Opening February 7th, George Clooney’s exciting action drama The Monuments Men features an impressive ensemble cast that brings to life the untold but true story of courageous people who risked everything to rescue the world’s artistic masterpieces from Nazi thieves. Set during World War II, the movie is based on the book by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter and centers on one of the greatest treasure hunts in history. It also shines a light and a perspective on very well-known historical facts.
At the film’s recent press day, we participated in a press conference with Clooney, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Bob Balaban, John Goodman and producer Grant Heslov. They spoke about wanting to make an entertaining movie that also deals with a very serious subject matter, what they found inspiring about portraying their characters, their experience working in Berlin, Clooney’s evolution as a director, why he enjoys stepping behind the camera now more than acting, what Heslov and he look for in a project, how he pranked Damon by altering his wardrobe during production, the importance of protecting art and preserving our cultural legacy, the impact of this movie moving forward and how the Monuments Men are still at work today. Check out the interview after the jump.
GEORGE CLOONEY: Yes. We wanted to make an entertaining film. We liked the story. We were not all that familiar with the actual story which is rare for a World War II film. Usually you think you know all the stories. And we wanted it to be accessible. We liked all those John Sturges films. We thought it was 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. We also wanted to make it entertaining. That was the goal.
Mr. Clooney and Mr. Heslov, the issue of artifacts taken away from the homes of Jews has been going on for decades. We see a lot of Christian artifacts in the movie, but can you touch on the Jewish aspect of the movie?
CLOONEY: I will leave it to my Jewish partner.
GRANT HESLOV: A lot of the art that was destroyed was painted and created by Jews. A lot of that is gone because that was degenerative art. That’s what Hitler was trying to get rid of. But we talk about Rothschild and we talk about the Jewish collectors. One of the scenes that touches me the most in the film wasn’t in the writing. It was in the directing, the acting and the shooting of it. It was when these guys are walking through that warehouse and he just says, “What is all this stuff?” “That’s people’s lives.” “Whose?” “Jews.”
CLOONEY: When we see that photograph, it’s a real photograph. In Paris, they collected all of the belongings of Jewish families and, in fact, set up rooms that looked like living rooms, like showrooms, for blocks and blocks and blocks.
HESLOV: When two guys are literally sitting in a room, you never know what’s going to happen, but we did talk a lot about the idea of hoping that this would shed light and open more discussions. And now what’s happened with this find in Germany, we hope that there will be a lot more stuff repatriated.
MATT DAMON: (to Bill Murray) And I have a follow-up question about your pants. (Laughter)
BILL MURRAY: George told me the story that he was going to do about a year before, and I thought, “Gosh, that really sounds like fun.” I wasn’t invited to be in the movie a year before and I just sort of thought, “Boy that would be really great.” And then, suddenly about a year later, he said, “Would you like to be in this film?” I’d thought about it for a whole year, so I said yes. The story is so fascinating, and as they say, untold. Most people don’t know this story. And to do it with this group of people was not just ennobled because they’re all so good, and everyone is such a good actor, but they’re so much fun. I watched the movie for the first time last night, and on a number of occasions I went, “Yeah. We got this shot. And then we sat down and we laughed for about 40 minutes after that. Oh yeah, we stopped right there, and then we just started cracking wise and laughed for about 40 minutes right there.” It was like that. George and Grant take great care of everyone on the job. I’ve never been so well taken care of on a job. I never felt so protected and covered. All of us as actors, everyone had great scenes to do. Everyone had a chance to do a turn and 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. I think we would all do it again tomorrow if we had to start tomorrow.
DAMON: And if enough people see the movie, we will. Please, please, tell everybody you know. (Laughter) The sequel. Or we could do a prequel.
CLOONEY: Yeah, sure. With younger actors.
DAMON: Wait! What?
CLOONEY: Wait a minute!
