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George Clooney has a beautiful family, fame, fortune and two Oscars on his mantelpiece, but he is as paralyzed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as anyone else. “I haven’t seen my parents in eight months,” he laments by phone from his Studio City home during a long and wide-ranging conversation with The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s wild.”
Apart from spending time with his wife, Amal Clooney, their 3-year-old twins and a St. Bernard puppy that occasionally interrupts his train of thought, Clooney has occupied himself during lockdown by finishing his seventh film as a director, The Midnight Sky, an adaptation by Mark L. Smith (The Revenant) of Lily Brooks-Dalton‘s 2016 novel Good Morning, Midnight, which Netflix will begin streaming Dec. 23.
Clooney also stars in the postapocalyptic film, although viewers would be forgiven for not recognizing him. Indeed, People‘s two-time Sexiest Man Alive looks nothing like himself, having dropped a significant amount of weight, grown a bushy grey beard and assumed a hunched posture in order to play Augustine, a dying scientist who winds up caring for a young child while racing to try to deter astronauts from returning to an Earth that is no longer habitable by mankind.
“It’s a story about trying to communicate and trying to be in touch with one another,” Clooney says. “When I read the script I thought, ‘Well, this is an issue we have in general because of how polarized we are as a world and how we’re having such trouble contacting one another.’ And then, when a pandemic hits, it actually is physically impossible to contact one another, to be in each other’s space, and everybody is just trying to get home. And so, unfortunately, it’s timely.”
Here is a transcript of the full conversation, lightly edited for clarity and to eliminate spoilers.
George, I was looking at the calendar and I see that it’s been a year and a half since we recorded an episode of my podcast ahead of Catch-22. It turns out a lot can happen in a year and a half.
GEORGE CLOONEY Yeah, gee, the world does change a lot. I haven’t seen my parents in eight months. It’s wild.
Is everybody with you good, though?
Yeah, we’re fine. We have it the easiest of anybody because we’re in California, which is easy. I wrapped the movie, got back here and had just started editing — it was like, March 1 — and then everything shut down, so we just worked from home. The kids and my wife are here and we have 3 acres in the middle of town, so for us, the only thing we miss is our family — Amal’s mom and dad and her brothers and sisters and my sister and my mom and dad. But you know, they’re small prices to pay compared to what everybody else has had to go through. How about you? Are you doing all right?
Yeah, no huge complaints. We’re all spread out, but doing well. I appreciate you asking.
It’s a weird time.
One thing that’s nice, though, is that we can still consume movies through Netflix, so I guess it’s a good thing that you partnered with them on this one!
Good timing that I was with Netflix, huh? I mean, it’s funny. Tenet and us are like the only two big films that are coming out this year.
Pretty much, yeah. And a lot of L.A.-based folks still haven’t even seen Tenet because they can’t show it in a theater here.
I haven’t seen it either. Trying to force people into a movie theater is an awfully tricky thing to do when you’re in the middle of a pandemic.
Exactly. I’m going to come to how you guys are adapting to the situation. But first, let me ask you this. Everybody’s heard how you mapped out your career as an actor — I don’t know if you still go with this, but — the whole “one for me, one for them” thing. And I just wonder if you’ve also had a gameplan like that for directing, because I’m looking at the seven movies you’ve directed — Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Leatherheads (2008), The Ides of March (2011), The Monuments Men (2014), Suburbicon (2017) and now this one — and there are exactly three years between each of them.
Well, I think that’s sort of the natural order of things. I mean, [the 2019 Hulu limited series] Catch-22 was a year and a half of my time — it wasn’t some small event, it was like doing a six-hour movie — so that took a lot of time to do, but it was enjoyable. I suppose if you think about development and then shooting and then postproduction, that’s a couple of years usually in between. I never thought about that, but I suppose that’s about where it ends up. It’s hard to find things you like, you know?
To me it’s a pretty impressive, steady pace. I don’t know too many filmmakers who are able to direct one every three years, and act and do other stuff in between.
