from Newsweek / by David Ansen and Devin Gordon
At least we think there will be, which is why we collected these likely acting nominees for our 11th Oscar roundtable. They’re a lot of fun, and they’ve got lots to say. Best of all: they didn’t need writers.
Daniel Day-Lewis arrived a little late, but he did it in style. He was wearing a jaunty porkpie hat and a black-and-white Western shirt that looked like something swiped from Bob Dylan’s closet. The result was so un-Hollywood that George Clooney, this roundtable’s class clown, couldn’t stop ribbing his fellow best-actor hopeful. Question: “Daniel, do you remember your first professional job?” Clooney: “It was a Western, wasn’t it?” One of the delights of these annual gatherings is watching beautiful, talented, rich celebrities become just folks. James McAvoy, who stars in “Atonement,” spent the time waiting to go onstage at L.A.’s Hammer Museum talking about trying to steal some wineglasses from a recent Oscar event, only to be caught by the waiter. Just before they were announced onstage, Clooney turned to Angelina Jolie and said, “Let’s not go out!” She then pointed to two nonactors nearby and said, “Let’s send them instead.” Before long, everyone—newbies and supercelebs—bonded. Jolie and Marion Cotillard, the French star of “La Vie en Rose,” chatted about Provence. “Juno” star Ellen Page confessed that she just got her first apartment. It’s a converted brothel, and it’s haunted. “My stuff keeps vanishing,” she said. “Weird things, like makeup.” Advice to Ellen: if you do win an Oscar, hide it. An edited transcript:
NEWSWEEK: Was there a movie you saw when you were young that made you say, “This is what I’ve got to do with my life”? Daniel, I read that you mentioned seeing the movie “If… ,” about a rebellion at a British boarding school, with Malcolm McDowell.
Daniel Day-Lewis: Certainly that was a very important moment, but not just because of Malcolm in that film. It was partly because I was at a boarding school at the time, and if I could have got away with setting fire to the place, I would have done it. And he created a banner around which all the outcasts rallied, and so that film was a big influence.
Marion Cotillard: I love Greta Garbo, and I was fascinated by her as a child. One of the most incredible feelings I had was watching “Camille.”
James McAvoy: It sounds weird, but there’s a film called “The Goonies.” [Laughter] And I mean it with all my heart. As a young boy that film made me cry because it’s about how you still have your problems at 10 years old or 12 years old. When I was little, you didn’t get chased by pirates and you didn’t get chased by gangsters and nobody was trying to kill you with guns, but your adventures were no less exciting. It helped inspire my imagination.
Ellen Page: It wasn’t until I was about 15, when I shot a film with this Canadian actress named Molly Parker, who I just absolutely adored and looked up to, and became inspired by. For the first time, I felt something different. I felt myself being overcome by something I can’t necessarily explain. But I wanted to keep feeling that and finding out what that was and learning more about it.
You worked with Molly Parker, didn’t you, in “Marion Bridge”? [Pause] You look startled.
Page: Oh, you know, it’s a Canadian independent film. They don’t always get seen.
Angelina Jolie: Because I had acting in my family, I didn’t like the movies very much, and I didn’t watch them that much. I remember “Streetcar” and I remember Brando, but I don’t know if that was as a woman or as somebody who liked acting.
Do you remember the first time you were paid to act? Daniel, you’re nodding.
George Clooney: It was a Western, wasn’t it?
Day-Lewis: George, I think you should answer this question.
Clooney: The first job I was paid for was “Batman & Robin.”
That’s the first job you were paid a lot for.
Clooney: You couldn’t get a job without getting into the Screen Actors Guild, so everybody I knew, including myself, would make up these credits just to get in. They didn’t have the Internet at the time, so you could get away with anything. I remember lying to a casting director, Barbara Claman, about this movie called “Cat People.” She was, like, “You were in that, were you?” I was, like, yep. And she goes, “Because I cast that.” I finally just said, “I can’t get in SAG. Help me out.” She helped me get a job on a film then called “The Predator.” We shot it in Hungary. It was Charlie Sheen and Laura Dern and I, all three of our first jobs. As big as they became later, the movie never came out, that’s how bad a film it was. But I got my SAG card.
Page: I would like to see that.
