After the initial barminess that was the Fantastic Mr. Fox press conference, in which the 7-strong panel were mostly snubbed in favour of lead actor George Clooney (with Bill Murray and Wes Anderson making gracious efforts to participate), the conference for Men Who Stare At Goats had a lot to live up to.
From the beginning, though, things were a little weird. In stark contrast to the dignity of the ballroom of the Dorchester Hotel, the Goats conference was held in Screen 5 of the Vue West End, in London’s Leicester Square. This set up a bizarre situation of sitting in a cinema seat, staring at real-life actors, in front of a movie screen, while a bank of photographers and film crews (sitting in the audience) are furiously snapping and recording away.
In attendance at this conference were director Grant Heslov, co-star Kevin Spacey, and Jon Ronson, writer of the original non-fiction book upon which the film is based. And Clooney, always Clooney, the black hole for crazy questions and inane stabs at banter from the journos.
But do read on, as there are some enlightening gems about the genesis of the film – and book – among the recurring conference characters and tabloid rag antics. Including an epiphanic moment, in which Spacey and Clooney talk about the cult of celebrity.
[Film Critic Quentin Falk]: Jon, were you at all nervous about what they [the filmmakers] would do to your labour of love?
Jon Ronson: No. Just when I was selling, Nick Hornby said to me ‘don’t interfere, because they know how to make movies and we don’t’, so I didn’t interfere, and I read Peter [Straughan]’s script, and I thought it was completely brilliant. And when I heard that Grant and George were making it, that was obviously good. So I was never nervous. And it wasn’t my film, so it was an easy ride for me.
[Birmingham Post and Mail]: A question for the actors, did you go home and try and practise some of the techniques covered in the film?
Kevin Spacey: Yes, I can admit I ran into a lot of walls in Puerto Rico.
George Clooney: …and busted a few clouds… It’s funny, there are things that are made up in this screenplay, but the wackiest things are actually the real ones. When you read the book, and you read about them literally trying to run through walls, they did try to run through walls.
JR: The physics is that the atom is mostly made up of space, and the wall and the human body are mostly made up of atoms… And, to me, the key word in all of this is ‘mostly’. The main wall-walker, actually, was a guy called General Stubblebine, and he was going through a messy divorce at the time, and he subsequently told me that one time he turned up with a bruised nose, but decided that if anyone asked, he could just say it was domestic abuse.
[Reading Post]: For George, I was wondering what you like to do when you’re in London, and what you like or dislike about the city…
GC: I’ve been here for about 30 hours so far, and I’ve already been to the festival once. I’ve eaten in the hotel once, or twice. And I’ve done two press conferences. So this hasn’t been one of my greater get-out-and-visit-London kinda things. I haven’t been able to hit any of the pubs or anything. I haven’t done much of anything.
[Press Association]: Question for George about working with goats. I know you’re a bit of an animal lover yourself…
GC: Sure, I’m from Kentucky!
[PA]: They say don’t work with children or animals, how did you find that?
GC: Yesterday I was a fox, now I’m working with goats. I tell you, this goat was a particularly nice goat. We spent a lot of time together. He wanted to go over dying around me, so we worked on that for a while. The funny thing is, the goat was a great actor. He walked in, and we said, ‘ok, stare at the camera’, and he was like [makes a goat noise]…
[Persistent Lady from Channel 5 News]: George, hello! It’s me again!
GC: You have a different jacket on…
[PLfC5N]: Thank you for recognising!
GC: Well, I couldn’t help it, because of the one you wore last night…
[PLfC5N]: I know, it was very dodgy… So you play a psychic soldier in this film, so I have to ask you – do you see a future for me and you?
GC: …I can see what you’re wearing under that jacket now, and I can’t answer that question…
[PLfC5n]: Fabulous, well I’ll see you on the red carpet later, I’ll be there about 6.37!
GC: Okay, good…
[Dazed & Confused Magazine]: I thought the end of the film was great, and was just wondering which members of the panel had actually experimented with LSD at any point…GC: I’m on it right now!
