George Clooney’s new film, Ides of March, takes what some might call a cynical look at the state of American politics, but that doesn’t mean the director and star — ever the optimist — has given up on the system all together.

“I think it’s cyclical,” he says. “I think we’re at a period of time where it’s probably not our best moment in politics, but if you look at the things Jefferson and Adams did to each other, the 1800 election was pretty rotten and evil. Things change and are cyclical, so I’m hopeful.”

The film, based on Beau Willimon’s play Farragut North, follows an idealistic young campaign worker (Ryan Gosling) whose work for a charismatic candidate (Clooney) during the Democratic primary opens his eyes to the underbelly of politics.

But as much as campaign signs and Beltway jargon make up the scenery of Ides of March, Clooney wants to make clear that this is not a political film — at least not the way he sees it.

 

“I thought of this as a film about moral choices, not about political strife,” he says. “I thought it was a fun moral tale, and once you put it in politics it sort of amps up the problems. There isn’t a person you have met that hasn’t been met with moral questions. Everyone makes moral choices to better themselves and hurt others along the way, whether the means justifies the ends.”

In fact, he maintains, the political setting is actually incredibly incidental — especially considering current events. “It could have been better in Wall Street,” he offers.

With acclaimed films like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night and Good Luck on his resumé, Clooney is proving just as adept as a director as he is as an actor.

So how different is the Clooney behind the camera to the one audiences know? Not very.

“He’s pretty much the same guy as George Clooney the actor,” he jokes. “Basically the same height, same hair. Pretty much the same.”

As for his on-camera work for the film, surely Clooney used some real-life models in portraying a top-ranking politico, right? Not so much, he insists.

“No, there really weren’t” any existing public figures used for this basis of his character, Clooney says.

“There’s just so many ways to get in trouble with this answer. There were enough examples that we just picked little pieces of whatever we wanted.”

But he maintains that viewers going out looking for those real-world corollaries are wasting their time. “People think it’s about the John Edwards thing, but this was written before the John Edwards thing even broke,” Clooney offers as an example.

It’s all part of the perception problem people have with movies — especially political movies — and their place in culture, Clooney explains.

“Films don’t lead the way. In general it takes about two years to get a film made,” he says.

“People think that films somehow are trying to lead society. Mostly we’re reflecting the moods and thoughts that are going on in our country and around the world. If this film reflects some of the cynicism that we’ve seen in recent times, that’s probably good. It’s not a bad thing to hold a mirror up and look at some of the things we’re doing. It’s not a bad thing to look at how we elect our officials.”

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