Clooney: I would, too. The guy—and I’m not kidding—the guy who financed it went to jail.
McAvoy: Because he made the film.
Clooney: Yes, as a matter of fact. If you’d seen me in it, you would understand why.
Daniel, were you paid for that little thing that you did in “Sunday Bloody Sunday”?
Day-Lewis: Yeah. I was 12 at the time, and there was a local grocer in southeast London who was, like, the unofficial mayor of that parish, and so the casting agent wisely asked her to round up all the local hooligans, of which I was one. She asked us initially to play soccer in the park as a background shot, and we were going to get £2 a day for that. I thought they must be insane. Because that’s what we were doing all the time anyhow. It was my first professional soccer match, in fact. Then the next day [director] John Schlesinger asked to see the nastier types amongst us, and he chose three of us to walk out of the local church and scratch a row of fancy cars with a broken milk bottle. I got £3 for doing that.
You were all quite young when you started. Angelina, didn’t you study at the Lee Strasberg center when you were 13?
Jolie: Yeah. Method is a very strange thing to study at 13. It’s all about recalling things from seven years ago. [Laughter]
Day-Lewis: You were asking about films that might have set us off on that path. I’m not sure if it’s the same for you, James, but certainly when I was coming up as a kid there was absolutely no expectation whatsoever of working in movies. They still don’t make very many films in Britain, and so all our expectations were focused on the theater. You know, film was kind of a secret hope that you didn’t talk about too much, because it was considered to be an inferior form by people where I come from. Theater was the thing.
Clooney: There is this weird pecking order, you know. Theater actors look down on the film actors, who look down on the television actors. Thank God for reality shows, or we wouldn’t have anybody to look down on.
McAvoy: What is really interesting about coming to L.A. is that there is an expectation to make it into films, television or whatever. Whereas as a child it was never even a consideration for me. But certainly in L.A. it is different because it’s everywhere. But even at home in Scotland I think there’s kids going, “I want to be a famous actor.”
Day-Lewis: Actors were weirdos when I was growing up.
Clooney: They’re fine now. [Laughter]
Day-Lewis: It was like flying the freak flag. You know, that was where the pride was—that you were a pariah of some kind.
McAvoy: I don’t know if you ever had a similar thing, but to see someone on television or in a film who was from your hometown was really embarrassing. You couldn’t watch it. Because that guy who’s speaking with such a strange accent—that’s your accent. Scottish television was full of English things and American things, so every now and again when you got the odd Scottish program, you were, like, that’s terrible.
I might be misattributing this quotation, but I think Matt Damon said at one point that you stop emotionally maturing at the age you get famous.
Clooney: Matt did; you’re right.
Is there any truth to that?
Clooney: Well, if you do, that would be your own fault.
Jolie: Yeah, but I think your daily life experience does change and therefore there are certain things that you don’t do. My favorite thing used to be to just sit in the subway and watch people; just walking by myself everywhere and living among people and watching them and talking to strangers. And I lost that. It was the hardest thing to lose. And I think that does affect you. You learn quickly how to get to know people, how to build maybe a smaller, more intimate world so that you can grow and learn from people and still be the same. But it is different.
Cotillard: The light on the American actors is very bright, and in France it’s kind of different. But each time I go back home, it’s so weird that I don’t have the same life anymore. People are staring and looking at me, and I can’t look at people as I was able to do it before.
Day-Lewis: Ellen, how are you finding it?
Page: It’s kind of intense right now. And a little surreal. Just sitting at this table is a little surreal. I’ve been so absorbed in it that I don’t really have the outside perspective right now. Daniel, the other night at the Critics’ Choice Awards, you said that it gets to a point sometimes when you start being unable to recognize yourself. And now I have those moments, or even just moments within the moments, of being like, what? But it is what it is. You know, I don’t know what’s going to happen.
James, I loved the story you told backstage about your experience with the paparazzi.
McAvoy: I’ve only ever had anybody waiting outside my house once. We got in our car and we were followed, and it was very weird and disconcerting. We thought we would just go about our daily life and just ignore it, all that kind of thing. I think because we had once read that Clive Owen said just ignore it. Like, do whatever Clive Owen does—he’s a solid guy. We were going into town to buy something for the house, and we went into a parking lot that costs £10 an hour, and on seeing the price of the parking, the paparazzi went, “F— that.” They left us alone. So the lesson is, if you’re being chased by paparazzi, don’t drive fast. Just find a really expensive parking lot, and you will be fine.
