For George Clooney, Indian films are not just musicals

Hollywood heartthrob George Clooney has an infectious laugh.

The 52-year-old star, often referred to as the most charming man in America, cracks up when actor Matt Damon recounts a prank Clooney played on him recently: “He asked the costume team to make my trousers tighter by half an inch each week, and I was going crazy because I’d been working out non-stop.”

Clooney has tricked actor Sandra Bullock into jumping into a pool alone in the past as well. When you see Clooney like this, in black leather jacket and a punk rock T-shirt, it’s easy to forget that he is, in fact, an Oscar-winning actor, an acclaimed film director, and a passionate activist. At a swish Beverly Hills hotel, the actor spoke about movies –  his own, and ours.

I remember meeting you at the Golden Globes a few years ago and asking you what film you were rooting for. You mentioned the Iranian film, A Separation. You’re a lover of world cinema. Are you familiar with Indian cinema?

I’ve watched a few Indian films, but not nearly enough to think that I know the cinema. I know that India makes more movies each year than any other country. It’s not Bollywood alone – or what the world traditionally identifies as Indian cinema – but the cinemas of different languages. It’s been convenient to think of Indian cinema as all musicals, but naturally, it is so much more than that.

When you’re directing yourself in a film, is it hard?

It is, because you’re running back to the monitor to see what you’ve shot. I do very few takes. You can’t do more takes on yourself than you do on the other actors, because they start to look at you from the side of the eye, suspiciously (laughs).

Your two most recent films — Gravity and The Monuments Men – were in production at the same time, and they couldn’t be more dissimilar. Do you apply a different muscle to make each kind of film?

Gravity for me was an acting job, I was working with a brilliant director (Alfonso Cuaron), and I was working in a technology that I don’t understand at all. So, for me, that was a learning experience on some crazy, crazy tricks that I still don’t know how he did! But The Monuments Men is much more of a story that I understand how to tell. I wouldn’t know what to do with Alfonso’s film. He’s a genius.

In The Monuments Men, you manage to move the audience enough to ponder over an essential question: Is art worth human life? Because, we see that the protagonists of the film put their lives at risk to save art, and many of them lose their lives doing it. What’s your own personal response?

I think if you asked someone: ‘Would you risk your life to save a Michelangelo?’ the truth is no, you wouldn’t, because it’s an inanimate object. You’d risk your life for your family, but not for an inanimate object. This was the same problem that these men had to explain to the rest of the military. Because it isn’t about saving a painting. Hitler didn’t just want to kill everybody, he tried to steal people’s history. He tried to pretend as if they hadn’t been on earth, as if they hadn’t existed. And art is a record of our history. And that, you can’t destroy. That is worth dying for. Because you can’t say we weren’t here. That, for me, was what was important about this story.

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