What do you get when you mix A-listers George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garca, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Don Cheadle, plus veteran producer Jerry Weintraub and Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh? Enough heat to melt by. So when one is confronted by this much talent in one hotel room, it’s fun to feel the sparks fly. Paul Fischer was privy to such a meeting of A-list celebrity.
The room in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel is, not unexpectedly, simply buzzing. A group of eager journalists have gathered on a Saturday night to discuss one of the year’s would-be blockbusters: Steven Soderbergh’s smooth and ultra cool reworking of the 60s Rat Pack caper flick, Ocean’s 11. Several comfortable armchairs are positioned on the dais, as we await the arrival of our stars. Not any stars, but stars that together, electrify and fascinate the waiting media throng. The wait is over half an hour later, but then one knows that much like their film, we’re in for a good time.
The best way to explain it is to show the sometimes witty exchange between stars and filmmakers, and media, gathered to celebrate the arrival of Ocean’s 11, the Vegas-set caper movie revolving around Clooney: ‘s Danny Ocean and his seemingly impossible plan to rob Bellagio Casino from under the cool eyes of owner Harry Benedict (a wonderful Andy Garcia), who happens to be dating Ocean’s ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts). He has to enlist the best crew imaginable, headed by long time friend Dusty Ryan (Brad Pitt).
Helping to discuss their work in the movie is a group of charming superstars and filmmakers, all who have their unique say, sometimes serious, other times not quite.
Jerry Weintraub, Producer – He’s been in the biz for over forty years. Among his diverse credits are Nashville, Oh God, all Karate Kid movies and All Night Long.
Steven Soderbergh, Director – Steven who? Just kidding. One of the most prolific and gifted filmmakers of his generation, Oscar winner for Traffic, whose Erin Brockovich showed us a new side to one Julia Roberts.
Plus the stars: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia and the perennial scene stealer [both on and off camera] Don Cheadle. What follows is a lengthy conversation between us and them, and we took it all in stride.
Question: Did all you guys stay at the Bellagio while you were there, or how long were you in town for, and what did you do when you were in your down time? How did you take advantage of being in the city?
Roberts: We did stay at the Bellagio, yes.
Cheadle: I stayed in my car.
Pitt: You need a new agent
Garcia: I personally never did any gambling while I was there, I mean I like to play black jack here and there but it was odd when I left I never sat down at a table. I guess I was delusional enough to know that it was MY casino.
Clooney: Well, I mean you guys know me well enough now to know that I’m a method actor, so I spent years training for the drinking and carousing that I had to do in this film and I was perfectly prepared for it, I gotta tell ya.
Damon: George told me 6 months before the movie that we really got to start on our research, so we went to Vegas.
Question: What is the downside or pros and cons, of working in Vegas? What are the ups and downs?
Damon: Um, well, I can’t see a downside to it. [laughter all around]. For me, it’s really more about for me about the group of people that you’re with in determining how much fun, how much value you figure you’re going to have in your life. You get a good group of people like this, Steven has his own crew that he works all the time, and those guys are amazing. Julia said that the best time she ever had on a movie was on Erin Brokovich, and she would make the comment she was shooting in Bakersfield, out in the desert in Bakersfield, and has never had more fun on a movie. I think that kind of speaks to the atmosphere that you create.
Weintraub: Vegas was very helpful to us there at the hotels and it is a 100 billion dollar set that you couldn’t recreate in Hollywood, because you have all of these magnificent hotels and you have the whole strip and you have everything that we wanted, you know, to have, right there and its all practical and it also gave the actors a feeling of really robbing these casinos, which they really did and nobody knows exactly how much money George and Matt won but very few.
Question: How much did they lose?
Clooney: Oh, I lost. But not too bad. I’m not a big gambler.
Question: George, what is it about Soderbergh, since this is your second time with him, that makes him such an appealing director to work with?
Clooney: Well mostly you feel sorry for the guy because he can’t get work he’s on his last leg financially. I don’t know, look, you just want to work with the best directors you can, PERIOD.
Question: Julia, you once said you’d anything to work with Soderbergh. What is it about him that makes him so exceptional for YOU?
Roberts: I just really like Steven and I think that he has a very deep respect and appreciation for movies and a great story told well, and that in conjunction with his own intelligence. Also he had contractually hired the handicapped, when it comes to acting, um, you know, it’s a good combination. I have a kind of reckless abandon when it comes to my job, and he has precision, and I think those two together work most of the time. I think they do.
Question: Steven, when you do a remake or an adaptation, how do you make it uniquely yours?
Soderbergh: I put my name on it so I make it mine. I think the key is trying to, I mean, I’ve done two remakes. One, I think one turned out not well and one that I think did and&
Pitt: Which one didn’t?
Soderbergh: The Underneath. I don’t know, the best analogy I think is best when you come up with a take on material that from top to bottom revises and re-imagines everything about the movie. It’s sort of the equivalent of when, like Joe Cocker’s version of .With A Little Help From My Friends,. great original song, you think a Beatles song, you don’t wanna touch that. His version of it is amazing and completely different than the original song, and I think that’s the way you have to think, just sort of start from the ground up and just rebuild it, and that’s, you know, that’s what Ted did in the script, and I sort of followed that.
Question: Matt, when you play the lead role in so many films, how do you make the transition to playing the lead to one of a dozen.
Damon: It’s not really a transition, you know. Here’s the thing, at the end of the day I want to look at movies that I did when I’m older and look back on the whole titles on a sheet of paper and be proud of them, and this is one of those movies where the script is really tight and structured really well, really well written by Ted Griffin, a guy who I knew before that, who I’d met and hung out with a little bit plus Steven Soderbergh as director, so it really wasn’t rocket science, you know, to say I don’t think for any of us, let’s be a part of an ensemble; it’s going to a good movie, it’s going to be fun and entertaining and it’s going to be special and we’ll be proud of it when we’re done.