DAMON: In terms of the choices we make, the script really dictates a lot of that. The script was beautifully written yet again by these guys. I think this is your third script that you guys have written. It’s just another great script. All of us came up reading plays. A lot of the answers that you need are right there in the text. And so, the dynamics were really clear. It gave us a lot of guidance. At least for me, it laid out a very clear road map for what to focus on.
CLOONEY: We changed the names of the characters because we wanted to give some of them some flaws for entertainment purposes, quite honestly, for storytelling purposes. You don’t want to take somebody who’s real and heroic and give them a drinking problem. It’s not really fair to do. So we changed the names because we wanted to be able to play with the story some. But these are all based on real men. There were a hundred of them eventually by the time this went on. They went through Italy and did the same thing. But they’re based on real people. There were two gentlemen that were killed in there, one trying to save the Bruges Madonna. They really are based on real people all the way through, and of course, our lovely Rose Valland. It was pretty close. A lot of that stuff was pretty accurate.
BLANCHETT: I think what I found really inspiring about her and I think about all the characters is that they were such unlikely heroes and heroines. Rose Valland, on whom Claire Simone is based, was utterly alone and would write all this stuff down on the back of her cigarette papers and put them into this book which any day could have gotten her killed. I found that the fear that she had to serve under on a daily basis was very inspiring. I think the crisis in World War II was one of the most monumental crises that we faced as a species. It really reveals who you are, and that’s what I find really ennobling about the Monuments Men and Rose Valland.
Having done the research for this film, what do see the impact of The Monuments Men? Where do you see this going into the future and what’s being done about the lost art? Even if the art can’t be returned, what do you see happen as a result?
CLOONEY: Well there’s a lot to that. First and foremost, there are so many elements of it that are tricky. There’s a lot of this art that has been found and is in other people’s homes or museums, quite honestly. Some of it is repatriated back. It’s a long process and it’s not particularly easy. There are places, of course, in Russia. There is a generation of people who believe they lost 25,000,000 people, and to the victor go the spoils, and that are keeping it. 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 Rothschild who had the largest private collection, because people think they’re pretty wealthy and that’s not such a big deal although, of course, you want it to be returned. It is a long process. It is a continuing process. Quite honestly, 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. It’s a long, long process, even if this raises some awareness and opens up some discussions on it. There’s art that was found in Germany recently with about a billion and a half dollars’ worth of art. Some of that art was actually art that was found by the Monuments Men and given supposedly back to the people who were to then give it back to the original owners and they didn’t. The guy kept it. It looks like that art is going to be repatriated as time goes on, and that’s a good thing. If it opens up the discussion a little bit, that’s really helpful I think. But it’s something we’re learning more about day to day as we go.
Cate, congratulations on your Oscar nomination this morning. I thought you’d be working with all the guys in this movie, but watching it, I noticed your scenes were mostly with Matt Damon.
CATE BLANCHETT: Can you imagine my disappointment?
BLANCHETT: I thought I was going to be working with Bill Murray.
CLOONEY: (Laughs) Sorry!
BLANCHETT: Well no, I’m deliriously happy about the first bit and deliriously happy about listening to what this one, Bill, was saying. I felt like in a way that George, as we all know, is such an incredible raconteur, and I think that carries 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 the other part of his life. In a way, this film is a synthesis of those things. I felt the way George would come to each of us and obviously pitch the story of The Monuments Men was not dissimilar to his character in the film going round to gather the people, the characters, to be in the film. But yes, most of the stuff was with Matt. Unfortunately, the time in Berlin was incredibly short.
CLOONEY: The pitch to her was that she wouldn’t have to work with Matt. I lied.
BLANCHETT: Yeah. But I think we’ve aged relatively well. The last time we worked together was in Ripley (The Talented Mr. Ripley) in Italy, so it was a slightly different endeavor.
DAMON: Slightly different characters.
BLANCHETT: And then he made Behind the Candelabra so… Fortunately, I hadn’t seen that before we filmed this. (Laughter)
DAMON: (referring to Clooney) He did.
CLOONEY: Oh, we did.
BLANCHETT: Mamma Mia!