Yeah. I mean, my focus has been on so many other things, too. I’ve got twins. And Amal and I have a foundation, and we’ve been doing an awful lot of work on that, fundraising for that and stuff, because there’s an awful lot of work to do in the world besides just acting and directing and that kind of stuff. I’m certainly not acting at the pace that I did at any other time in my life, but you know, I’m fairly comfortable with where my career is, so it’s kind of easy to be able to say, “Well, I’m going to take some time and spend time with my kids and spend time working on things that maybe can help other people.”
Definitely. And congrats to you and Amal on the Simon Wiesenthal Center honor the other night. I tuned in and it was great.
Oh, you did? That was nice. That was Jeffrey [Katzenberg] calling us up and asking if we’d be involved. And I’d done the voiceover for their documentary [about Shimon Peres]. It was nice. All these things are so odd — I recorded the acceptance speech in the screening room in our house where I could stand up and say thank you. It’s such an odd world to not be in a room with you and, you know, a thousand other people.
And you had a spare menorah hanging around? (Laughs.)
Yeah, I just had one hanging there. Actually, it was a candelabra off of the piano that we made look like a menorah. The guys [from SWC] came by and stood outside the door, and I was inside, and they were recording me with a remote camera. It was really funny.
Let’s talk about The Midnight Sky. I know it started as the novel, then it was adapted into a screenplay. At what stage did you first come across it? And why do you think it appealed to you?
Netflix sent it to me to act in, and I thought it was a great part — you know, I loved it. But I’d done these two space movies, one with [Steven] Soderbergh [2002’s Solaris] and one with Alfonso [Cuarón, 2013’s Gravity], and both of them are really interesting and really talented men and the movies are really unique and interesting. I had a take on what I would try to do, not differently, but take what they learned and try to move it in a different direction. And so I called up Scott Stuber and I said, “You know, Scott, I think I know how to do this one.” And he said, “Really?” And I said, “Look, yes, I would like to play the part, but I think I have a different take on it.” A lot of it was about taking out a lot of the dialogue, because I felt like it was more of a meditation. If you’re talking to a little girl who doesn’t talk, you don’t need to talk that much. There isn’t that much to say. There’s an old movie called Gigot with Jackie Gleason in it. I have no idea if it’s any good, but I remember watching it when I was a little kid, and he plays a clown — I think it’s an Italian film — but he’s mute. Maybe he doesn’t play a clown, he plays a homeless guy that’s mute. But he takes on this little girl and takes care of her, and her mother’s I think a prostitute. But I always remembered that there’s this interesting quality — I also had it on ER. On ER I played a pediatrician. I was a womanizer, I was a drunk, but I always took care of kids. “Don’t touch that kid!” “Leave that kid alone!” And once you do that, you can do almost anything else — you can be grumpy, you can be angry, you can be flawed — “but he still likes kids!” You know? And so, I thought that the part for me was easier — there aren’t that many guys that can get a big movie made that are right for this part, you know? The guys that I’ve sort of worked around, like Brad and Matt, these guys are all too young to play it. And I was on the young side for it, but I thought there was a way to do it. And so, from the moment I read it, I loved the part. I loved the story. I loved what it really talks about at the end — without giving away anything, about redemption. I thought, “If you’re going to do something that’s pretty dark and doesn’t give you such a big hole in your chest, at least there’s this feeling that although we may not get out alive, we might get out intact,” you know? There is still this hope. I responded to it because of that, I think.
Do you think that it would’ve appealed to you in the same way before you yourself had kids?
Sure. Yeah. I mean, look, a good script’s a good script. I don’t have to be a heroin addict to play a heroin addict. It was funny, though, because I’d have to do these kind of harrowing scenes in London — the stuff where I fall in the water, that we did in a giant tub out in the soundstage in London — and my kids came to visit that day. And I have to come out in this awful moment, and I’ve lost my thing that keeps me alive. And my daughter’s there going, “Papa, I want to come swimming with you!” (Laughs.) And I was like, “You’re a lot of help, kid.” So now when I tell my kids I have to go to work, they think I go swimming.