Garcia: We just wanted to work with Jerry Weintraub
Clooney: Before he died.
Question: Julia, with all the testosterone on this set, I was wondering, what was it like to be the only girl?
Roberts: It was nice to be the only girl. I thought it would be a more kind of queenly experience. It’s something that never happened to me in high school, but it wasn’t really that. No, it was really, fun. I just knew that come what may, THAT would be my distinction. I would forever be .the girl’, and nobody could change that, so George tried.
Question: Don, do you have any plans to do a lead role?
Cheadle: No. Never wanna do one.[LAUGHING]
Question: You’re known to be a scene-stealer in movies. So, assuming you would like to have a leading role, describe the ideal part for you, what would be the ideal project or the ideal part?
Cheadle: Well, I’d gotta be naked, I really do. Um, no I don’t know. There are many, many stories out there. I’d love to do something around, you know, the jazz, around that cool jazz era. There’s just tons of stories as long as they’re well written and well conceived. There’s just not a lot of them out there.
Question: How do you guys look at the rat pack and the way THEY were together, did it influence your work?
Clooney: The movie is such a re-imagining of it, is that what it has in common with the old one, is that it’s called Ocean’s 11 and that Danny Ocean gets 11 people together to knock over more than 1 casino, but that’s about it. I think we were all leery in looking at it closely. THAT movie had so much of THEIR charm; if you enjoy that movie it was because it was fun to watch and being them, and knowing they had a fun time making it, but we made it more than that going into this one. Like, the story is from that, I mean sometimes someone didn’t show up and you know, Henry Silva got their lines, you know?
Question: Can you guys look at their patterns and interact with their dialog?
Clooney: No, I mean the thing is, I mean at least for me I LOVE those guys, these are heroes of mine, certainly had all of theirs, listening to the tapes of them when they were in Chicago and you know, during the benefit in Vegas, just the funniest guys in the world and they were hysterically funny together, but I’d watch them drink a beer, I mean they are just the coolest guys ever. But we weren’t trying to do that, I mean, you know, when they first started talking about doing Ocean’s 11, I don’t know, I didn’t want to get sort of caught up in THAT, you know, but then once you start the movie and it’s such a great script, we never looked back at that, we never once said, .Oh this is sort of like Frank and Sammy and Dean; that never really existed. This is a whole movie unto itself. Now, as we start to SELL the movie, of course, I have to, you know, we will all have to talk about it and you know, that’s fine. It’s part of it. But, you know, those guys, we’re never going to be as cool as those guys, that’s their thing, you know, that’s why that movie was successful was because of that, because the movie kinda works, and you know, kinda doesn’t. We just went in and just had a blast.
Question: George, I’ve read Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and it’s a really complex, dark and dry piece. It doesn’t seem like, doesn’t seem like a comedy.
Clooney: It doesn’t seem like a comedy? I told everybody it was a comedy. Don’t tell Julia that, or I’m in deep shit.
Question: Anyway, it’s such an ambitious piece, what are you doing to prepare everybody and prepare for the film?
Clooney: Nothing, I just show up and they just do it and I just go home. I’ve been working on this for almost a year now, you know, and I did a lot of my own storyboards and you know, I worked with Joel and Ethan and they, you know, they storyboarded out every single shot the entire film and so I did that, you know, working every single day, I flew in last night from Montreal, go back, The thing is this, if you’re going to do it, I didn’t do this because I said I wanted to direct, I did this because the film kept falling apart and I wanted to get this movie made because it’s really one of the best scripts in town and has been. And I figure if I screw up at least I’m working on the best script in town and at the very least I’m going to be protected by a good script.
Question: Brad, just a two-parter about your Friends episode, I was wondering what took you so long to do the show and secondly, &
Roberts: Just be glad he DID it, don’t say what took you so long.
Question: And secondly, how was your doing the whole fat suit story line?
Pitt: Well, I don’t do a fat suit thing . that’s just history on the character. Yeah, there’s none of that.
Question: What led you to do the show?
Pitt: Self-promotion for Spy Game. [CHUCKLING] No, let me clear this up because I dearly love this show very much, long before I met my wife even. It makes me happy this show, so I had a great time doing it with these guys, and, um, in these times, entertainment is, I believe, is very important so we just wanted to get out and do something.
Question: Brad, it seems that you’re one of those specific stars, who is still surprising people, like you do a Roman Statute, they go, oh, my gosh, you know, Brad did this great, where did that come from?
Roberts: I want that on a t-shirt.
Question: Is it hard not to kind of play the Brad persona and like, you know, get those kind of roles? I mean is that a problem in Hollywood?
Pitt: No, not& well, listen, there’s a handful of us that could . what I’m saying is the leading man’s been done, and been done really well, a million times by some very great actors, and I guess it’s just, it’s just sometimes more fun to go the other way. The great thing about my baggage, as limiting as it may seem, it also sets me up for that kind of surprise and then people go& that was great, where did that come from?
Question: You guys are known as some of the nicest guys in show business. Has it become harder to be nice the more successful you get or is it easier?
Clooney: Hey FUCK YOU man. [Laughter all round]
Garcia: I don’t know, if that has to effect anything, the fact that we happen to do something that is in the limelight and blessed with to have the opportunity to do what we do, and the fact that that brings a certain amount of celebrity because you are in films, does not give you the permission to be an asshole. You know, the most important thing in life is how you conduct yourself and that’s the legacy you leave behind for your children and hopefully for your friends that outlive you to think about you, that’s what it’s all about, your work is secondary. So those who think they have the ability to, or the privilege, I’m on this pedestal and therefore I can be a certain way, then fuck em.