George, you seem to direct a movie every three years. What attracts you to step behind the camera and what is the difference between George Clooney, the director on Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and George Clooney directing now. How do you think you have advanced?
CLOONEY: George Clooney has learned to speak about himself in the third person more. The timing for directing is usually because it takes that long to develop a piece and then do pre-production and then post-production. It takes at least a couple of years. I prefer directing to doing other things. Directing and writing seem to be infinitely more creative. As far as how I’ve changed, all I’m trying to do is learn from people that I’ve worked with. I’ve worked with the Coen Brothers and Soderbergh and Alexander Payne. I’ve worked with really great directors over the years, and I just try to see what they’re doing and then steal it. That’s the theory. Go, “Oh I like that. I’m going to do it that way.” The truth is my development I hope is the same way as everything, which is, I succeed some, I fail some, and I keep slugging away at it. I really enjoy it. It’s fun. I like it more than acting now. It’s tricky directing yourself obviously.
DAMON: But since you refer to yourself in the third person…
CLOONEY: I go, “George, you were very good.” So anyway, I enjoy directing. I don’t know whether it’s improving or not, but it’s certainly evolving in different directions.
CLOONEY: Oh thank you!
For George and Cate, you both had good years. Is it all confidence now when you go into things like this or is there still any self-doubt in you?
CLOONEY: No, it’s not.
BLANCHETT: Everyone else has had really shitty years. I mean, projects like this don’t come along very often with ensembles like this. For me, the power of the story is that it shines a light and a perspective on what we previously thought were very well known facts. My children saw the film last night, which George quipped that they were killing off the demographic. But, when they find the barrelful of wedding rings and gold fillings, we all know we’ve seen those horrendous pictures, and the power of cinema is that it draws on that collective history. I feel like the film harnesses our understanding of the Second World War, but yet it opens a door into a very particular and noble and quirky bunch of guys and girl who really changed where we are now and what we understand our contemporary culture to be. But am I confident? Never.
BLANCHETT: Yes. I should just say yes.
CLOONEY: I have no doubts.
This is a very entertaining film about a very serious subject matter. People seem to get very excited about gold. Was it your intention to criticize the capitalism that’s going on right now?
CLOONEY: No, I wasn’t really making a statement on capitalism. The funny thing is, it’s based on a true story, and obviously we made some things up along the way, but most of it’s true. In fact, they were part of a group that went into that mine and found… You actually see the photograph at the end of the credits. They found all of the German gold, basically all of it, effectively ending their ability to purchase oil and to prosecute the war. There were a lot of these pieces that are true. The things that are odd, like going to the dentist and then ending up finding the paintings at this guy’s house, actually happened. It was a guy named Bunges. The flipping over the painting because they were eating on top of it, that was actually true. So, all of a sudden, the wildest parts of the film are true. I wasn’t really looking to make a statement on things. Grant and I tend to make films that are somewhat cynical at times, and we sat down specifically saying, let’s not do that for once. Let’s do one that doesn’t have any of that in it and that has a real positive outlook at things. That’s what we sought to do with this.
For George and Grant, I have a question about choices. There were some wonderful, quiet moments like with the statue of The Burghers of Calais that appears at the end. Can you talk a little about that?
CLOONEY: To tell you about The Burghers of Calais, that also really happened. The soldiers snuck up there. The Burghers was actually hidden in trees. The castle was surrounded by trees and it was just stuck in these trees outside, and when the guys showed up, they thought they were soldiers. They hid behind the trees and thought they were going to take a shot at them, and then realized it was a Rodin. So that part was true.
HESLOV: That’s one of my favorite moments when Matt goes, “It’s a Rodin!”