Almost every time in the past when you’ve directed a movie, or even with Catch-22, you’ve played supporting parts, which, I would guess, made the directing a bit more manageable. In this case, you are directing and playing the lead. Is there a secret to navigating that workload? Is there somebody who, when you’re in front of the camera, you ask to sort of direct you?
You know, my [Smokehouse Pictures] partner Grant [Heslov] and I, we’ve been together for 40 years, and he always sits in the chair next to me. We know each other so well. We’ve never had an argument. We’re really good, close friends. We live a couple of blocks apart from each other. I’d come pick him up on the way in to work and we’d be wearing the same clothes — we’ve just been around each other for so long. And so he always sits next to the monitor. You know, your tendency when you’re directing yourself is to do less takes or just to be like, “OK, that’s fine,” because you just want to move on, and also, there’s a little bit of — you don’t ever want to do more takes on yourself than you do on somebody else! But Grant would be there going, “Do another take!” He’s great at that. But this one, in an interesting way, was two movies: We shot all of my stuff first — first we went to Iceland and then we went to London and shot every bit of my stuff. Then we took off for the Christmas holiday — it gave us time to finish building the space sets — and then we shot all of the space stuff. So it made it easier in a way, because it was like shooting two different films, you know? And thank God, because it would’ve really been too much to take on. And I was very happy to shave that beard off — my kids, my wife, everyone was happy for me to lose that beard.
Well, I was going to ask you about the physical transformation, because it’s not just the beard. You’re playing a guy who is dying of something, and I think you did something with your weight, as well …
Yeah, I lost a lot of weight.
I don’t think we’ve seen you this beat up and transformed since Syriana [the 2005 film for which Clooney won the best supporting actor Oscar]. What was the process here?
I knew that he had to look like that he was in trouble. And the coughing and the weight loss and all that stuff just was — it’s basically in the script, is that this guy is dying. And it’s tricky because I’m kind of a jock in real life — you know, I play a lot of sports and stuff — so even the way he carried the gun had to be different. It had to be as if you’re a scientist who’s suddenly been given a gun to use. And so everything had to be unathletic — there isn’t this heroic kind of stuff. I’m 59 years old, so nothing’s very heroic anymore (laughs), but in general, the idea of trying to save the little girl? I’m leaning on her more than picking her up and carrying her, you know? And I think those were all important elements. It’s a tricky balance, as you could probably guess, because we were out in — it was 40 degrees below zero and 70 mile-per-hour winds, and we’ve got these strings tied to us so that we don’t get lost from one another when these winds come through, because you can’t see your hand in front of your face. And it’s a skeleton crew of very few people out there. A really, really, really hard shoot. And I’ve lost a lot of weight — that’s good for the actor, right, because you’re weak — but a director is a general. The director’s the guy that’s got to go, “OK, let’s all pick up these camera boxes now and —” Because, again, it was a skeleton crew, so we were all just grabbing stuff and running. So it was this weird balance. The minute you said “Cut,” they would have to blow a hair dryer on my eyelids to unfreeze them because they would freeze shut. And then I’d come running out going, “All right, let’s move!” And we’d grab all the equipment and move to the next location. Because, you know, we could start shooting — because the sunlight was such a minimal moment — at 11:30, and we’d run out of sunlight by 3. It’s tricky. And Caoilinn [Springall, Clooney’s primary scene partner in the film] is 7 years old, so we’ve got school and those kinds of issues, too. She had never acted before, that little girl. Isn’t she amazing?
Totally. Where did you find her?