Clooney: I just found out about 10 days ago that I must live 300 or 400 yards from Britney Spears. I found out because I came home at 10 at night and there’s all these helicopters over my house with these spotlights on. I have a guesthouse where my assistant sometimes stays, and I thought someone had broken out of prison. Like something out of “Die Hard.” I get my baseball bat, which is what you always do in every film—I actually think Clive Owen said, “Get a baseball bat”—and I called up my assistant, who I thought was in the guesthouse, and I said, “Are you OK?” And she said, “Yes.” And I said, “Look, if there’s someone in the house with you and you can’t talk, say the word ‘Stonehenge’.” And she’s like, “What the f— are you talking about? I’m in my apartment.” I go, “You’re not in the guesthouse?” “No.” So I’m, like, “Well, then, what the f— is going on?” And I go out and I’m running around with a baseball bat in my robe. And it turns out it’s paparazzi over at Britney Spears’s house. So now I have to move. [Laughter]
Angelina, do you travel with a baseball bat?
McAvoy: And Clive Owen?
Angelina, you’ve hit upon a strategy of dragging the press with you somewhere important, like Africa. Like, “If they’re going to follow me, I might as well go where I want people to see what’s happening.”
Clooney: She’s been really good about it. [To Jolie] When you guys showed up in Pakistan after the earthquake, at a point when our government, had they taken that moment to step in, could have actually made a huge difference in the area, you and Brad were the only people that were really showing up there. I remember specifically watching and thinking, “That is such a great use of people following you with a camera.” They have done it a bunch of times.
Jolie: They [the Pakistani media] didn’t know we were there at first. We turned on the TV when we got back home and there was a picture of us unloading our gear. It said, “Aid workers have arrived.” [Laughter]
This is obviously a big year in America for politics. George, in 2004, Kerry asked you to help him and you said, “I’m not going to help you. I can only hurt you.” Why do you think that?
Clooney: You know, Michael Moore—and I like Michael a lot—but that speech he gave at the Oscars was polarizing. It became Hollywood versus the heartland, and I always find that it’s best not to raise the rhetoric at that point. I’ve been a big supporter of Barack Obama since his Senate run and I’m a friend of his, but I said to him, “I stay completely out of it.” I don’t show up at those things. And believe me, it’s not because his group doesn’t say, “Come on, help us out.” It’s just not the attention you want. I worry about that a lot, because you don’t want to do harm.
Can you guys talk a little bit about the trust required of the director in order to get you to do a movie and why that’s so critical? Daniel, how did you know you could trust Paul Thomas Anderson? You had never worked with him.
Day-Lewis: Well, I suppose because I have had this very strange sense that, even though we came from very different cultures and were separated by a vast ocean and a continent and quite a number of years in age, we have been separated at birth. So I suppose I trusted him in the way you might trust a brother. You might kill each other, but you’d fight to the death for everything else.
Where did that sense come from?
Day-Lewis: I have no idea. I felt I knew something of him from his work. That’s a rash thing to think, perhaps, but I was certainly intrigued by him. When I met him, it was love at first sight.
Angelina, how did you get comfortable with Michael Winterbottom? I mean, the level of trust you must have had in your director to do a movie like “A Mighty Heart,” with so much emotion in it, must’ve been very high.
Jolie: I was comfortable when Mariane [Pearl] was comfortable. But I wasn’t so comfortable the first day of shooting, when I realized his style was so unbelievably raw. There is often no rehearsal, no one saying “cut.” For example, you have three different rooms, and we would go into one room and we’d be talking, say our five lines, and he’d film us. Then I’d go pee, and I’d come out, and the camera was still on. So I’d think, “OK …” Then I’d say my five lines again, and that would turn into 10 more minutes of talking, and then someone would go get something from the kitchen and I’d go to my bedroom, and he’d follow me and he just wouldn’t leave. It was really odd. But it became just the most perfect way to shoot that film. It was chaos in that moment. It was very intimate, and my big fear was that something horrible might happen and the camera would be like this. [She gestures as though there's a camera right in her face] But everybody was absolutely connected in every single moment. Even when we’d have lunch, we’d have it together at the table, or we’d all go for a walk together. We were just always present in the film. And so as an actor it brought me back to loving acting, and that was just great. But he does cross a line. One day one of the girls got sick and threw up, and he said, “Next time, tell us.” So he can be a little crazy. But I absolutely adore him.