CLOONEY: It’s a difficult time. I think that’s true. It’s also difficult because there are so many different outlets for information. It’s very tough to find what has been checked and double-checked and find what you can believe. I’m the son of a newsman so I understand exactly what you’re talking about. Our job as performers is to serve the material obviously and sometimes we pick material that we like to focus on and things that will open conversations. In my private life, we try to do that in other versions, places where journalists aren’t able to go often times because it’s not a sexy story. Darfur wasn’t a sexy story for a long time and people weren’t able to go there. Nick Christophe was doing great reporting but it wasn’t getting out there. So, if you can shine a light on it, we get an awful lot of attention here, and strangely as you get it, you want it much less. When you’re young, you kind of chase things. You’re hoping to be successful and then it starts to get way too much. Any way you can deflect it into stories that are important for you to cover and you want it to be out there, then I think that’s a very good thing to do. You’ve got to be careful. You can’t go to North Korea and sing Happy Birthday to Kim Jong-un. I don’t think that’s probably…
HESLOV: You can.
CLOONEY: You can. You sure can. But you have to be a little selective about how you do things.
When is your film going to be released in China and will you adapt it or change anything for a Chinese audience?
HESLOV: I don’t know when we release in China.
CLOONEY: Only a few films get released in China. I remember when Gravity got released in China, there was a news story that was released. There are only a few films that get released, so I’m not even sure that we would be released. You hope that it would be. Obviously, we don’t have much control over what happens to the film when it actually ends up in certain places. If you saw the posters they did in Italy for 12 Years a Slave, and there was a picture of Brad Pitt with his hair down, and it horrified Brad but could you imagine. There are places when you get overseas where there’s different marketing and different sensibilities that you hope would stick closer to the story.
CLOONEY: Yes, they do. I think we should still have World War II in the story if we do it.
DAMON: And we should definitely win still.
CLOONEY: We should win the war.
DAMON: Those things are not negotiable.
CLOONEY: You can’t negotiate that part of it.
Can you talk about the process of casting this great ensemble?
CLOONEY: Casting was fun. We couldn’t get Brad (Pitt) so we got Matt. (Laughter)
DAMON: He told me I’d get to work with Cate Blanchett.
CLOONEY: It was really fun. I think pretty much to a man, Grant and I when we sat down, we were writing it, we hadn’t thought of Bob (Balaban) yet, and we went to an Argo party. We saw Bob and we had this part and we knew that we wanted Bill (Murray) in it. We kept thinking, “Who are we going to put opposite Bill that Bill can give a really hard time to?” And then, we were at this party with Bob, and I looked over, and I was like, “Oh, it’s perfect” and Grant said, “It’s perfect.” And so, we called Bob up the next day. But the rest of the gang, we wrote it with them in mind. (to Heslov) So that helps a little bit when you’re writing, don’t you think?
HESLOV: It helps. Yeah.
BOB BALABAN: And now it’s terrible because I have to go to all parties now. I can’t stay home anymore.
Can you explain how you did the very moving Christmas scene?
CLOONEY: The Christmas scene we wrote specifically knowing we were going to use that piece of music. A good friend of mine, his 16-year-old daughter is just an insanely talented singer, and I had her record that at her school. She recorded that song and we just used it. It’s spectacular. She’s a real talent. We knew all along that we wanted to overlap and tell a little bit of a non-linear piece of storytelling there.
CLOONEY: Let’s hear from the other guys. Working in German was fun, wasn’t it?
JOHN GOODMAN: I loved it.
BALABAN: I was amazed at the consciousness in Berlin, especially in terms of the Holocaust and the war, but specifically the Holocaust is very much a part of present discussion all over the place, which I thought was actually a great thing. There are little plaques everywhere you go around in different neighborhoods. “This person here was prosecuted.” “This person was sent to this concentration camp.” “A family of Jews lived here. They took over his business.” Little, very discrete, very dignified plaques are everywhere. I was really interested because I’d been in Berlin doing something 25 years before and I guess it was too close to reunification for people to be thinking about much else. I was amazed at how much it was a part of everyday life in Berlin. I liked it and I thought it was really interesting.
DAMON: I loved working there. I’d worked there before on the second Bourne film so I’d spent a lot of time in Berlin. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world. And yes, if you talk to young Germans, it’s a huge part of their curriculum and has been for quite some time. You grow up with a much better knowledge of what happened than most Americans actually have because it’s something that’s really forced on you. You’re forced to look at it, understand it, and I think that’s reflected in German people when you talk to them. They’re very aware of it.
