George Clooney is full of surprises. Whether as political activist or Las Vegas mogul, the A-list actor is constantly upending the standard celebrity profile. With his second directorial effort, “Good Night, and Good Luck,” he can add another item to his eclectic resume: auteur.
As spare and focused as journalist Edward R. Murrow himself, “Good Night” fixes on the venerable newscaster’s fight with Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Boldly photographed in black-and-white and celebrated by critics (“a passionate, thoughtful essay,” wrote the New York Times’ A.O. Scott), the intimate film is an Oscar underdog, but Clooney has a shot to join the exclusive club of actors-turned-helmers (Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner) who’ve been laureled by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
GENESIS: “I was getting smacked around for talking about whether or not we should go to war. … And I had gone back to a project, ‘Murrow and Me,’ that I had written with Walon Green in 1997 about a fictionalized character who was basically in the room with Murrow and (his producer Fred) Friendly. I was reading those speeches again that Murrow gave — ‘Dissent is disloyalty.’ I thought, first of all, you just never hear anybody write that well anymore. And then I thought it wasn’t a bad thing to have people talking about the responsibility of the fourth estate, and the responsibility to question authority is not something that’s ever won, it’s something that’s always waged.”
VISION: “Accuracy. Because we were dealing with people whose life goal was to focus on accuracy, it meant that we couldn’t misrepresent. We had to be extraordinarily careful with the facts. We treated everything like journalists: Every scene in the movie we doubled sourced, so it was always about how to beat everyone’s arguments to the punch.”
CHALLENGES: “Dealing with real people and real history. It was important to treat their legacy in the right way. Our job was representing people who stood for something so remarkable and who stuck their necks out when it was a much more difficult time to stick your neck out. We owed them.”
MAGIC: “The moment that David (Strathairn) slicked his hair back, put a cigarette in his mouth and did the speech the very first time — we always thought he’d be the right actor for the role — but the minute that we saw him do it, that was the moment we thought, Wow, we guessed right.”
NEXT: “I’m not a director by trade. I haven’t made any money doing it, so it’s not like I can direct from now on. But in a year and half or so, there is a Coen brothers screenplay at Warner Bros. that I might take a swing at: ‘Suburbicon,’ it’s a really funny dark comedy about murder. Do something different, you know?”