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Grant Heslov on 'The Ides of March' and 'Argo'

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Grant Heslov on 'The Ides of March' and 'Argo' Empty Grant Heslov on 'The Ides of March' and 'Argo'

Post by laetval Mon 03 Oct 2011, 09:41

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The award-winning writer/director/producer talks the politics of Ides of March, how Ben Affleck is doing on Argo, and whether True Lies 2 will ever happen.

The Ideas of March premiered at the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals this month as one of George Clooney’s two Oscar hopefuls for the year, along with The Descendants. Ides is the one he directed and stars in as a presidential candidate, while his idealistic staffer (Ryan Gosling) learns the truth about dirty politics. Longtime Clooney collaborator Grant Heslov co-wrote the script with him. We caught up with Heslov in Toronto to talk politics, their next production Argo, and a little True Lies.

CraveOnline: Are politics the essence of drama? You’re dealing with people trying to appeal to as many people as possible without really committing to a specific stance.

Grant Heslov: I don’t know if they’re the essence of drama but certainly politics can be dramatic. That’s why we set this in politics and with the background of politics because there is a lot of drama inherent in that world.

And the double talk that’s not quite a lie but not the truth either.

Definitely. It’s that gray area which both George and I are so attracted to, that nebulous area between good and evil.

It used to be frustrating that a candidate would try to appeal to as many as possible instead of representing a specific ideal. Now it seems like the opposite, some politicians are determined to represent a limited group of people. Why is that and can it go back?

Yeah, I think we always sort of swing back and forth. The truth is you can’t get elected if your base is that narrow. Just inherent in the process, it’s going to have to swing back. But I understand what you’re saying. You see it more in the primary obviously because each of those candidates now for instance is trying to put a flag down. Some of them are very specific to the right and there are some that are trying to reach out to a larger base. So I think it’ll be the ones who reach a larger base will become a nominee.

Even in the debt talks, congressmen refused to work with this president. They just wanted to take a few years off until they got a president they liked. Don’t they still have to run the country?

That’s part of the problem, yeah. That whole debacle is a perfect example of how drama plays out.

At least it’s reassuring that the tea party might not have a chance being so specific as they are.

I don’t think they will.

The play was based on the Howard Dean campaign, right?

Really not. Beau Willimon who wrote the play worked on that campaign, so that’s what he’s drawing from. The candidate is not Howard Dean. It’s a fictitious story. I think that he just took his experience of being a campaign worker and used that as a backdrop to write this play.

That campaign is so interesting to me, because did he really lose just because he screamed?

I don’t know if that’s the reason he lost but I think that that was definitely a turning point. He’d said some off the cuff things that were not the smartest things leading up to that. Then I think that really was the turning point.

At least if it’s what he said, then people are making an informed decision not to support him. If it’s just they don’t like the way he expresses enthusiasm, that’s silly.

Well, it is silly, you’re right.

Are the ‘Ides’ really about political backstabbing, or a broader metaphor?

I think the metaphor is broader. Look, there’s a lot of backstabbing that goes on in the film. So we sort of wanted to leave it open to interpretation on who you think is stabbing who and who ends up dead in the end. For me, in a certain sense, Ryan’s character ends up dead at the end because in a way he’s sold his soul, he’s lost his soul. But I leave it up to the viewers to interpret it. That’s what I like about the title.

What were the discussions about “We can’t call it Farragut North?”

There were none. George and I just decided that we liked this. We thought that Farragut North wasn’t as interesting a title for us as The Ides of March. That was the extent of the discussion really.

What kind of writers’ schedule do you and George have? Are you 9 to 5-ers?

Nah, we have our offices. We’ll just say, “Let’s meet tomorrow at 10” and then we work until we’re finished or until we’re not getting anywhere. But we don’t really keep a set schedule because he’s obviously busy. I’m busy as well with other stuff. Then if we’re on something and we’ve got it, then we’ll just meet every day and work.

When you’re writing something like ‘Ides of March,’ do you have a sense of the timing for Awards Season?

It doesn’t impact the writing but we knew that this was a fall release. That’s what you want, to be a fall release. What you don’t want to happen is make it with the intention of a fall release and they tell you, “Oh no, we’re going to release this after Christmas or end of summer.” You get some slot where you feel like they don’t have a lot of faith in it.

Were you thinking of doing a political film for election season as you developed it?

No. We had thought about making this film a while ago. We’d written the script and then put it on the shelf. It didn’t feel like the right time. Then we said, “Let’s make it now.” It times out pretty well as we get into a political season but we didn’t write it [for that.] As much as we can, maybe we have this luxury because we’re lucky, but we don’t think about the outside factors like will somebody ever make this film? Will we be able to cast this film? We just write the film that we want to see, that we want to make. Then we just go do it. So I think the timing actually works out really great for us now. We’ll see if people respond.

As a producer, how is ‘Argo’ going?