Ellen, what was the atmosphere like working on “Juno”? It’s a very stylized piece, so I suspect there wasn’t a lot of improvisation.
Page: No, there wasn’t. I mean, Diablo Cody wrote one of the best screenplays I’ve ever read. It just didn’t need it. There was a lot of freedom in the sense that it was one of the most wonderful, open, collaborative atmospheres I ever have been involved with, which was just such a joy. Especially because I did trust everyone.
Day-Lewis: There’s one thing I wanted to ask you, Ellen. The wit, the very particular wit of “Juno”—it’s hard to imagine that that isn’t close to your own wit. But maybe that’s just part of the wonder of the work that you did in it. Did you feel when you were reading it and when you were doing it that there was a real kinship between your own sense of humor and the sense of humor of that character?
Page: I think it was even more than that—it reminded me of an aspect of what a lot of young women are like that absolutely never gets reflected in popular media. And so when I first read the screenplay I was just so in love that this was going to go out into the world. It really felt like a teenage female lead that had never existed before.
Marion, the amazing thing about your getting cast to play Edith Piaf was that the director didn’t even audition you.
Cotillard: I heard about the project before it was written. And I didn’t know Olivier Dahan, the director. But he said he thought about me, and I don’t know exactly why. Talking about trust, when I met him, we never talked about the script, we never talked about the character. We just talked about Piaf.
Is it hard, when you get so deeply into the part, to leave it behind once you’re done? How do you shake it off?
Cotillard: Before “La Vie en Rose,” I thought that it was just a job and when it’s finished you go back to your life. And I realized that it was not true when I finished playing her. First of all, I had that awful face. I had no eyebrows anymore. No hair. And when it grows back you really look like s–t. But when you carry someone around with you, and really have a relationship with that new person inside you-you give that person the emotions, and that character also gives the emotions—I think that sometimes it can be hard to just go back to your life.
Does Piaf still pop up in your behavior every now and then?
Cotillard: No, hopefully finis. But it really took a while. Everywhere I went just after we finished the movie I saw part of her. Like, I remember going to the … shrink? Right, shrink?
Clooney: Yes, shrink. [Laughter]
Cotillard: I went to a shrink right after the movie, and I saw Piaf everywhere. I arrived and the street was Marcel Cerdan Street, who was her lover. And there was this huge statue of Cerdan, and I was, like, “No way!” I’m quite a normal person, but it was getting weirder and weirder. I didn’t go to the shrink because I couldn’t get rid of Piaf, but in a way I kind of was.
McAvoy: Can I ask all of you, do you ever consider the effect on an audience of the decisions that you make as an actor? Or do you just consider truth?
Day-Lewis: As you’re working, James, or in the decision to do the job in the first place?
McAvoy: In the decisions that you make on set as a character. Decisions about how to play the character.
Day-Lewis: When I’m working, it doesn’t really occur to me that anyone is ever going to see the thing. It’s a perversity, I suppose, but that appeals to me a lot. It kinds of harks back to the days when I felt like a bit of an outcast for doing the work that I did.
Clooney: But before you get to the set, do you have discussions about the character, in terms of how he will be perceived by the audience?
McAvoy: Yeah, my question was just, literally, “If I do this, will this have the effect on the audience that we want it to have at this point in the story?”
Clooney: You never can.
Day-Lewis: I think if I started a thing like that, I would crash the car.
Is it different for you, James?
McAvoy: It is different for me, yes. I’m fascinated by the way you work, Daniel, and I have worked with Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland”—he gave an exceptional performance, completely doing it that way. And I’ve never done it that way. I think I’m too scared to, and that’s partly a controlling aspect with my personality, I suppose. But it is a way of working that I really admire, and I don’t know if I have it in me.
Did you rehearse at all for “Atonement”?
McAvoy: Yeah, for three weeks, which is kind of unusual. I usually dread rehearsal for film because I’ve found that film people will never know what to do except sit in a room together and make you say your lines 5,000 times. But [director] Joe [Wright] galvanizes everyone. He literally gives direction.
