Roundtable: George Clooney and 6 Top Writers on Awful Agent Advice and the Accuracy Police
Superstar scribes Clooney, Grant Heslov, Julie Delpy, Nicole Holofcener, John Ridley, Danny Strong and Jonas Cuaron reveal to THR the secrets of how they work, the public figures they really want to write about and how Janet Jackson's breast impacted their work.
You two broke through with Good Night, and Good Luck. What was the challenge of that screenplay?
HESLOV: In reference to what we were talking about earlier, that was one where we felt like we had to get it exactly right.
CLOONEY: Also, remember that this was written because we were so angry. I was angry at being called a traitor to my country for saying that I thought the war was stupid.
Did the attacks make you afraid?
CLOONEY: There was that one moment when, you know, Bill O'Reilly does a half-hour show about why my career is over. He brought in some producer that goes, "I'll never work with him again." I'm like: "I don't know who she is! I've never even seen her before." (Laughs.) And I called my dad and said, "Well, am I in trouble?" And he's like: "Do you have a job? Do you have money?" And I said, "Yes." He goes: "Shut up. Grow up. Be a man. What are you afraid of? A lot of people have taken a lot worse chances. You can't demand freedom of speech and say, 'Don't say bad things about me.' "
Is there a public figure that you would like to write about?
STRONG: I remember seeing the Eliot Spitzer documentary, Client 9, and thinking, "Wow, that would make a terrific movie."
CLOONEY: [Or Anthony Weiner.] I mean, imagine growing up with the name Weiner your whole life, and then this picture, you know?
Danny, did you ever hear personally from Sarah Palin about HBO's Game Change (2012)?
STRONG: Her aides came out guns blazing and attacked us a week before the movie came out. And they said, "We haven't seen the movie, but it's all lies." And I remember about a week or two after that ended, I saw that I got my first gray hair. (Laughs.) And I thought, "Sarah Palin gave me gray hair."
HESLOV: She gave a lot of people gray hair.
DELPY: In the U.S., if you talk about someone that's alive, and you describe their personal life and they disagree with it, can they sue you?
CLOONEY: No. There's literally no libel laws here -- if you're a public figure. The difference now is, what is a public figure? Because now, everybody on Facebook is a public figure. You know, there was a lawsuit a few years ago about a woman who was in a car accident and an emergency helicopter picked her up, and there was one of those on-scene emergency shows in the helicopter. And she was begging to die. She says, "Please let me die," and she ended up living. And she's watching TV one night with her kids, and she's on television begging to die. And she sued [and eventually lost]: "You were in an accident on a public street, made the news, and you are now a public figure, and you have no right to that privacy anymore."
What do you think of that? You're a public figure, but you also come from a news family.
CLOONEY: Listen, I have the worst of all of it because I agree with the idea. I would never, ever want to change a law that would close off any form of information. I would rather the misery that I get at times. But there is an element of this where you just go, "This is not what was designed." And where do you draw the line?
So what do you think about Edward Snowden and Julian Assange?
CLOONEY: Now we're getting in some deep shit! (Laughs.) I think it's a complicated issue because you look at Edward Snowden, and you say, "Well, these are stories that have yet to be finished." When you did Game Change, there was a beginning, a middle and an end for that version of that story. We know [that] Assange is holed up in an embassy and Snowden is hiding out in Russia. And we're not sure, yet, what the effects [will be]. It may turn out that those guys ended up doing something heroic. It may also turn out that they ended up doing something cowardly. There are all kinds of questions yet to be answered.