard way, she didn't tell me how to deal with it, and you just saw it from her life. She was famous and then not famous. She realised she didn't become less of a singer along the way and she realised that things changed, having nothing to do with this. I learnt a lot from her. She wasn't ill, and we didn't know she was ill when we shot that scene in which we put her name, we just thought we'd put it in because it was factual in the film. But after [that] she got sick and she passed away about two weeks before we finished the film. I knew they were trying to find a song that Rosemary had sung to be put at the end, but only if it could be the right song. And then I found this version of THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE THE SHOW BUSINESS and I thought this was the perfect song. Although I wanted to change the line, "There is only one business like the show business". It is great. It is fun to be able to do that for her. She was a big part of my life.
(To Sam) How did you feel knowing that you had the support of George Clooney behind you and knowing that he was actually pushing for you to be the star of the movie?
SAM: It was kind of moving. It was amazing. It is rare in Hollywood that someone supports you in the way George did, so I didn't want to disappoint him. It was a big thrill. I can't go on enough about what George did for me. He is pretty phenomenal.
GEORGE: I got him cheap! That's the trick!
(To George) How did you get Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore to play a role in the film, and Brad Pitt and Matt Damon to do cameos?
George: I had to pay Brad and Matt 20 million each and they both auditioned for the role! Actually, we were on tour with OCEAN'S 11 and we were talking about THE DATING GAME, saying that people like Tom Selleck went on the game and he didn't get picked. So I thought it would be funny if these guys came out, also because the third contestant was our storyboard guy John Todd Anderson - that was a pure simple favour. They just flew to Montreal for the day. Till today I still can't believe that they showed up for a shot in which we didn't even stop the camera on, but that shows what sort of great friends they are. For the other two, Julia and Drew, it is another story. You have to understand that when we were ready to start to work, I got calls from almost every actress in town, talking about the roles, because everybody had known about it and they weren't calling because they wanted to work with me as a director, because they had no idea, but because these were great parts. So when I called Julia she asked me, "Is this for Patricia? Because if it is, I am doing it!" and almost the same thing happened with Drew.
(To George) Which is the strangest experience, being told how to make a sex scene or telling other people in your own film, how to get it on?
GEORGE: (laughing) I like to tell people how to get it on!! It's much more fun!! It is weird. It is always weird. The love scenes are always weird! The advantage with Drew and Sam is that they know each other, so they were more comfortable.
SAM: Yes, there is some snogging in CHARLIE'S ANGELS. Can I say snogging?
GEORGE: There were [some] really weird moments. For example there is a scene that we cut out, where Chuck is masturbating in a shower and the real Chuck was on the set that day. He's sitting behind me and Sam is in the shower, you know, going like this in the shower (he starts demonstrating) and we all felt kind of uncomfortable... when I get a tap on my shoulders in the middle of the shot and Chuck is going (shouting) "faster, faster!" Way too much information!
(To George) How much did it help the fact that you are the son of a TV producer?
GEORGE: I grew up on game show sets. My dad had a game called THE MONEY MAZE. There was this giant maze and the husband would run through and the wife would stand above going, "Go right. Go left." And I was there, on that set, at the same time as Chuck Barris. So I knew what they looked like, how they felt. And I certainly had an understanding of fame, and some of those trappings. Like some of those ideas of waking up and having other people's perceptions that you would be much different than your own perception. So the reason I felt I could direct wasn't that I wanted to direct and then I looked for a script. I thought this was a screenplay that I knew how to tell the story. I don't know if I'll find another film I will have this personal understanding...
(To George) Did you take any lessons from Steven Soderbergh or any other directors, like what you should do and what you shouldn't do?
GEORGE: I think Steven Soderbergh has a great way of running a set, and it's the way I like it. It is fun and loose and it is easy going, he is also very responsible with other's people money. I thought it was very important to finish ahead of schedule and under budget because I didn't want to edit the film by pulling pages on the floor, I'd rather edit it when I went to the editing room. Steven is sort of famous for bringing back non-linear stories, so I felt like, because I had a non-linear story, I have a clear understanding because of having worked with Steven. But whom I was really ripping off I have sent letters of apologies to - Mike Nichols and Cindy Lamer - I grew up loving them and they are whom I was trying to emulate when I was directing.
(To Sam): Chuck Barris was criticised by television critics for his programmes. What do you think about the state of television in your country today?
SAM: Surely shows like THE DATING GAME and THE GONG SHOW were a little bit less mean and more innocent than the ones today. Those shows were fun, entertaining; it was like a big party. Today they are meaner and tougher.
(To George) You said before that your auntie taught you something about fame when you were starting. If somebody asked now about how to deal with fame, what would you say?
GEORGE: There's not a fame school... there should be, though. There is no advice to give, really. The trick is that you cannot spend all your time, and there's not the time, to correct all the things that are said about you that are inaccurate. I'd love to say that you should care about what people say, because you do, things do matter. It matters if you get a bad review - it affects you. But what I know, the only advice that I got from my dad and my auntie, is that, you don't have to wake up one day when you are seventy years old and say what you think you should have tried. Just do it, be willing to fail, and if you fail, at least you've given it a shot. This was a kind of echo for me all along, for the past few years. I'd rather give it a shot and really bomb. This is the only good advice I can give. There is no good fame advice. All the things you think would be great aren't, but there are other parts that happen to be really good.
