George Clooney is getting better with age, and we’re not just talking about his looks or his acting talent. Clooney is back behind the director’s chair (and starring) in The Monuments Men and we caught up with the superstar recently to talk about the unbelievable true World War II story about a group of soldiers who went behind enemy lines to secure stolen priceless pieces of art back from the Nazis.
The film stars Clooney, along with recent Oscar nominee Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin and Matt Damon… who was ideal for the lead as you can see in The Monuments Men poster! But he jokes it wasn’t necessarily his first choice. "Casting was fun. We couldn't get Brad [Pitt], so we got Matt," Clooney said and laughed.
As teased in The Monuments Men trailer, the story is quite serious, but it has a ton of light-hearted moments and quite a bit of humor. "We wanted to make an entertaining film," Clooney said.
It was actually a surprise to Clooney and his producing partner Grant Heslov that they had never heard of the story of the Monuments Men -- especially considering how important what they did was to our larger society.
"We like the story. People aren't all that familiar with it, which is the rare WWII film. Usually you think you know all the stories. We wanted it to be accessible. We thought it was a mix between Kelly’s Heroes and The Train. We wanted to talk about a serious subject that is ongoing still, but we wanted it to be entertaining.”
He and his partner Heslov, through their Smokehouse Films, have partnered to bring to light some films that might never have seen the light of day… form the Oscar-nominated Good Night and Good Luck to the Oscar-winning Argo and now The Monuments Men.
"Grant and I have been interested to make not necessarily slam dunks for the studio to make.It's hard to make films like this, like Argo -- takes a long time," Clooney said. “Good Night and Good Luck, I had to mortgage my house for it!"
Clooney just wants audiences to see good stories told with solid movies, and if in the process audiences are enlightened while they're entertained… all the better.
"We're trying to do films so that you don't walk in and say, 'Ok, yeah that's an easy one.' Sometimes they're successful and sometimes they aren't. But they're the ones we want to make. Our inspiration in general is to try and get stories made that if we didn't sort of go after them, they probably wouldn't get made,” the actor-director-producer said.
“The others are going to get made anyway. That's what we're trying to do."
The story of the film is a true one, shown effectively in The Monuments Men international trailer. Sure, some things had to be made up for dramatic purposes. But Clooney promises that some of the more astonishing aspects of the film are completely taken from real events. “Obviously, we made some things up along the way, but most of it’s true,” Clooney said.
“What is fascinating is they were part of that group that went into that mine and found all the German gold. It effectively ended Germany’s effort to purchase oil and prosecute the war. There were a lot of these pieces that were true. A lot of the things that were odd -- like going to the dentist and winding up finding the [stolen] paintings at this guy’s house -- that actually happened! Some of the wildest parts… are true.”
In the end, was Clooney hoping to make a political movie? “I was actually not 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 with this. This has a real positive outlook on things,” he admitted.
The heart of the film explores why it was important for the U.S. to risk lives to go after pieces of art and culture. There is even a line in the film with Clooney’s character explaining why saving the art, sculpture and artifacts was as important as achieving an overall victory. “You can kill them, you can murder their families, but if you take away their culture, that’s when society breaks down. What are you fighting for, if it’s not our culture?”
Clooney, if he had to choose between acting and directing, would surprisingly choose the latter. "I prefer directing to other things. Directing and writing I think seem infinitely more creative," Clooney surprisingly said.
“The truth is, your development, you hope, is the same as everyone-- succeed some, fail some and keep slugging away at it. Directing is fun, I really enjoy it. I like directing more than acting now. I don't know if it's improving but it's evolving in different directions."
After appearing in many films with some of the world’s best directors, he certainly has had some fantastic helming mentors. "All you try to do is learn from the people you work with. I've worked with the Coen brothers, Alexander Payne… I see what they're doing and steal it,” Clooney said and laughed. “That's the theory."
Clooney has come a long way from being a struggling actor from Cincinnati to winning Oscars as a producer (Argo) and as an actor (Syriana). "When you start out as an actor you're just trying to get a job,” Clooney said.
“I wasn't really motivated to be the sixth banana on The Facts of Life, but I was thrilled to have the job.”
How will The Monuments Men fare when it comes to World War II movies?
Click through below and see what 7 World War II Movies made their mark on Movie Fanatic!