George Clooney and His 'Descendants' Castmates Bring Down House at New York Q&A

The discussion followed a joint SAG/BAFTA screening of the Alexander Payne movie.
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On Saturday night, following a joint SAG/BAFTA screening of Fox Searchlight's The Descendants, I moderated a Q&A with the film's co-writer/director Alexander Payne and almost all of the members of his great cast: best actor hopeful George Clooney; best supporting actress hopefuls Shailene Woodley and Judy Greer; and Beau Bridges, Nick Krause, Matthew Lillard and 11-year-old newcomer Amara Miller. (I suspect that The Descendants will probably wind up duking it out with The Help and Midnight in Paris for SAG's coveted best ensemble award.) I've moderated Q&As with a lot of people before -- I think I had six for Black Swan last year -- but never one with eight people, which is a lot to juggle. Still, it couldn't have been more fun, largely due to Clooney's incomparable wit and charm.

Some exchanges that prompted audience laughter...

  • "She was asking about the process of how to make a film. [pauses a beat] She also said I look very good up close." -- Clooney [repeating a question that was asked by a woman in the front of the room for a man in the back of the room who shouted that he couldn't hear it, and adding a little addendum as well]
  • "Matthew, it must have felt like quite a tall task to have to play the guy that a woman would cheat on George Clooney with." -- Me / "Why would you say that?! I'm right here!" -- Lillard
  • "He said that Matthew is no match for me." -Clooney [claiming to repeat a question that was asked by a woman in the front of the room in case people in the back of the room couldn't hear it] / "I got your wife, dude! She was mine! The greatest thing that's ever happened to me -- I use it against my wife every single night! 'It was good enough for Clooney's wife!'" -- Lillard [in response]
  • "I'm trying to be modest here, but [pauses a beat] I actually directed this film -- and I wrote the sucker, too!" -- Clooney [in response to a question about whether it was nice to just act in a film rather than also write and/or direct and/or produce it]
  • "George, do you really run like that in real life?" -- Audience member / "Alexander gave me these flip-flops and he was like, you know, 'Give us a good run!' And I was like, 'Oh, Jesus.' So I started doing the flip-flop run, and it made us laugh, and we thought, 'Well, we're going to do it.' I didn't really realize that I was completely emasculating myself." -- Clooney
  • "I got this project -- or I got informed of it -- late one night. My agent knocked on my bedroom door. Now, at the time, my agent was my mom, so it's not as weird." -- Krause
  • "Alexander was really nice to work with. He had actually never worked with a child my age before ... and I had never worked with a director!" -- Miller / "We were both virgins." -- Payne [prompting Clooney to give the audience a wide-eyed look]
  • "I've been in so many bad movies! I was so nervous to screw up the first one that was really great." -- Lillard
  • "Alexander and the casting director asked me to come up here to New York to audition. When I came, I came with my mom, and we were talking with each other, and decided that two busy guys like them would be really hungry after a long day on the job, so we walked into the first convenience store we saw and picked up some Cheetos. So I stuck those Cheetos in my pocket, along with my headshots, walked into that room, handed them over, and did the scene." -- Krause
  • "Well, I memorized all of my lines." -- Lillard [on how he prepared for a big scene witih Clooney] / "Not all of them!" -- Clooney
  • "Judy, in your big scene at the end of the movie, you go from one emotion to the next emotion on the flip of a dime --" -- Me / "Editing!" -- Greer
  • "You're not getting bailed out." -- Clooney to Miller [who was spending a long time stumbling around for an answer] / "I'll bail you out, it's all right." -- Me / "No, I got it." -- Miller
  • "I need help -- what were challenges that we had making this? I can't recall." -- Payne [to his cast] / "George!" -- Miller / "Children!" -- Clooney

Turning more serious, Clooney addressed the following off-the-cuff statement to Payne: "I always think that we're very lucky, you know, with what we get to do; we don't have to play grown-up all that often, you know? We get a break that most people don't get. And it's luck ... it's a process, and luck is a big part of it. So, you know, I just feel like, if you're going to be lucky -- and we are -- then we should enjoy what we do. You know, I used to cut tobacco for a living, and I sold insurance door-to-door -- fun job -- and I remembered seeing people, sort of, being well-off or doing something they liked to do, and they were unhappy, and I always thought they were jerks, you know? And so I think that people would like us to be happy with what we are doing. And I think that you make it unbelievably happy for all of us."

FUN FACT: At one point, Payne mentioned that he decided to end the film with the King family sitting under the same yellow blanket that had covered their wife/mother during her hospital stay. Hearing this, Woodley turned to Clooney and whispered, "I didn't know that! Did you?" Clooney appeared to mouth back, "Nope."


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