Usually, when George Clooney is on a television news program, he's often touting his latest role or offering an opinion on recent Hollywood happenings. For his latest directorial effort, however, Clooney decided to take viewers behind the scenes to witness the nitty-gritty days of '50s journalism in Good Night, and Good Luck, set for release Oct. 7.
Along with producing partner Grant Heslov, Clooney cowrote Good Night, and Good Luck to pay homage to the news business he came to know during childhood as the son of newsman Nick Clooney, who continues to write a thrice-weekly column for The Cincinnati Post. Framing the black-and-white feature is the famed struggle between CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow and Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, during which the highly respected Murrow was publicly accused of being a Communist. "I grew up on a newsroom floor, watching my father work with wonderful reporters and watching them piece a show together," Clooney says. "Murrow was always the high-water mark that everyone aimed for. [This project proved] my love of [the news business] and was a way to tip my hat to my dad and the sacrifices he's made over the years."
In chronicling this story, Clooney chose to have actors bring Murrow, CBS exec George Paley and such reporters as Joe Wershba to life, but opted to depict McCarthy using only file footage. Clooney himself stepped into the role of Murrow's producer, Fred Friendly, although he was at first hesitant about directing himself in the film. "I didn't really want to act," he admits, "[But this] is a black-and-white movie starring David Strathairn for $7 million, so they were going to make sure that I was in it one way or another."
Clooney made it a priority to portray his character accurately, but not to upstage the main story with Friendly's booming public persona. "He really took over a room — he came in and was bombastic — but I decided early on that [it couldn't] be the nature of this character, because this was about the story and about the work. It was a big enough role where I could help get the money, but I had a sense, as a director, of how little of Fred I wanted it to be. I wanted [the film to be about] the relationship between the guys, the camaraderie. As an actor, I'm most proud of how I'm in those scenes and you never look at me."
Tackling a historical piece was a welcome change for Clooney, who was last seen in 2004's Ocean's 12, and it provided just the challenge the director was looking for. Often outspoken about his politically liberal views, he wants moviegoers to understand that although his name is attached to this project, he isn't making a political statement. "Thematically, it felt like these words were so important that you wanted to capture them and not comment on them. It is a film by someone who happens to be political, but it's an historical piece. We were very careful with our facts to make sure of that," he says.
Although Clooney understands that films of this genre may not rake in as much revenue as he's used to, he also believes Good Night, and Good Luck has the potential to make a much larger impact than simple box-office totals. "If some kid in Cincinnati sees it in a journalism class and decides he wants to be a writer because of it, and hold a certain standard, then we win," he reasons. "If I'm going to do movies that are a flop at times to help get real news out [in the same way that] sending Brad Pitt to Africa gets 18 million people to understand more about how dangerous life there is, that's part of the trade-off, and that's OK."
While Clooney's name will be soon be featured above the title of such think pieces as Syriana (due for a Nov. 23 limited release) and The Good German, fans need not worry about seeing their leading man in breezy flicks. After all, he tells us, "I like those frothy things. Those are the things that bought me a nice house in Italy. If my sellout — like Murrow had to do in Person to Person — is Ocean's 11, I'm doing OK.
"But if it's Batman & Robin," he quips, "I'm in a little trouble."