We read, I don’t know, a couple of hundred little girls. And she came in — her mom works in the business in England — and she was the very last girl we saw. She had these amazing eyes. But then the question was, “Can you do these other things? Like, can you be scared?” You know, scared is a hard thing for grown-up actors to play! You always admire people in those horror films who have to scream and yell — it’s actually not an easy acting job, to be scared. But I would bet you that 50 percent of the things I did with her, I did it in one take. Which puts all of us actors to shame, you know, because I’d go, “Give me your sad, scary face.” And she’d do this brilliant thing. And I’d go, “Yeah, like that!” And I’d look over at David Oyelowo and I’d go, “Give me your sad, scary face.” And he’d be like, “Shit. Give me a few minutes.” So it was really funny. She’s just a natural. And having played a pediatrician on ER, I worked with a lot of kid actors, and most of the time they are really prepared and trained and everything is planned, so they have an idea of what they’re doing. She would just turn and look at you and stare at you. She would respond to everything you do. And that’s very rare. She wasn’t in a rush. We have a scene where we’re looking up at Polaris and I just look at her and I go, “That’s Polaris.” And she looks at me and looks up and shakes her head. She just reacted to everything. And, you know, the shoot would’ve been a lot longer were she not so easy and good.
I was wondering if you were drawn to your part in any way by the fact that — and I mean this with no disrespect to any of the other parts you’ve played — there is no, or very little, of the kind of famous Clooney twinkle or charm on display here. This guy’s pretty un-charming. So is this you without a safety net, in a way?
Well, it was. I mean, it’s a tricky thing, right? The safety net was that I was directing it, so I knew what I needed — I knew what the director needed in the scene. I’ve done a lot of parts where — the Oceans films, for instance — there’s always a version where it’s like, “Well, everything’s going to be OK.” But Michael Clayton [Clooney’s character in the 2007 film of the same name] was always a little lost. And I think in The Descendants I was more cuckolded than I’d been. So I’ve had certain things that I’ve been able to do a little net-less along the way. But this was one where I knew, “This is despair,” so there can’t be any of that. I think there’s only two moments in this that I even crack a smile, and one is the very last moment of the film for me. So yeah, it felt like I was taking a lot of chances with it, but I enjoy that. Clearly, if you look at the things I’ve done over my career, I didn’t take the easy route, ever. And that means sometimes people don’t like them, and that’s OK.
It seems like you have developed a bit of a behind-the-scenes stock company on the films you have directed, and a bunch of these people are involved with this one, too — the cinematographer Martin Ruhe, the production designer Jim Bissell, the costume designer Jenny Eagan and the VFX supervisors Matt Kasmir and Chris Lawrence, among others. Does it help to have history with people in those roles, especially when you’re out in the middle of nowhere freezing your ass off?
Yeah. I think most directors would say the same thing to you, which is that once you get a team together of people that you really love working with — I mean, Jim Bissell and I have done almost every film together and Jenny Eagan and I have worked on three or four different projects. Matt Kasmir, the effects guy, I’ve done three projects with now; he did a brilliant job with Catch-22, and I just think those guys are amazing. And you know, I didn’t have the 1st AD that I’ve worked with before, but I loved the guy that I worked with, Lee Grumett. I’ve worked with Martin a lot, the cinematographer, and he’s a genius — I thought the work he did on The American is beautiful, the work he did on Catch-22 was stellar, and I just thought this is his best thing, he was really inventive and creative. There are things that you can learn from Gravity, for instance: the thing that Alfonso really took to a different level was making sure that space was never north, south, east, west. Up isn’t up, necessarily, since there is no up when you’re not in gravity. And so watching Gravity a few times really helped us, once we got inside those chambers where there’s no gravity, to be able to have the camera constantly rotating in a way that doesn’t make you vomit, but keeps the understanding that what is up and what is down is all relative.
I was also really struck by the way you guys handled the floating blood.
