'Monuments Men' Premiere: George Clooney 'Excited' About New Release Date, Glad to Have Skipped 'Tough December'

When Monuments Men hits theaters on Friday, it will do so almost two months after its originally scheduled release date.

Late last year, the then-Oscar hopeful, which had been set to open Dec. 18, had its release date suddenly pushed back to early 2014, with star-director-writer-producer George Clooney saying more time was needed to complete the visual effects work on the title.

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At the film's New York premiere Tuesday night, Clooney told The Hollywood Reporter he's thrilled the film's coming out now.

"I'm excited about the release date; we're in a really good slot," he said, reiterating that there just wasn't enough time to finish the film they didn't start shooting until March 5 of last year.

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"We just couldn't get it. We worked as hard as we could; we just couldn't finish it," he added.

Although Clooney last year dismissed speculation that the film was being moved to get out of the particularly competitive Oscar race, he said Tuesday night that he was glad he didn't have to face off against some of this past December's releases.

"Looking back, it was a really tough December, so I'm really happy we have some breathing room," he said. "It's nice."

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Clooney's co-writer and co-producer Grant Heslov added that the additional time allowed them to get the visual effects and sound right.

"We got the time to do all the things we actually wanted to do," Heslov said of the delayed release date. "So the visual effects are how we wanted them. The sound is how we wanted it. Those are all things that we definitely didn't want to compromise on."

The film, about a group of art historians and museum curators charged with rescuing works of art stolen by the Nazis during World War II, is loosely based on Robert Edsel's nonfiction work The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, with a number of modifications made to create a manageable story.

Indeed, Heslov noted that the biggest challenge in adapting Edsel's book was finding the story in the 700-page tome.

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"It's a huge story. It's like 700 or something pages and the story's pretty sprawling, so [the challenge was] just really finding what the spine of the story was that we wanted to tell … and finding characters that we wanted to focus on and just honing it in," Heslov said.

Clooney also noted that they worked to make sure the detailed nature of the book didn't turn the film into a civics lesson.

"The biggest challenge was making it not a civics lesson because there's a lot of detail that if you just do that, then it's a really boring civics lesson, and we set up at the beginning to make it an entertaining film," said Clooney.

Although Clooney took on multiple roles, making him intensely involved in the project, it seems they just came naturally to him.

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"I've been writing most things I direct for a while, and directing is what I really enjoy the most," he explained on the red carpet before the film's premiere. "It's fun. It's a much more creative process. As you get older, that seems to be the thing you like to do the most. And acting because it was a good part for me, and I wanted to work with these actors."

Edsel, who was on hand for the premiere, said that he provided additional background information and stories about efforts to recover looted artwork that weren't in the book and made suggestions as Clooney and Heslov drafted the script, and during filming.

He noted that there were adjustments made to his nonfiction work for the purpose of making a movie.

"They're telling a dramatic story. My book is telling the historical story," Edsel said. "They had to make adjustments to be able fit it into two hours because it goes by with the snap of a finger. The overarching principles of my book are intact. People are going to know this was an American and British-led operation that had never been done before on this kind of scale. These men and women risked their lives. It begs this great question: Is artwork worth life?"

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Two of the film's castmembers — Hugh Bonneville and Bob Balaban — explained that their characters were amalgams of multiple people, with Bonneville noting that the real monuments men were "roughly a group of 350 men and women."

"In our film, it's been distilled down to a manageable eight, so I think all the characters are an amalgam," he said.

Balaban added that his character is a combination of multiple people.

"All the stuff that happens in it is true, but a lot of it is compressed and our characters are combinations of characters," he said.

The star-studded cast also includes Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray and John Goodman, all of whom were on hand for the premiere, but Blanchett showed up immediately before the screening began, posed for photos and then determinedly walked into the theater without doing any press.

The premiere was sponsored by art gallerist Larry Gagosian, in the first time an international art gallery ever sponsored a Hollywood movie premiere. Gagosian is particularly committed to ensuring that the accomplishments of the real monuments men reach the largest audience possible. The premiere included a number of Gagosian's close friends from the art world, including Jeff Koons.

Many of the Monuments Men stars have worked with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, including Blanchett, Clooney, Damon, Goodman and Balaban, who starred with Hoffman in Capote, for which Hoffman won the best actor Oscar.

But Balaban told THR the story of a different experience working with Hoffman, of whom he said he "never saw a dark side."

"I worked with him in one of his first jobs. I directed him in a funny little movie, and he was playing a football hero who gets eaten by a zombie," Balaban explained. "Two minutes later I'm sure he wouldn't have done that part. And I met him on the first day, and he was so funny and so sweet, and he was probably 25 years old, I have no idea. And he said, 'Bob, just don't think of me as a football hero who gets eaten by zombies. Don't limit me as that. I can do anything.' And he was so sweet about it. He said, 'I can be Romeo. I can be romantic. I can be an adventure hero. I can be an old man.' He said, 'I really can do anything, remember that.' And I never forgot that. He had such confidence and he really knew what he could do, which in a funny way, made him, in Phil's case anyway, it made him very sweet. He didn't need to fight about being good. He just knew what he could do."

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