CLOONEY: I feel bad for actors though because for about 75 years German actors have had to play Nazis. You’re bringing them in to read and you’re just going, “I know. I’m sorry. But I do need you to be really mean.” They’d try like, “Well maybe it was he joined because of…” and I’d go, “No, no. He’s a bad Nazi. You’re going to have to just be bad.”
BLANCHETT: But it did feel like one of the perfect places to shoot the film, apart from the obvious reasons, because given that the film does deal with what is the importance of culture and would you die for it. I mean, it is a country that has absolutely had to since the Second World War ask itself massive moral questions. And it’s reforged its identity based on culture. I mean, the amount of artists living and working in Berlin is unparalleled. It’s one of the strongest economies, not only in Europe, but globally, and it’s because of its understanding of the importance of culture. It felt fantastic to be working there on this.
BLANCHETT: We signed something that we wouldn’t reveal any of the horrendous atrocities that went on.
DAMON: I read somewhere that he took in my wardrobe by an eighth of an inch. Every other day he had the wardrobe department do that because he knew that I was trying to lose weight. (Laughter) This was a job that I’d go back to New York where I was living with my family, and then I’d come back for two weeks, and then I’d go back to New York. And every time I came back, the pants were tighter and I’d be like, “This is weird! I’ve been going to the gym. This shouldn’t be happening.”
CLOONEY: He’s eating like a grape and he’s going, “I don’t understand.”
DAMON: So it’s nice having friends like that.
CLOONEY: Yeah, I was just looking out for you. I didn’t do too much because I was busy. That’s why. I didn’t have a whole lot of time.
HESLOV: This was hard.
CLOONEY: It was. There wasn’t a lot of goofing around.
Mr. Goodman, I wanted to ask you about working with Jean Dujardin.
GOODMAN: Working with Jean was great. He spoke English this time and I still refuse to learn French.
HESLOV: He spoke this time.
CLOONEY: (Laughs) Yeah, he spoke.
GOODMAN: It was probably my happiest filmmaking experience this last year doing this film. It was wonderful.
HESLOV: Was it better than Argo?
GOODMAN: Almost. (Laughter)
CLOONEY: Also, Jean is really fun and he’s really funny and he loves what he does. Everybody gets it the minute he walks into a room. He’s just fun. Every single prop he can do something hysterical with.
HESLOV: He’s like the French George. They’re like twins.
CLOONEY: Yes. Thanks.
GOODMAN: Unfortunately, that’s not reflected in this press conference this morning.
There are two characters in the movie that in my opinion are the worst faces of the Nazis. There’s the man that lives in the house with the stolen paintings and there’s the officer that decides to destroy everything. Was that intentional or is that just my idea?
CLOONEY: No, those were our two bad guys. Those two characters are based on real people. They really did take paintings. First, outside the Jeu de Palme, they piled up Picassos and Salvatore Dalis and burned them. And then, coming toward the end, what the Germans were trying to do was blow up that last mine in Altaussee. (He struggles to pronounce the name correctly.) We figured it was okay if we butchered the language since we usually butcher languages. By the way, Matt’s French was very good. Did you notice?
DAMON: Thank you.
CLOONEY: But they were based on real people and those were real things that were happening, so it wasn’t hard to make them bad guys. Two wonderful actors, I have to say. They were just great performances.
CLOONEY: When you start out as an actor, you’re just trying to get a job. I wasn’t really motivated to be the sixth banana on The Facts of Life, but I was thrilled to have the job. So, things just change as time goes on. I think Grant and I as partners for a long time have been interested in trying to find stories that are unique and also stories that aren’t necessarily slam dunks for the studio to make, that require us to pick up and carry in. This one, as the cast grew, became a lot easier to swallow. But it’s hard to make films like this. It was hard to get Argo made. It took us a long time to get Argo made. With Good Night, and Good Luck, I had to mortgage my house for it. We are just trying to do films that you wouldn’t necessarily walk in and everybody says, “Okay, yeah, that’s an easy one.” Sometimes they’re successful and sometimes they aren’t, but they’re the ones we want to make. I think all of our inspiration in general is to try to get stories made that if we didn’t go after them probably wouldn’t get made, because the others are going to get made anyway. That’s what we’re trying to do.