It’s pretty great, isn’t it? Yeah, that’s the effects guys, because obviously we’re not hanging blood around. They just did an amazing job with that. But it’s funny, that’s one where it only works if the actors sell it, because that’s a really hard scene to do if you’re not able to look out and see what you’re seeing, which is all the blood. I got the idea because I think in the script it says that she runs out of oxygen, which is kind of what happens to Sandy [Bullock] in Gravity, and I thought, “Oh, we’ve seen that before.” And then I was watching this old video, I think it was either [former astronaut] Mark Kelly or his brother, up in space, playing with water — like, they’d pour it out and let it float in the air and then they’d drink it out of the air — and I thought, “Well, what if we did that with blood?” But the trick was, it just can’t be this morbid, bloody thing. We wanted it to be a ballet. We wanted it to feel like it’s dancing in this sort of elegant, horrifying, but kind of beautiful way. Normally when you go to effects guys, they just give you blood. And these guys really had a sense of making it move in a way that would match the score.
Speaking of which, the score is great. Alexandre Desplat is always amazing.
He’s always good. And it was interesting, when I first sent him the script, he goes, “I was thinking maybe I should do a synthesizer,” and I was like, “No, we’re not going to do synthesizers.” And this one was a real challenge for him. It’s the most music he’s done in a movie, and it’s just got so many different elements — it can’t all be just down, you know? There have to be some heroic moments, and there have to be some quiet moments, but there’s also action in it. It was a really difficult score for him, and it took him a long time. And then to record it was crazy: We were doing it with the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road, and Alexandre was in Paris — he couldn’t get into England, so he’s conducting from Paris via Zoom — and we can’t get into England, so we’re watching at 4 in the morning, Grant and I, sitting in the screening room, on a screen, with the Zoom on the left so we could talk to Alexandre and listen to the score. And we could only do it 15 instruments at a time, even though it’s a 150-piece orchestra, so we were doing it piece by piece by piece. We would go, “OK, I can’t tell if this works yet or not, until you put it all together.” So, I mean, it was more tedious, but it was a really interesting way of learning what works and learning about how to piece music together.
What was it like to have to cast and voice your younger self? [The film features a younger version of Clooney’s character in flashbacks.]
It’s funny because we’d looked at a lot of guys. Everybody kind of knows what I looked like when I was 35 years old because that’s when ER hit, so I was just looking for somebody with a lot of eyebrows. And then, in came Ethan [Peck], who’s just this wonderful actor. And he’s big and tall. He’s got a deeper voice than I do, this fucker. And he’s like, 6-foot-3. And he’s really handsome. I figured, “Fuck it, I’m casting it, I’ll make sure I get to look good!” And then I talked to him about it and I said, “Listen, no one’s going to know, because it’s a flashback and we’re not going to be putting chyrons up of, you know, ‘This is Augustine younger.’ I said, we’re going to go to Lucas Sound and we’re going to do a blend of your voice and my voice. And I said, ‘This has to be you and I as a team here doing this. I don’t want it to be ever misconstrued any other way. I want you and I to go into this together. And if you’re OK with that —’ And he gives a wonderful performance. It’s really hard to do because my voice is etched through his voice as well.
And it turns out he’s Gregory Peck’s grandson?
He’s Gregory Peck’s grandson, yeah. We actually put a shot of Gregory Peck from On the Beach [the similarly postapocalyptic 1959 classic film] in the movie, you know, so Kyle is watching and listening to Gregory Peck in there. Yeah. And I mean, he reminds you of Greg! It was funny, he came onto the set, and the first day was where he does his presentation, you know? And he’s wearing a tuxedo, and he’s like 6-foot-2, and he’s shaved, he’s handsome. And all the women on our set — you know, the makeup girl and Jenny Eagan — suddenly they stopped speaking for a while. (Laughs.) I was like, “All right, everybody, let’s get back to work!” You know? “Leave him alone. His tie is fine, stop fixing it.” (Laughs.)
And then I guess a different kind of problem arose when, at some point, you got a phone call informing you that your leading lady, Felicity Jones, was pregnant.
Shit, I mean, that was crazy!
