Could you tell us about your characters in Hail, Caesar!?
George Clooney: I play Baird Whitlock who is a sort of Victor Mature star of the actual film inside the film, Hail, Caesar! who apparently, I’m told now, is not the brightest of actors, but I thought he was the smartest guy (laughs).
Channing Tatum: I play Burt Gurney, which is probably modelled a little on Gene Kelly. I don’t believe Gene Kelly was a communist so I can’t exactly say it was Gene Kelly but his style of dancing was.
So we’re in a Coen Brothers world here – it’s Hollywood in the 1950s but it’s the Coen Brothers’ version of that?
GC: Yes, it sure is. It’s a very affectionate look at that time and there’s a cynical version of it where people say it’s making fun of it but if you see, for instance, Channing’s dance number, it gets huge applause and that’s because the Coens love these kinds of films – they love films – and they get to do all these different genres in one movie.
Channing, how long did it take to prepare for that spectacular dance sequence?
CT: Whenever you get a chance to be in a Coen Brothers film everybody just jumps and says ‘absolutely’ but they buried the lead slightly on how complicated and big the dancing was going to be (laughs). It was about three sentences in the script that says ‘there’s a dance scene on a battleship and he does a knee slide into a bucket.’ And they asked me if I could tap dance, it was like ‘we think we want you to do a little tap dancing..’ And the whole thing is tap dancing! And then they were like ‘we’re thinking you do a little singing’ and I was like, ‘I don’t do any of these things, why did you guys cast me for this?’ So three and a half months later we slid right under the wire and I’m really happy with the way it turned out and there’s no one better to jump off a blind cliff with than the Coen Brothers.
You’ve mentioned the film within films – biblical epic, synchronised swimming, musicals and westerns; they’re all there. How big a challenge was that for the Coens?
GC: The thing is they are cinephiles and they know all of those kinds of films so well. With every dance move they had a reference from a movie and for my character, if you look at it, it’s obvious they’ve ripped off some stuff from Ben Hur and Samson and Delilah and those kinds of films. But every single one of those films feels authentic. When you see the scenes from the Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) movie it actually feels like that movie exists.
I think we need to see some of those movies…
GC: I think that’s the next thing they should do, make each one of those movies (laughs).
Has making films changed much since the 1950s? Or is the job still essentially the same? It’s still cameras, lights, actors and crew, getting together to tell a story isn’t it?
GC: Nothing changes really. And if you think about technology in terms of filmmaking, it hasn’t changed that much. Yes, there’s digital cameras and stuff but it’s still lighting and make up and hitting marks. Not that much changes really, it’s still about storytelling. If you don’t have a good script, you are not going to have a good movie. You can make a bad movie out of a good script but you can’t make a good movie out of a bad script. So in general, things are still the same.
George you clearly like working with the Coens even if they ask you to play some characters, like this one, who aren’t so clever – you’ve called Baird Whitlock a ‘knucklehead.’ Why is that?
GC: I do like that I have done four films with these guys and every time they send me a script they say ‘you’re going to play a knucklehead…’ and I’m always willing to do it but I didn’t know I was going to be this stupid in Hail, Caesar!. I remember they sent me Burn After Reading and they said ‘we wrote this part with you in mind..’ and he’s the biggest jackass who has a sex toy in the basement and I’m like ‘what’s wrong with you people?’ and then they say, ‘OK, now we got one where you play an imbecile who falls in with a bunch of writers who happen to be communists…’ So I’ve greatly enjoyed how much fun they make of me along the way.
George you have worked with the Coens and you also worked with Quentin Tarantino. What’s the difference in working with the Coens and Mr Tarantino?
GC: Well, there are two of the Coens, so there’s double your pleasure right there. I didn’t work with Quentin as a director, I worked with him as an actor, which is very different and a lot of fun, we had a really good time. I’ve been luckily enough to work with a few (contemporary directors) –like Steven Soderbergh and Alexander Payne. So I’ve worked with some interesting directors and Joel and Ethan are certainly two of those. Listen, I think we are all here because we are thrilled to work with these guys, that’s the truth, if you look at careers of directors they are very seldom doing this kind of work this late in their career – and I mean late, like the end really (laughs). It’s really fun and they are great fun to work with and I think all of us feel very lucky to get the chance to work on a Coen Brothers movie, that’s the truth.
Hail, Caesar! is available on Digital HD from 27th June and Blu-ray™ & DVD from 11th July, courtesy of Universal Pictures (UK).