The Descendants – George Clooney & Alexander Payne interview

When did the two of you first meet?
AP: 2003
GC: For Sideways.
AP: You arrived on your motorcycle…
GC: We had a nice long, long, long lunch and talked. Then we left and you said, ‘I have no idea what I`m doing`. Then I left and said, ‘I have no idea what he`s doing`. And then he gracefully passed. And I built a doll and stuck a few pins in it. That worked for six or seven years. Then I got a call from Bryan Lourd saying that Alexander wanted to talk, almost two years ago. I was in Toronto doing two films there and we met at a nice Italian restaurant, had a great night, and he said, ‘I`m gonna send over a script, let me know what you think`. I kind of said I`d do it before I even read it, because I wanted to work with Alexander so much.

In that first meeting did you describe the story, Alexander?
AP: Yeah, I described the story and wanted to know if he was available in the spring. Just let him know I was coming at him. That was September. I sent him the script by November. We were shooting by March.
GC: I was shooting The American, I guess. When I came in I was in the best shape of my life and he was like, ‘Y`know the way you look right now… Don`t look like that when we do the film.` That`s easy!
AP: He managed to put on a couple of pounds and grow his hair out.

Alexander, the author of the novel The Descendants, Kaui Hart Hemmings, said she always imagined George as Matt King was that in your mind as you were writing?
AP: Yes, it was. Right when I decided to adapt it I called her up to ask a bunch of questions including, ‘Is there any actor you`ve seen in your mind`s eye that could play Matt?` She said ‘George Clooney` right off the bat. I said, ‘Great, let`s get him`.

What was it about George that you found particularly suited?
GC: Besides my hair.
AP: Even though we did not work together on Sideways I had long wanted to work with him. I thought we`d get along. Everyone who works with him talks about what a delight he is. I just thought that it would be a good fit. This was the perfect opportunity to confirm that. Those Hawaii guys, the guys in the book, are handsome, like him (no offence). One could also believe, given his look, that he has some distant Hawaiian blood in him. It just worked out exactly right.

George, what attracted you to the role, shooting in the tropical Island paradise of Hawaii?
GC: Tough job! ‘Work with Alexander. The bad news is you have to shoot in Hawaii!` The funniest thing was… I remember this happening once, with the Coen Brothers: I met with them in Arizona, shooting Three Kings, and they said, ‘We`re gonna send you a script, we were wondering if you wanted to do a movie with us?` I was like, ‘Yes`, then I read the script and it was O Brother, Where Art Thou and I couldn`t believe my luck. Then Alexander said, ‘I`m going to send you a script` and… There`s always this fear that ‘I`m going to be in the first really bad Alexander Payne film, because I hadn`t read the script! This is my luck.` Instead it was the exact opposite. I thought it was…
AP: The only good one!
GC: [laughs] I thought it was the best screenplay I`d read in a long, long time. There`s not much that happens in the film, in a weird way. When you look for trailers for this film, it`s very hard to explain it, because it`s a film that so slowly unfolds. So beautifully unfolds. It takes its time. It`s hard to describe the screenplay. You start reading it and you`re involved from the minute you start. By the end you`re really taken by it.

Did you think reading Matt, ‘I recognise this guy? I can do this`?
GC: I always look at things going, ‘I think I can try to do this`. When I did Solaris, Steven Soderbergh and I were partners and I wrote him a letter because I find you want to give people distance to say ‘No`, rather than right at you, because you put them in an incredibly awkward position. So I wrote him and said, ‘I don`t know if I can play him, but I`d like to try. But only if you think I could do it`. He said, ‘Great, let`s do it`. You need that distance: you can`t be right on top of each other. We sort of had that with this. I had the chance to read it, very quickly, and digest it. And know it`s not something I`d done before. And know that it was a very different character that I play. I was very interested in exploring that. I figure if you`re going to explore it you do it with the people you trust the most.

Descriptions of your roles are often prefaced with, ‘in a departure from his usual heartthrob roles`, but it`s rare that you actually play a heartthrob you`ve played quite a few men in mid-life crisis…
GC: It`s the funniest thing. I get people saying, ‘Surprisingly not bad in this film…` When are you gonna stop being so surprised?! I think there`s a certain assumption of things, due to earlier choices in my career that weren`t particularly great. I will always have those skeletons that people hark back to all the time. Some will say, ‘He only plays himself`. â€