How do you react to that? Honestly …
I mean, I did the right thing, which is the first thing you say is, “Congratulations, that’s great!” It’s her first kid, she’s very excited about it. But we understood immediately that that was going to cause us some issues. The first option, which would’ve been [what one did] 15 years ago, was to say, “Well, then, OK, you shouldn’t do the movie.” And I’m glad that we’re now past all of those kinds of, you know, “a pregnant woman can’t do the part” kind of thing. I’m very happy that, at the very least, we’ve kicked that ball far down the road. So I went to Netflix, and the first thing we talked about was doing head replacement. We shot for a couple of days doing that. You shoot it three times — the first thing we do is we shoot it with her, and then we shoot it with a stand-in and then we shoot it with the frame empty. And the reality is, it changes your acting. You’re acting differently. It makes you more careful, somehow, and it didn’t feel organic. And it’s hard for the other actors, too, because they have to do scenes three times. So then I just went home one night and sat there and called up Grant and I said, “You know, they’ve been in space for two years. People get attracted to each other. People get pregnant. You know, shit happens. It happened in the ’50s in the back of a Volkswagen, why can’t it happen in space?”
In zero gravity? Yeah, I guess it’s possible.
Yeah, exactly. And so I called her up and said, “How do you feel about that?” Because she was gung-ho to do anything. I said, “Look, we’re not going to put you on a wire. We’ll work around it. We’ll get these chairs that can move up and down and stuff. We’ll figure it out. But let’s make it a part of this story.” And then I had to call Netflix and talk to them about it. And it was an interesting conversation because at first they were like, “Well, doesn’t this complicate things?” And I was like, “I think, in a way, it simplifies things, because I think, in a way, it gives a continuum to this that I think, by the end, matters, as long as we address it.” You know? I’ve spent a lot of time doing improv, and you learn when you do improv to say, “Yes, and …” right? You always have the “Yes, and …” You can never say, “No.” It’s “Yes, and …” If I say, “Well, there’s an elephant over there,” you can’t say, “No, there isn’t,” because then the improv dies. But if you say, “Yes, and there’s a lion’s den,” you keep going. And so if she’s going to be pregnant, then “Yes, and …” It was like, “Well, then we have to address it in a way that makes sense. We want the guys [the crewmates of Jones’ character] to be involved in trying to name the baby. And we want to take a piece of machinery and make it somehow a baby scanner suddenly and give them this sense of intimacy that we sort of were lacking, actually.” And by the end — you’ve seen the ending — there’s actually a real reason for it to be there.
I love the scene with the plane crash survivor because we see that Augustine’s willing to put him out of his misery, but he won’t do that to himself. What is it that you think keeps him fighting?
There’s only one reason to hang in there, and, without giving away too much, the bottom line is saving mankind, you know, trying to save mankind. He has one job to do, which is to say, “Turn around! Don’t come back!” Specifically, there’s more of a reason we find out as time goes on. But I love that scene. It’s funny, I looked at cutting it because it doesn’t really further the story; there’s not much you get from that scene, except that you’re taking a guy who’s a scientist and you’re having him sit there with a guy who’s dying and there’s nothing he can do, and the world is dying and this guy’s going to die. It’s not a matter of if, but at what point, and it’s going to be a pretty miserable way to go, and you can see that he’s asking Augustine to end it for him. And you see by the time I walk out, after killing him, this is not something scientists do — it changes people — and the score sort of helps reflect that. And it changes the temperature of the film from that moment on. It’s funny, though, when I watched it the first time I thought, “Well, if I need to, for time, I can pull this.” But the longer we got into it, and with the beautiful piece of score that Alexandre wrote for that moment, it suddenly felt like this is actually the turning point, where it goes from abstract, in a way, to real. This isn’t his job. He’s not a killer. And suddenly, that’s what he had to do. So I love that scene. That guy is terrific — it’s hard to come in and just play ‘dying dude,’ you know? And do it subtly.
The entire ensemble is filled with pros.
