You know, press conferences are usually quite mellow, chilled out affairs. In the past, I’ve likened them to lectures, intimate (en masse) conversations, and fan-squee love-ins. They’re part of the promotional machine, sure, but they are usually firmly focused on the film at hand, as well as the art of filmmaking, the inspiration behind the work, and other cultural-artistic concerns.
In the space of two days, I had the pleasure of attending two press conferences being held at the London Film Festival, for Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Men Who Stare At Goats. No doubt due to the international scope of the festival, and the world-conquering stardom of the lead actor of both films – George Clooney – these conferences were more like entertaining hyperactive, cheeky children. They were bizarre and, for the most part, wholly unenlightening – with some noted journos loudly proclaiming afterwards that they would never attend a press conference again. They might be over-reacting, because it is actually splendid, absurd entertainment (even if it is, in a way, a mockery of their profession).
Below are some of the choice bits of chatter from the Fantastic Mr. Fox press conference – or, as I now tend to call it, Clooney Fest #1 – which was held in the packed-out ballroom of the Dorchester Hotel on London’s Park Lane. The impressive panel of guests included writer-director Wes Anderson, and actors Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Wally Wolodarsky, and Eric Chase Anderson, and beardo-musician Jarvis Cocker. Oh, and that Clooney fellow, who, unsurprisingly, was the magnet for most of the questions.
Luckily, both Clooney and Murray were on top form – with the latter especially flying off the handle at opportune moments.
So let’s begin…
[Chap from Boston Herald]: Can you talk about Mr. Fox, about what you thought of him…
George Clooney: …as a Fox?
BH: …as a Fox? It’s a remarkable piece on work, in that it seems to be a George Clooney…
BH: …performance… but without your face.
GC: You know, listen, for me, this guy was such an optimist, and I thought he was just a fun character to play. I remember reading the script, and saying to Wes, ‘listen, I love it and I’m happy, thrilled and excited to do it’… So for me, it was just about the process of working with Wes, of working with these guys. I didn’t enjoy working with Bill. I think that that’s fair to say, right?
Bill Murray: That’s accurate, George.
GC: But I’ve let go of some of the anger since then, and we seem to get along just fine now. And that’s important.[Persistent Lady from Channel 5 News] : George, hey! I have to ask you, there are some lovely on screen moments between you and your son. Did it make you at all broody?
GC: Okay, now, that’s a word that Americans don’t understand.
[PLfC5N again]: Did it make you want to have kids? I’m not offering, but…
GC: Broody? Broody means, you wanna have kids? I’m learning all these phrases this week. Do you know, just having Jason here next to me, I feel like a father. And he just got married, by the way, so I feel almost like a grandfather, in a way. So yes, I’m jumping right into it, then.
[The List, Scotland]: Wes, returning to the stop motion, and the choices that you made for that. I’m wondering whether you intentionally evoked the cultural history of that form. And specifically Czech filmmakers like Jan Švankmajer, who used it for politically subversive ends, and I wondered whether it had any link with the anarchic spirit of Roald Dahl’s novels, as well.
BM: That’s the kind of question we’ve been hoping for, ladies and gentlemen. That’s why we flew over here! Go get ’em, Wes.
Wes Anderson: That kind of Eastern European animation was one of the inspirations for me. I hadn’t thought of the political links, but I do think that the movie – and Dahl – is anarchic. And the movie is a bit of a Robin Hood story, so it’s a bit Communist, I think.
BM: Or English, okay, to be fair to you people!
WA: But there’s another animated film, also, a French one, called Le Roman du Renard, and that’s a great influence on us, because they used… this is too esoteric for this…
BM: Au contraire, au contraire!
WA: …they used multiple scales of puppets, for big wide shots, that was something that we stole for our movie.
[Screening Room, from CNN]: George, what is the moral lesson from this fairytale?
GC: Stealing is good.
WA: It’s a celebration of stealing.
GC: It’s honouring thievery. I don’t know, is there? Come on, help me out.
Eric Chase Anderson: Be true to your animal nature.
GC: That’s the answer? Alright, let me try again, you ready? I think we just want to be true to our animal nature. [Newstalk, Ireland]: A question for George or Bill. I was talking to Felicity Dahl a few weeks ago, and she was talking about her relationship with Roald, and she said that he was a wonderful man to live with, until the last few weeks before any book was published, and then he got really grumpy and cantankerous, because he had this feeling, ‘what if this is the last book? what if this is the last thing I’m going to produce?’ I was wondering if for either actors, if they could relate to that feeling.
