George Clooney: actor, producer, writer, director, and secret optimist.
You might think, "Of course he is! What could a guy as beloved and successful as him have to be pessimistic about?" But many of the films he's been involved with creatively have explored the darker side of crime, politics, and global relations. And after directing and starring as a corrupt presidential candidate in 2011's "The Ides of March," Clooney decided to leave cynicism behind for a more hopeful and inspiring story.
The result is "The Monuments Men," the true account of a mismatched band of experts and historians who went behind enemy lines in World War II to save priceless works of art that were plundered by the Nazis. Watch the exclusive new trailer for the film also starring Matt Damon, Bill Murray and John Goodman, then keep reading to learn what drew Clooney and his producing partner Grant Heslov to this untold WWII tale.
George Clooney and Grant Heslov met over 30 years ago when they were both struggling actors (the story goes, Clooney borrowed $200 for his first professional headshots and never paid him back). They've been producing partners for a decade, culminating in them both winning Oscars last year when "Argo" was named Best Picture. But the roots of "The Monuments Men" began after they wrapped Clooney's previous directorial effort, "The Ides of March."
Heslov told Yahoo Movies in a phone interview this week that the political drama about the corrupt nature of the modern electoral process made them look for a project that lacked any trace of cynicism. They were also interested in working on a bigger scale than they ever had before. And that's when Heslov brought up a book he had read: "The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History," by Robert M. Edsel.
Edsel had researched the largely forgotten story of the Allied Forces' Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program, a small commission dedicated to preserving landmarks, architecture and fine art pieces that were endangered by the ravages of war throughout Europe. Most of the servicemen in the program were middle-aged scholars with little to no military experience. But they went to the front lines to recover important artwork that had been plundered by the Nazis and keep historical buildings from being demolished.
In addition to directing, Clooney plays Lt. Comdr. George Stout, a WWI vet who was one of the first art experts appointed to the MFAA. He and his men landed on the beach in Normandy and crossed Europe chasing after antiquities. Stout was joined by 2nd Lt James Rorimer (played in the movie by Matt Damon), an expert in medieval art who bonded with a French spy (Cate Blanchett) to rescue stolen masterpieces.
"It was a period of time in our history before all the cynicism," Heslov said about the film's WWII setting. "It was a war, I think, that everybody believed in, and it was right. And we were on the right side." And Heslov noted that even 70 years later, there are still pieces of that history yet to be discovered. He said, "There generally are a lot of stories buried in those times, and I feel like we found one that wasn't a rehashing. There really was something new."
Heslov did admit, though, that while Clooney was committed to telling an inspirational story, it didn't stop him from upholding his reputation as a notorious prankster. Even being the director of a major studio production didn't keep him from causing trouble. "Same pranks, same guy," Heslov said, though the added responsibility did slow him down a bit. "I think he probably had a little less time because directing is a lot more time-intensive than acting. When you're acting, you have a lot of time in your trailer and days when you don't work. When you're directing, it's 24/7."
Heslov said there was no particular target of his horseplay on the "Monuments Men" set. "He's pretty equal opportunity. We shot in the snow a bunch, so there were a lot of snowball ambushes that we both did to anybody we could find."