You listen to pilots when you hear those black box recordings, and even when the plane is going down they’re like, “OK, now try the flaps. Now try the thing.” You want these guys [the actors playing the crew] to be pros and not panic, and they were. And when you have David and Kyle [Chandler] and Demián [Bichir] as sort of the older hands? I mean, I told Demián and Kyle — because those parts were written much, much, much younger — I wanted them to be like the two old Muppets in the balcony, you know? I wanted them to be those guys and have a great friendship so that by the end their friendship matters, as well. And they were just so wonderful. And Tiffany [Boone], she came in and read. It was the hardest part to cast. I don’t know why. There’s no explaining why one doesn’t work and one does. She had to be young. She had to be smart. You had to believe that she could be an astronaut, but she had to be vulnerable. And for whatever reason, it just wasn’t right. There were a lot of people who were very good, a lot of really wonderful actresses. And then Tiffany came in and just knocked it out of the park. She’s another one of those actresses who shows up and you go, “Maybe 15 percent less of that,” and she just got it. She was really technically proficient.
Finally, can you share how the pandemic has affected not only your release plans, and also if you think it might affect how viewers connect to this story?
I’ll answer the second part first, which is it’s a story about trying to communicate and trying to be in touch with one another. When I read the script I thought, “Well, this is an issue we have in general because of how polarized we are as a world and how we’re having such trouble contacting one another.” And then, when a pandemic hits, it actually is physically impossible to contact one another, to be in each other’s space, and everybody is just trying to get home. And so, unfortunately, it’s timely. It wasn’t designed specifically to be as timely as that; it was designed to start a conversation about what man is capable of doing to man if you don’t pay attention, if you’re not on top of things. Bad things don’t happen all at once; you ease into them, you know? So I feel like that’s why it resonates as much as it does.
Now, the release part of it. I mean, look, we just yesterday went over to the Village Theater in Westwood — it was eight of us — and for the first time since I finished the movie, I got to watch it in 4K on a giant screen, and it’s breathtaking. You know, the cinematographer’s a genius, and the effects are amazing and to see it on a big screen is the way you’re supposed to see a film like this, you know? It was made for that. And you know, we’ll do a premiere somewhere at a drive-in somewhere to see at least something on a big screen. But yeah, it’s unfortunate. But, on the other hand, the good news for us is that there is Netflix, a place that’s willing to spend the money to make a film like this. This isn’t a small film by any means, you know? And it is committed to making these kind of films and committed to giving you a place to release them. I mean, this is a bigger film than I’ve ever done, but most of the films I do are, like, $15 million films, which are low-budget films in the studio world. You would always have to go to Focus or Miramax or someplace else to get a movie made inside the studio system, but a lot of those places are gone and most places aren’t making movies in that world. A lot of times you’re raising the financing yourself. And it’s nice because places like Netflix and some of the other streaming services are making those and they need content.
I guess I should ask, and I don’t know if you can say, but ballpark even, what was the budget?
Well, it wasn’t $100 [million], so that’s good for us because it looks like it was a lot more than everybody thought it was. I’m actually not quite sure what it was — Grant would know — but we came in about $5 million under budget, which is always good, because Grant and I, our one thing is, we never want to come back and say, “We need more money.” We try to use other people’s money judiciously. This is an art form where somebody else puts up, say, $25 million, and we get to do what we want to do, and I think we have a responsibility to try to do that inside a budget that we’ve agreed to, unless something, you know — COVID has changed it all. Grant and I are going to do this movie called The Tender Bar, and it’s not a big-budget film at all. It’s a $22 million film. But COVID adds $6 million to this movie.
All of the precautions, all of the time that it takes, all of the testing, the bubbles you have to create. I mean, it’s just really — they’re surprisingly expensive. At some point, forgetting the idea of a vaccine, forgetting the medicines that we’ll have and all of that, it’s going to come down to really good, fast, instant testing, like a pregnancy test. And then everybody can go back to school and go to work and go to concerts and go to movies and do everything. You slam a thing up your nose, if it turns green you go in, if it turns red you go home.
Well, in the meantime, congrats on the movie, thank you doing this and take good care.
OK, buddy. Stay safe. Talk to you soon.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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