There’s a quietly intense but brutal scene where they discover the barrels inside the mine and don’t realize what they are and then they’re stunned and dismayed. What inspired you to write this scene which touches on the Holocaust and how important it was to show that aspect of what was happening?
CLOONEY: It’s in the book. The Monuments Men found barrels of glasses and teeth when they found all the gold and wedding rings.
HESLOV: In reality, they found barrels and barrels and barrels of stuff. We talked about the idea of how somehow making it smaller would make it more impactful and more personal. Not only did George direct that sequence brilliantly, but when they’re all going up in the elevator and there’s that mass reaction, it’s a beautifully done piece of work, but it’s also a balancing act. We talked about the idea. This isn’t a movie about the Holocaust, but you can’t not address it. This was our way of addressing it without getting too far off track of the story we were trying to tell.
What I loved about the film is its statement about why art is important to protect. For all of you, what is it about art that inspires you still today? Why are films like this important to help us try to preserve some sort of cultural legacy when we live in a very cynical time?
BALABAN: One of the things that attracted me to this was I’d always known about the stealing of the art, but never really the extent of it. The question that the movie poses specifically, and I thought it was great, and George, your character actually has said this a couple of times in the movie, is why is it so important that you should kill so many people but also try to eradicate their culture? It is so significant, and it’s something very hard to get across in another piece of art, in a movie. I thought the script and then the movie did it beautifully. I think it’s a question we are struggling with all the time. Is it just pretty? What does art do for us? How does it represent us? It’s our whole inner life out there for people to see and it’s subtle. I think it’s very hard to depict and I thought that the movie did it really well.
Mr. Goodman, did you go and research the real life counterpart of who your character was and create the back story for yourself? Did you look further into your character and have that all in your head when you were playing the part?
GOODMAN: Oddly enough, the man that my character was based on was from my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. He did a sculpture in downtown St. Louis that I would drive by on the city bus every time I went downtown with my mother. To me, that was something very remarkable and it touched something in me and grounded me in that way. I used what I knew of the gentleman from the book and from other things that I read about him, and the script tied everything together for me.
CLOONEY: We have time for one more question. (Laughter)
DAMON: Working with George was very similar to working with Soderbergh, which makes sense because they’ve worked so much together over the years and had a company together for a long time. (George slips Matt a $20 bill.) George is obscenely talented as a director, I have to say. (George slips Matt another $20 bill.) It can be a little annoying being his pal because it’s kind of like God said, “Maybe this time I’ll give one of them everything. How about this kid? Let’s make him handsome. I’ll tell you what, as he gets older, he’ll even look better.” (Laugher) (George slips Matt another $20.) So, in closing, because I think he’s out of twenties, honest to God, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had. And I’ve had better experiences than I could have ever asked for. I’ve worked with the very best directors around and he belongs in their company, or even ahead of it. (Matt holds his hand out for another $20.)
CLOONEY: I’m out! I’m out!
HESLOV: Give him your credit card.
GOODMAN: It’s like an emotional strip club. (Laughter)
CLOONEY: You don’t want to see a G-string.
DAMON: Oh, they have.
CLOONEY: They have. That’s true. (Laughter)
Cate, congratulations on your nomination today for Blue Jasmine. How would you describe your morning? Has it been extra special? And compared to Woody Allen, how is George as a director?
CLOONEY: Easy, easy! Oh there are so many jokes. Cate, what was your morning like?
BLANCHETT: Working with Woody is like an emotional strip club without the cash. My morning has been great. I love talking to the press. (Laughter) No, I’m very happy to be working with these fellas.