[D&C]: You were quite convincing, I thought…
GC: Coming from Dazed & Confused Magazine!
Kevin Spacey: Put that shovel down, put it down…
[Masterful Gossip-hound from RTL]: It’s not about kids or marriage, don’t worry, George.
GC: I was getting ready to run!
[RTL]: I was wondering… have either of you ever had anything happen to you of the supernatural variety? Did you have a special connection with your pig, Max, or dogs you’ve had?
KS: [to GC] I think working with you is about as paranormal an experience as you can have…
GC: Thank you! I’m not a big believer in those… I mean, everyone goes through deja vu and things like that, but I’m not a big believer in many of those things. I sort of find them mostly to be coincidence.
[RTL]: You don’t think that, as the film talks about fate, that if you meet somebody, like Elisabetta [Canalis]…
GC: Oh, see now, there it was! Man, this is such a beautiful move. You know, I have to applaud [claps]. It was a fantastic move, because it did go from here – the paranormal – to there. That was hard to do. That was really good.
KS: And he walked right into a wall.
[Mumbling TV Correspondent]: Kevin, you’ve been away from the screen for a while, as you’ve been focusing on the stage. Just wondering whether you’re waiting for the right script in order to take a lead role again, or if you’re just taking a break.
KS: I don’t know, I did three movies last year, I did two movies the year before, and I did two the year before that… I don’t know what this break is that you’re talking about. An actual lead? No, I don’t do those any more. I just finished two films in a row where I’m the “actual lead”. A film called Casino Jack, about Jack Abramoff, who was a Washington lobbyist, and a comedy I just did called Father Of Invention. I suppose I’ve just been focused on building the theatre company over the last six seasons, and things are going very well there, so I had an opportunity to go out and do a couple of movies that I really enjoyed, and I enjoyed the scripts, and I enjoyed the experience of doing them. But my priority for the next six years will continue to be the Old Vic, and I will make films when they suit my schedule…
[Associated Press]: There’s a documentary in the festival [Starsuckers] that looks at the way newspapers run made up stories about celebrities, or exaggerated stories – do you think the media’s obsession with celebrity is out of control?
GC: [laughs] Any answer you give, you’re dead, right? I’m the son of a newsman, I grew up around the news. I can understand the issue, as papers are losing subscribers, and there are becoming less and less outlets… it’s a tricky thing, you’re going to have to sell papers, I get it. The problem is that there’s so little reporting any more, as you all know, and you fight it every day when you go to work – somebody will write a story, and it will be in 1800 different outlets from one person’s story. And you have no recourse. It’ll be false, and you’ll say it’s not true, and they go ‘we’re not saying that, we’re saying a “London tabloid” said it’. So they’re just reprinting and reprinting things that aren’t necessarily true. It used to be two reliable sources, and that doesn’t seem to exist as much any more. I understand the problem with it, and I understand why that happens, but it’s still an issue.
KS: I don’t get it, I don’t understand the notion of people who might call themselves journalists, who would just make up stuff – I don’t understand why that’s of interest to somebody, to write something that is false, so that 1800 outlets will print it. And obviously we live in a time, and maybe always have, I don’t know, where if you even bother to say ‘oh, that story has no wit of truth to it’, they don’t write that the story is false, they write that you denied that the story was true – which is not the same thing as saying ‘what we wrote was absolutely wrong’. So there are some people who try to fight these kind of things in the courts, and there are those who choose to go ‘it’s yesterday’s news, it’s fish wrapping, and I’m not going to worry about it’.
[A chap from the Dutch show CQC]: Mr Clooney, you’re rich, you’re famous, you’ve got ridiculously good looks, influential friends, you’ve got a beautiful house in Italy, beautiful women all of the time… In which way do you consider Mr. Silvio Berlusconi a role model?
GC: …nice! [laughs] We have time for one last question!
[CQC]: No, no, one last question, he’s surrounded by controversy all the time, and you’re still the most desired man in the world, what is your magic?
GC: What’s my magic? Well, I drink a lot… It’s drink, I’ve gotta tell you, everything’s fine. I tell that to kids all the time.