Daniel, do you ever rehearse?
Day-Lewis: I prefer not to.
Clooney: They’ll do stuff like put tape on the floor and go, “OK, now you’re walking in and three vampires are going to come out over here.” And you’re pretending that there’s vampires across from you and everybody is laughing at you. I don’t find it helpful in any way.
McAvoy: It was great. It was such an amazing experience. I’ve never had it in film.
Clooney: I’ve never seen it. I think it’s fantastic. I’m not putting it down at all.
McAvoy: Do you want to fight me? [Laughter]
Clooney: I do.
McAvoy: Let’s do this.
Clooney: Unplug your microphone first. [More laughter]
Day-Lewis: It is so important to work the way you need to work, and you have probably found a way that works for you. Angelina, what you had to do in “A Mighty Heart” is a very, very particular thing—to have that responsibility of trying to play the part of a woman who you obviously got to know very well during that time. What was your experience of leaving that film?
Jolie: I was thinking about that when you were talking about letting go of a character. I looked face to face at the person I had been playing. And I continue to see her. Our kids still play together. So it was very odd. But she’s just the most wonderful woman, and there was some kind of kinship that I felt with her. I really truly love her, and I can say that because I do know her. That actually made me terribly nervous. It was the first film where I didn’t sleep the night before we started shooting. That night, she and her son came by to say hello to everybody, to say good luck before they left. Adam talked about his dad, and I realized that when this little boy grows up, this whole film—whatever the critics say, whatever anybody says—is going to be his re-enactment of how much his parents loved each other and how upset his mother was when this happened. So as an actor it certainly filled me with as many tools and emotions as I needed, because it was so real. But as her friend I was very, very scared. I was very relieved when she felt we had done it right.
Was Mariane on the set during the shoot?
Jolie: No, she never came on the set. She was going to come the first day, and she walked in on me in a costume fitting for her wedding dress. I think she just realized in that moment that she could not see any of it. She said it looked absolutely exact, and then we had dinner, and then she said she was going to leave the next morning.
When I watch “A Mighty Heart,” I think it’s a very political movie, but not overtly-its politics are in those scenes around the dinner table, where there’s all these different people from different cultures working together. There’s a kind of commentary in that. Did you discuss that when you were working on the movie?
Jolie: Yeah, we were very conscious of it. It’s something that Mariane made a big point of in her book, and it’s very much who she is, and what that family represents today. They all continue to work toward dialogue. Just having all those actors at the table was a nice balance, because during this time when our country is at war and there’s so much happening, to be in India and Pakistan with Indian and Pakistani actors, who usually also don’t work together and don’t cross each other’s border, to have them asking us questions about politics, to actually have open discussions about 9/11, about Muslim culture, American culture, sharing food, sharing ideas, writing each other’s kids’ names down—that did something for us. It was really exciting to say, “God, that Pakistani actor or that Indian actor is one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with,” and I don’t often think of actors beyond, you know, the list we’re all used to. I think that is very symbolic of what the piece represented.
Daniel, there’s a lot of politics in “There Will Be Blood.” Do you think about those things?
Day-Lewis: No, not at all. I just figured it would take care of itself.
Jolie: Your process is just amazing. You are just so brilliant. We all look to you as this mad genius, like, “He must have the most difficult time because of the work that comes out of him.”
Clooney: OK, let’s get it out right now. All actors bow to this f—er right here. And it makes us crazy when he goes, “Yeah, and then I went and I was a cobbler for a year.” He made shoes for a year! You’re amazing, and you just kill it for the rest of us. [The audience applauds]
Day-Lewis: Thank you, George.
Clooney: Yeah. Whatever. [Laughter]
Speaking of shoes—
Clooney: Wow, that’s a segue.
Actually, it came up when we were doing this roundtable with Annette Bening and Kate Winslet. They were talking about how they physically create a character, and how important clothing is. Bening said that for her it begins with the shoes—that once she gets how the character walks, she gets the character. And Winslet said that it was her bra. I think she was serious. Is there some physical aspect that helps you find characters?