(To George) What's the best thing about fame?
GEORGE: Being able to do the films you want to make. It is. Being able to walk in a room and say, if you do this film they will make it. Make films like THREE KINGS or O BROTHER [WHERE ART THOU?]
Films that you think are going to last longer that an opening weekend. That is a really fun thing. I can't tell how much fun it is to seat down and have a script like SOLARIS, where nobody is going to make it or CONFESSIONS [OF A DANGEROUS MIND], where it is just not going to be made. And then you go "what if I did it and we will make in this way and I did it for free, can we make it?" And they go "yes, ok". That is a fun thing!
(To Sam): How was George as a boss?
SAM: Well, he is phenomenal, he's great (laughing), he is the best!! No, I was actually just thinking that he should teach class how to be famous. The other night we were at the Berlin Festival and there were all these people screaming for George and he has a really bad chest cold, and it's cold out there and he went outside and signed all these autographs...I mean... he is sick....
GEORGE: Sick in so many ways
SAM: Yes, so many in the head!! But I think it says a lot about George. He has a great generosity of spirit and he brings it to the world. He was very compassionate with all the actors on the set and he is really smart. He came very well prepared.
(To George): Today is Valentine's Day. You are here in London promoting two films. If you were to pick up one of them as a date, which one will you pick up and why?
GEORGE: Uhooo... pick up your favourite child! (Laughs) I don't know... it is almost impossible to tell you. I am proud of both of the films. I felt that CONFESSIONS [OF A DANGEROUS MIND] was easily accepted, so maybe I'll stick with SOLARIS. But again I am very proud of both films. I don't know how famous Chuck Barris is here, but in America he is incredibly famous. So I think Sam gave an incredible performance. We have shots in the film that were actual shots of Chuck and you just can't tell the difference. He is a phenomenal performer. He can do everything - comedy, drama, he is likable, he works hard. He was in every scene. (George looking at Sam in a soft voice) It is Valentine's Day, so I also tend to stay on Sam's side. I'll bring Sam as my Valentine date, actually.
SAM: Yes, he's my Valentine!
(To George and Sam) If you don't want this kind of question next time try to not come on Valentine's Day!
GEORGE: Yes, next time it will be St. Patrick's Day! Drunk!
(To George) THE DATING GAME is called BLIND DATE here. What do you think about it and if you were on the show, which ones would be your first questions?
GEORGE: My first question would be, what the other two look like! I grew up in the world of bad television. The funny thing about Chuck is that he is held responsible for the beginning of the 'Jerry Springers' of the world. But there is some fairness in that. Even if there was innocence, as we talked about it, there are also responsibilities, because it was the beginning of entertainment at someone else's expense. At that time Chuck held himself responsible. When I first read the script, I had the same reaction as everybody, thinking, - this is impossible. But then, as time goes on, you start realizing that there is a good possibility that the assassinations he writes about are actually the American viewing audience. He holds himself responsible, and that's honourable, and even a little bit too responsible. But it is understandable now that we see what television has become.
(To George): How much do you believe Chuck's story?
GEORGE: I don't know how much I believe it. I didn't want to officially ask him because I didn't want to say, I have made it up, because I wanted to tell the story. I think it is fairly obvious in the film where that all falls. We didn't want to answer completely, because we wanted the question to be up there. What is interesting is, if it is all made up, why somebody who is as famous and wealthy as Chuck Barris would have to do that? He was an interesting person to explore and what we wanted to do with the film was to explore that guy. But we didn't want to ask whatever his reasons were to write that. Also I thought it was funny. I loved especially the idea of comparing the bad television with the work of the CIA
(To George) What can you tell us about OCEAN'S 12?
GEORGE: I can't tell you the storyline, because that is cheating. As far as it looks, most of the guys are going to be in it. I don't know about those whose characters were specific to the storyline, they may or may not be back, but I think almost everybody is down for it. We've set the times in our schedules. It should be fun. Steven and I, with our company, have three projects scheduled to do. Steven is going to direct a movie called THE GOOD GERMAN, then THE INFORMER with Matt Damon and then OCEAN'S 12. We should start shooting next February. Everybody dies at the end. Does that ruin it?
This is the end of the Press Conference, and the end of, as somebody called it, the 'George Clooney Day'. We did enjoy our chat. Clooney is a very smart and articulate person. He shows a great knowledge of the film industry and the way it works. Perhaps, his secret is his attitude towards it. The fact that the word he uses quite often is 'fun' gives the idea of somebody who has taken a different approach to Hollywood. An approach that brought us films such a SOLARIS and CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, films that nobody else wanted to make. The fun is taking the risk to make a good movie, which may or may not be a huge box office success, but that will certainly be loved and remembered in the long run.