GC: [to BM] This is your last film.
BM: Well, I was just with Felicity Dahl yesterday, and she made me feel that way, too. [GC laughs] So, goodbye everybody. She brings out the real fear in you, no question about it.
I guess, you always feel like this is the very end of it, but, the nice thing about this being animated is, they’re going to have a bit of difficulty picking me out, in an audio crowd. I don’t know what we’re talking about here.
She seems okay – he’s dead now, so he’s safe, what’s he got to worry about? She can’t do him any damage now. He’s a great guy, and she must have roughed him up pretty bad. Whatever happened in their household should stay there. It’s just an anxiety. We saw where they lived, and it’s an amazing place, and she’s quite a person. So they had quite a life together, and she’s devoted to him even now. So I’m sure in that moment, it must have been very forceful to her to realise there’s nothing she could do for him. Because it’s an anxiety that no one can help you with, it’s just your own fear, or question of your own self worth or identity.
But he came through it time after time. But she’s a wonderful, wonderful woman, and if I were going to remarry, I’d take a chance with her.
GC: I would as well.
[Reading Post]: For George, I suppose you can officially be described now as ‘foxy’,
GC: Ah! Finally!
RP: And it has nothing to do with the way you look. I was wondering, what other attributes do you think you share with Mr. Fox, other than foxiness?
GC: Well I try to daily wax. Let’s see. I seem to be considerably taller than this character. [laughs] I don’t know…
WA: Sometimes when I’ve been writing a script, I’ve had an actor in mind. With this one, we were just thinking of animals, until the script was done. So when the script was done we were wondering, who was going to play Mr. Fox. And we thought, well, I think Cary Grant would have been good.
GC: Thanks for that!
WA: But within 20 seconds of thinking of Cary Grant…
GC: Because he’s dead…
WA: We were thinking about George Clooney.
[Sharp Objects Magazine] Bill, you’ve gone from playing yourself as a Zombie, and now you’re coming into your badger-like goodness, how did you channel your inner badger?
BM: My little animal secrets must remain my little animal secrets. How I do my nails, that is really my business. [holds up hands] I’ve got one of each. We’ve all got a little critter in us, a little critter. And, when cornered, we can fight ferociously. And sometimes we burrow deep, deep, deep, to get away from other people and be safe. None of that makes any sense, to you, right now. But, playing a badger, unless you’ve done it, we can’t even have a conversation.
[Masterful Gossip-hound from RTL]: George, in the first production by Smokehouse Productions [Clooney’s production company] you played a character that needed to grow up and get responsibility, and in this film, you’re very believable, as Bill says, as a character who needs to find responsibility. Do you feel that’s why everybody keeps asking you, are you going to have kids, and are you going to get married?
GC: Wow! That was – you went from there… to there. That was good, man, I actually have to applaud you on that. That was like, man, that’s a hard swing!
BM: Do you intend to adopt?
GC: I am, I plan to adopt some of Brad Pitt’s kids. I owe him a few. Thank you for that question, and I will now have to consider the other jobs I was going to play – Peter Pan… That was a great question, though. I don’t have an answer, obviously!
[Daily Mail]: Wes, obviously this is more of a British tale than anything else, and I was wondering why the decision was made – apart from the fact that this is a great cast – why does it tend to be more American actors with American accents, as opposed to British ones?
GC: That’s it!
WA: [cautiously] Well, Noah Baumbach and I, we adapted the script together: we’re American. And I feel we’re better at writing American voices, so we decided to make all the animals Americans, and the humans would be British…
BM: …because they’re the bad guys!
WA: [facepalm] Thank you…
[Live24/7]: Bill and George, how important would you say the London Film Festival is on the festival calendar, and to the film industry? BM: Well, you know, we kid about the British being the bad guys and everything, because… that revolution thing is still sticking with us, we’re still upset. But the reason the London Film Festival is important, I think – I mean, film festivals are fun, and you go with your movie to support your movie – but this film couldn’t have been made anywhere in the world other than London.
One of the most exciting days I’ve ever had in the film business was the day I spent with the artisans and artists at [animation studio] Three Mills. There was more talent in one factory, than I’ve ever been closeted with. I’ve never been with so many talented people in one place. They do things here with sets and design, with models, that America doesn’t dream about. We can put a man on the moon, but we couldn’t make this movie. And, to me, it’s a celebration of all the people that worked on this film. And they’re fun after work, too, I want to make a special point of saying that.
Tune in tomorrow for Clooney Fest #2: Electric Boogaloo, where we report from The Men Who Stare At Goats press conference…