Page: I really have to say, I think the most commonly asked question—and the most annoying question—is, how do you relate? How do you relate to Juno? How are you like Juno? If you’re playing someone who is honest and whole and well written, you are going to be able to relate to that individual, because we are just all made up with the same stuff.
McAvoy: But Ellen, can I ask, how do you relate to Juno? [Laughter]
Clooney: She gets a new bra.
McAvoy: I had an experience when I did “Narnia”—I read that book a lot when I was a kid, and I imagined that character from the ages of, like, 8 to 24. So when I was given the script, I already knew how I was going to play him, because I imagined him so much. And it taught me that when I got a new script, clothes and all that stuff are important, but I try to imagine the character like he’s been in your head for 12 years. It’s about finding the character in your head first, and then recognizing him in the right clothes.
That character didn’t wear shoes.
McAvoy: Or a bra.
I have a technical question, Marion: when you were playing Piaf, you had to spend several hours a day getting your makeup done. How long was it?
Cotillard: Depending on the day, it was from three to five hours.
I always wondered, what do you do during those three to five hours?
Cotillard: I slept all the time.
Cotillard: Yes, we had almost 30 days of heavy makeup. I wanted to kill everybody, and especially everybody wanted to kill me. So they put me in a bed, and they did the makeup while I was sleeping. It was very funny because there’s a guy who came to shoot video of me almost every day getting this done. And I saw the video, and they were doing things to me and I can’t believe I didn’t wake up. It was acrylic painting and latex and prosthetics, so there’s glue and all that. Sometimes I had nightmares, and I would wake up with a big scream and cry. One day I was crying while I was sleeping, so the makeup artist’s assistant had to spend four hours with tissues around my eyes, so the salt from my tears didn’t spoil the makeup.
Were there ever roles that any of you regretted taking?
Jolie: That’s part of it. You’ve got to have your bad ones.
Clooney: People will give you s–t later and say, “Why did you do this movie?” Because I needed a gig. Sometimes you just needed the job.
All the actors I’ve ever talked to always say they’re afraid that every job they are offered is going to be their last.
Clooney: I still have that in me. You are always still auditioning in your head. If you don’t think that way, then I think you are lost.
McAvoy: In your head, do you make yourself take off your clothes?
Clooney: Just now I did.
McAvoy: Excellent. And did you get the part?
Clooney: Hang on, wait, I’m still working on it. No, I did not. Clive Owen got it.
Ellen, because of the success of “Juno,” are you now suddenly getting a lot of offers?
Page: More than I was a little while ago. Which is absolutely wonderful. Obviously that’s the huge gift of a film like this doing so well. For an actor at any age, that’s huge. But I am going to take my time.
There’s a flip side, of course. Can some of you talk about moments where you failed?
McAvoy: I was once told that I’d never work in Scotland again. And it was on my third job.
McAvoy: Yeah. And that’s the end of that. I’m not going any further.
Clooney: I did a series called “Baby Talk.” It’s a little baby that has to talk—it was the “Look Who’s Talking” sitcom. I have a whole list of really s–tty shows that I was really s–tty in. I’m really proud of them. I had a mullet in this one. I have a whole career with a mullet, actually. But this was a sitcom with a guy who was a very big, powerful producer. One of the first things he did was he fired the baby, which I thought was a little strange. And then the lead actress was fired. And then he started on me, and it was the worst experience of my life, because I had never been in that position, where you can’t defend yourself. I remember—it was a very specific moment; it changed my career, actually—going home and I called up my agent and I said, “How bad does it get if I just say ‘f— you’ to this guy?” And my agent goes, “It gets bad.” And I said, “OK,” and I walked in and the producer went after me and I said, “F— you.” And I got fired and sued by the network, though they eventually dropped all of that. It was a terrifying time, but it absolutely freed me up to the idea that the worst thing that could happen is-what? You take away my sitcom? It freed me up to decide that I was going to try to do better projects and not worry so much about succeeding. It changed everything for me.
McAvoy: Was the main problem between you and your mullet? [Laughter]
Clooney: Yes, it was.
Speaking of acting with kids, Daniel, was your acting process any different on “There Will Be Blood,” because you had a lot of scenes to play with a 10-year-old who had never acted before?
