When we sat down with the actor to talk about his latest flick, The Monuments Men, we were hoping for a glimpse of that infamous charm. And, charm we got. But, we also dug a little deeper, chatting about his burgeoning directorial career and just why he cares so much about a bunch of stolen art.
Why did you wait so long between directing projects?
"The timing for directing is usually a few years because it takes that long to develop a piece and then do preproduction and then postproduction. 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 [Steven] 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. The truth is my development is the same way as everything — which is I succeed some, I fail some, and I keep slugging away at it. It’s tricky directing yourself, obviously. I go, 'George, you were very good.'"
When it comes to motivation and inspiration, do you feel it has changed from when you started out as an actor?
"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. For a long time, I 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 it. But, it’s hard to make films like this. It was hard to get Argo made. With Good Night, and Good Luck I had to mortgage my house for it. Sometimes they’re successful and sometimes they aren’t, but they’re the ones we want to make."
Can you talk about the process of casting this great ensemble?
"Casting was fun. We couldn’t get Brad [Pitt] so we got Matt [laughs]. 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 [Balaban], and I looked over and I was like, 'Oh, it’s perfect.' But, the rest of the gang, we wrote it with them in mind."
What about shooting in Germany? How do you think the Germans are dealing with that part of history today?
"I feel bad for actors because for about 75 years German actors have had to play Nazis. You’re bringing them into read and you’re just going, 'I know. I’m sorry. But, I do need you to be really mean.' They’d try to be 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.'"
Are there monuments men working today in the U.S. military at war zones to prevent looting and the destruction of art?
"Yes, there are. What are you fighting for if it’s not for your culture and your life? 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 paintings 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."