It’s going great. This will be the end of our third week today which I’m missing.

From pre-production to seeing it in action, how is it shaping up?

It’s amazing. It’s always fun when you’re doing a period piece and get to see the first stuff on film and how everybody looks. We’re doing some really interesting stuff with the look of the film. I’m really excited. I think Ben’s a terrific director.

How is he making the transition from the modern day crime genre stories?

I didn’t work with him on the other ones so I don’t know how he’s adjusted, but he really has a sure hand. He knows what he’s doing, he knows what he wants. He’s on schedule and on time and he’s doing a great job.

You guys sure have good luck with actors turned directors, huh?

Yeah. I don’t know if that’s just coincidence. Look, a lot of directors were actors, even if they were unsuccessful actors which I think is helpful. I think it’s a really helpful thing for a director to have experienced that. It helps you know how to talk to actors and how to get what you need from them. So directors who have never acted before, to me it’s miraculous that they can do so well with actors.

Will ‘Argo’ come out about this time next year?

Yeah, I think it’ll come out in the fall. I don’t think we have a date yet but it’ll probably come out in the fall.

Is it a good thing that the fall is considered the season for “important” movies?

Well, I don’t know if it’s a good thing but I think it’s a good time for films like this. The summer is full of summer films and I think come this time of year, people are hungry to see interesting, good, different kinds of films. So that’s why I like to come out in the fall and I know as a filmgoer, that’s my favorite time of the year to watch films.

Will you always be drawn to thinking films?

We made Leatherheads. I wouldn’t call that a thinking film.

I would. Thinking comedy but still.

You would? Yeah, maybe. Maybe it was too much and that’s why it didn’t do as well as we had hoped. No, I think I’ll always be attracted to what I think are good stories or potentially good stories. I never really thought about the thinking man’s aspect of it.

Are you directing again?

I will, yes. I’m going to. I haven’t settled on the next thing that I want to direct. What you learn when you direct a film, even more so than as a producer, it’s a marriage. It’s like a relationship with that film so you’ve got to make sure that it’s really something that you want to live with for three years or however long it is. So I haven’t found the right thing to marry yet.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has returned to acting. If he happens to get a ‘True Lies’ sequel together, would you want to return to acting for that role?

Oh, I would do that in a second. I think that would be fun but I’d be surprised if they do another one.

It might not be with James Cameron but maybe Arnold would bring someone else on.

Maybe if he wanted to do it he could probably get it done. Maybe too much time’s gone by. There’s a lot of generations of audiences that have come and gone since that was made.

Before he was governor, he would always talk about ‘True Lies,’ ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Running Man’ sequels but now he’s not even doing another Terminator.

I’m curious to see film-wise how that’s going to work for him. He’s certainly older now and I’ll be curious to see. I know Tom Arnold wants to do it. He calls me every once in a while.

Does he know how that sounds when he’s the only one who talks about it?

Probably. He probably does.
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Post by pattygirl Mon 03 Oct 2011, 14:26

Good interview. What a different personality Grant has from George. No wonder they get on so well. He's George's balance, they are ying and yang. Grant is certainly quieter and much less wordy. Would love to be a fly on the wall while they are writing together or hashing out details.
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Post by laetval Mon 03 Oct 2011, 19:55


George Clooney’s Smoke House Partner Grant Heslov Says ‘Our Brand Is Crisis’ Is Likely Next
Director For The Film Being Sought

With “Ides of March” hitting theaters this Friday, writer/producer Grant Heslov is nearing the home stretch of a lengthy press tour that began in late August with its Venice Film Festival premiere. Directed by George Clooney, the political thriller is based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon, and follows the exploits of a twenty-something presidential campaign spinmeister/wunderkind named Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) and the dirty pool he plays to get his candidate (Clooney) the nomination against a rival senator. Paul Giamatti , Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood round out the solid supporting cast of the starry project, and Heslov’s next producing effort is not wanting in star power either.

The very busy Heslov has been spending as much time as he can on the set of Ben Affleck’s next directorial effort, “Argo,” which is currently shooting. That film is features Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Scoot McNairy among the ensemble, but it’s no surprise that the movie has drawn so much wattage. With a filmography that also includes “The American” and “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” Clooney and Heslov’s Smoke House production shingle boasts an attractive, ongoing list of projects that offer actors and directors the kinds of films and roles they don’t usually find on a studio slate these days. We recently caught up with Heslov and he took us on a rundown of the current Smoke House production slate, contrasted the styles of fellow actor-turned-directors Ben Affleck and George Clooney, and revealed what’s next for the company.

Based on the Wired article “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran,” “Argo” centers on the real-life C.I.A. plan to rescue a group of diplomats from Tehran after the 1979 Iranian revolution by claiming that they were part of a Hollywood movie crew shooting a film. Affleck directs and also stars as Tony Mendez, and with the movie now in its fifth week shooting just outside of Los Angeles, Heslov is pleased with things so far.