Day-Lewis: No difference, but it certainly would very much depend upon the 10-year-old. And this was just a remarkable young person. He was just a great companion. He was my partner. I miss him a lot, actually. His mom was a state trooper, and his dad was a cowboy. They didn’t know anything about the movies. There was a moment which could have gone awry at the very beginning, when his mom quite rightly thought, “What kinds of people are going to be involved with my son?” She wanted to see what I was going to be like, because she knew he would be spending a lot of time with me. So she rented a copy of “Gangs of New York.” [Laughter] And there was a flurry of phone calls. And the studio dispatched a copy of “The Age of Innocence” very quickly.
You also were in a very strange position, because you had to reshoot a lot of scenes that you had done because Paul Dano replaced the original actor playing Eli Sunday. Was it hard to gear yourself up to do all that again—redo about three weeks of work? Or did you see it as an opportunity?
Day-Lewis: Quite honestly, I can’t imagine doing that with anyone else except Paul Dano. I really can’t. He made that possible. Often when you’re making a film, even on a good day, you feel like you’re wading in quicksand. And to take a big step back like that—it felt like a pivotal moment, but Paul made it possible.
How did the director tell you that this was going to have to happen?
Day-Lewis: We talked about it for a while beforehand. It wasn’t something that happened just overnight. It was something we tried to avoid at all costs. I hope I’m never again in a situation where a young actor is replaced, because you understand how devastating that can be to somebody. I found that the hardest thing to deal with, really.
Have any of you been fired?
McAvoy: No, but I’ve been on a job where an actor was replaced. It wasn’t a young actor, either. He must have been 40, and it was devastating. Absolutely devastating. I mean, it’s ridiculous. He was told every day that what he was doing was “iconic.” That was the phrase. “What you’re doing is iconic. Brilliant, it’s genius, iconic.” And then he’s sacked in three weeks.
Day-Lewis: So if anyone says “iconic” to you, just punch them straightaway.
George, didn’t you once have an experience like that in television, where someone was telling you that what you were doing was brilliant and then the next week they hired an acting coach for you?
Clooney: Yeah. I was doing a pilot. It was a Western sitcom in a whorehouse. It seemed like a good idea to me. [Laughter] I came in and they kept saying, “It’s great, it’s great. You’re the next big thing, you’re the funniest thing we’ve ever seen. You’re great.” And then literally four days later, nothing was working. The script had problems, I was probably terrible in it. [Writer] Barbara Corday and a couple of other people came in and said, “We want to bring in an acting teacher for you.” It was like, wait, so I’m not lightning in a bottle anymore? It’s over? It was humiliating. TV can be really brutal, because it’s so quick. You’ll do a pilot and there’s so many subtle ways to fire you if the show gets picked up. You’ll get the first call—”The show got picked up for 13 episodes!” And you’re like, “Yay!” But you’re not picked up yet. Your agent says, “OK, they have four days to call and activate your contract.” So now you’re going, “Uh, yay?” And then you wait and you wait and you wait and then they call and say, “Listen, they’re going to replace your part. But it’s not because of you—you’re lightning in a bottle.”
McAvoy: “And keep the mullet. It looks great.”
George, is it true that you are getting involved in the writers’ strike?
Clooney: That just happened the night we were at the awards show. It’s actually Harvey Weinstein getting me involved.
He can do that.
Clooney: Yes, he can. I was at the Critics’ Choice Awards and I said, “Let’s get everybody in a room and stay there until we solve it.” Which I really do think is a good idea. I talked to Spielberg and a few people—the CEOs and the writers that can help facilitate that. I am happy to be a part, but I wasn’t standing out there going, you know, “You’re going to do it and you’re going to like it.”
In the old days, when it was just the studios and they weren’t part of these conglomerates, it was easier to get these things solved.
Clooney: Yeah, Lou Wasserman and Jack Warner would go in and sit down and say, “OK, now how are we going to solve this?” But who are you getting in the room now? Multinational corporations?
McAvoy: It’s interesting how this is all so financially important for the industry, but it is also a celebration of peers, and that’s a shame that can’t seem to happen.
So what happens if the Oscars come around and there’s still no resolution to the strike?
McAvoy: The world will end. It’s fact. It’s official. I was told so. [Laughter]
Clooney: Nobody is going to cross a picket line. Nobody would even consider it. Would you want to be the only person at the awards?
Jolie: We’re all going to George’s house.