CLOONEY: Yes, there are. I just got a message from Richard Stengel who used to run Time magazine and is working at the State Department right now on just those types of things. Yes, they do exist. We’ve done it poorly at times protecting the art, but there seems to be a stronger effort now which is good. I think we’ve understood the importance of it. It’s a funny thing. One of the scenes when we were writing, we wrote about where you say you can kill them, you can murder their families, but if you take away their culture, that’s when the society breaks down. I’d spent a lot of time going through these villages in the Sudan and in Darfur where it wasn’t enough that you killed them and you killed their children. You had to destroy the things that they had created from generations before. You had to destroy what made the village theirs. That was as important as the raping and the murdering of these families, and you started to understand it. We started to understand, when we didn’t protect the art at the beginning of the war in Iraq, when we didn’t protect those museums, those artifacts and a lot of those things were lost forever, how that can actually affect the community in a very deep way. I think we learned that lesson again. We keep relearning how important those things are and how important those pieces are. What are you fighting for if it’s not for your culture and your life? And so, it’s a hard thing when you’re doing a movie, as you can imagine, when you say you’re going to write a script about saving art, it doesn’t sound all that fun. You have to remind people that what we’re talking about isn’t just these painting on a wall that some people can look at and get and some can’t. It’s also about culture. It’s about these monuments and it is about these sculptures, but it’s also just about the fabric of our culture and our history. It is mankind’s way of recording history. That’s an important part and that’s why I think the people at the State Department are working very hard at this.
Are any of the Monuments Men still with us and have you had any feedback from them or their families?
CLOONEY: I don’t think they’ve seen the film yet. We just finished the film. Harry Ettlinger is the young German man in the film. The real guy’s name is Harry Ettlinger and he’s coming to the premiere and he’s written us some really lovely notes. He fled Germany when he was thirteen. It was the day of his Bar Mitzvah. And then, he ended up in New Jersey.
HESLOV: That whole Rembrandt thing.
CLOONEY: That’s a true story. You can actually see him in the photo in the end credits holding up the Rembrandt that he wasn’t allowed to see that was in his home town. He got to find it in Karlsruhe. There are a few of them still alive. They were the younger ones obviously, because most of these guys were [older].
HESLOV: A lot of families have reached out to us saying, “My grandfather was in the Monuments Men. Here are some pictures.” In fact, I got a letter from one woman the other day who didn’t know anything about this book, and through the press of this film saw the cover of the book, and her grandfather is in the photo on the cover of the book. She was over the moon. She’s going to come to the premiere.
For George, you’ve been in one of the most amazing films of the year, Gravity. I would like to know what you think of Alfonso Cuaron?
HESLOV: What’s it called?
CLOONEY: Gravity. It was an astronaut film. I thought the film fell apart about half an hour into it. (Laughter)
DAMON: Oh, the Sandra Bullock movie.
GOODMAN: I didn’t see it.
CLOONEY: Alfonso Cuaron is again one of the great geniuses in the game. He really is a genius. He hasn’t made a bad film. He has great love of what he does. I can’t tell you what an honor it was to work with him and see what he was doing. Man, I’m telling you, we had no idea what was going on. It was two years of post-production finishing that film. It was crazy. They were doing stuff that they hadn’t even invented yet in terms of CGI and stuff like that.
HESLOV: They still haven’t invented it. They’re still working on it.
CLOONEY: They’re inventing it now. But it was great working with him and it was fun.
How important is it to preserve any art form?
DAMON: There are some art forms I don’t think you need to preserve. I mean, interpretive dance.
CLOONEY: Interpretive dance?
DAMON: I mean, for me, my interpretive dance. I don’t think you want to see that.
CLOONEY: Boy, are you going to get letters now.
BALABAN: Finger painting.
DAMON: Finger painting is important. I think it’s a building block and we need to keep it.
GOODMAN: I like the smell of play dough.
CLOONEY: So you want to keep play dough in?
DAMON: I still eat the play dough.
CLOONEY: Boy, you’re going to get even more letters now.