“It’s going great,” Heslov tells The Playlist. “We’re on the set, it’s an amazing story. Some of the people who were the hostages that actually escaped the embassy were visiting us today; some of the people the story is based on. I’m on set every day unless I have to go do a press day for “‘Ides.’”

Ben vs. George
It’s no secret that actors like working with actor/directors. And in the case of Clooney and Affleck, star power certainly doesn’t hurt the drawing power. “I think actors are attracted to working with other actors who they respect, particularly if they’ve already done a couple good films, as obviously Ben and George have,” Heslov says. “Actors know how to talk to other actors in a way that sometimes other directors just don’t. I mean, look, there are some great directors that have never acted a day in their life so it certainly isn’t a prerequisite, but it can definitely help.”

So how do Ben and George differ on set? “Both have a very sort of easygoing style,” Heslov tells Playlist. “They are very different as directors in approach, but the end results are very similar in the way they put scenes together.”

“Hamdan v. Rumsfeld”
First announced in early 2009 under the title “The Challenge,” the Aaron Sorkin scripted project centers centers on Osama Bin Laden‘s chauffeur, who was captured in Afghanistan before being shuffled off to Guantanamo Bay. This was the case that proved the actions being taken at Guantanamo were in fact a violation of the Geneva Conventions, thanks primarily to the work of Hamdan’s dashing, slick, and overwhelmingly handsome lawyer Charles Swift, a role that Clooney was going to take on in addition to directing the picture. He later handed the lead role over to Matt Damon instead, and last we heard two years ago, the scheduling just couldn’t be lined up, and the project was delayed. But it’s still in development.

Heslov tells Playlist they are working with a new writer (whom he did not name), but didn’t offer any definitive plans for production. “That’s still something we’re working on. We’re with a different writer now. It’s just still something we’re trying to figure out.”

“Monster Of Florence”
Announced earlier this year, Clooney would play real life writer Douglas Preston (his book serves as the foundation for the film), who teams with local crime reporter Mario Spezi upon moving to Florence to try and solve a 30 year old murder mystery haunting the city. The one has been kicking around for a while, first coming to life as a Tom Cruise vehicle in 2008, and Heslov is still awaiting a script from “Valkyrie” co-writers Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander.

“I’m just waiting on a draft,” says Heslov. “Chris McQuarrie is writing it. I’m excited to see a first draft.

“Our Brand Is Crisis”
First announced in 2007, this dark comedy draws its inspiration Rachel Boynton’s political documentary about the role of James Carville‘s political consulting firm in the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. “It’s something that we’re probably going to put up next. It’s at Warner Bros. and I’m just trying to figure out who’s going to direct. We’re going to make that one. It’s a really great script. For Smoke House, I would say ‘Our Brand is Crisis’ [is next],” Heslov said. “We’ll definitely be producers on it, but what other role we would play I don’t know at this point. Right now it’s just a great script.”

So what else is on the docket for Smoke House? There is the financial bailout movie based on the Washington Post article “700 Billion Man” by Laura Blumenfeld that Clooney is eyeing to direct. “We’re just at the scripting stages on that,” says Heslov. Zach Helm (”Stranger Than Fiction”) is writing the screenplay. First announced way back in 2007 as a possible vehicle for David Gordon Green, the adaptation of John Grisham‘s “The Innocent Man” is no longer at Smoke House. “That was something we had worked on and then Grisham was being sued about the book. He finally won the lawsuit, but it took so long we sort of moved after that,” Heslov said. And oh yeah, the Coen Brothers scripted “Suburbicon,” long mooted as a potential movie for Clooney to direct, isn’t even at Smoke House at all. “I don’t know how that got [attributed] to us,” says Heslov. “I don’t think we ever really had anything to do with that.”

But even with all these projects vying to get on the big screen, the goal remains the same. “We’re constantly just trying to develop great scripts,” explains Heslov. “That’s the main thing. And then if it’s something that we want to do or something that we want to develop with George or another actor in mind. It’s really all about getting a good script.”

“Ides of March” opens nationwide on October 7, 2011.
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Post by Cinderella Mon 03 Oct 2011, 20:43

Wow… they are movin’ and groovin’! I love Grants no nonsense associated with George’s comical side. It makes reading interviews about Smoke House productions interesting! I saw a new trailer about IOM recently and I cannot wait until Friday!

Thanks again, Laetval! Give Flowers2
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Post by pattygirl Mon 03 Oct 2011, 20:56

It is good that they both are keeping busy and not doing boilerplate comedies, "scream" movies, and the such. They want to do good projects. They work very hard at it and hopefully they will have continued success.
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Post by Dexterdidit Tue 04 Oct 2011, 00:50

Grant and George work so well together and balance each other out. I'm glad they aren't doing the fluff that seems to sell these days. Most of it won't be remembered cause it isn't that good.
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