Grant Heslov on ‘The Ides of March’ and ‘Argo’

The award-winning writer/director/producer talks the politics of Ides of March, how Ben Affleck is doing on Argo, and whether True Lies 2 will ever happen.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

 

The Ideas of March premiered at the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals this month as one of George Clooney’s two Oscar hopefuls for the year, along with The Descendants. Ides is the one he directed and stars in as a presidential candidate, while his idealistic staffer (Ryan Gosling) learns the truth about dirty politics. Longtime Clooney collaborator Grant Heslov co-wrote the script with him. We caught up with Heslov in Toronto to talk politics, their next production Argo, and a little True Lies.

 


CraveOnline: Are politics the essence of drama? You’re dealing with people trying to appeal to as many people as possible without really committing to a specific stance.

Grant Heslov: I don’t know if they’re the essence of drama but certainly politics can be dramatic. That’s why we set this in politics and with the background of politics because there is a lot of drama inherent in that world.

 

And the double talk that’s not quite a lie but not the truth either.

Definitely. It’s that gray area which both George and I are so attracted to, that nebulous area between good and evil.

 

It used to be frustrating that a candidate would try to appeal to as many as possible instead of representing a specific ideal. Now it seems like the opposite, some politicians are determined to represent a limited group of people. Why is that and can it go back?

Yeah, I think we always sort of swing back and forth. The truth is you can’t get elected if your base is that narrow. Just inherent in the process, it’s going to have to swing back. But I understand what you’re saying. You see it more in the primary obviously because each of those candidates now for instance is trying to put a flag down. Some of them are very specific to the right and there are some that are trying to reach out to a larger base. So I think it’ll be the ones who reach a larger base will become a nominee.

 

Even in the debt talks, congressmen refused to work with this president. They just wanted to take a few years off until they got a president they liked. Don’t they still have to run the country?

That’s part of the problem, yeah. That whole debacle is a perfect example of how drama plays out.

 

At least it’s reassuring that the tea party might not have a chance being so specific as they are.

I don’t think they will.

 

The play was based on the Howard Dean campaign, right?

Really not. Beau Willimon who wrote the play worked on that campaign, so that’s what he’s drawing from. The candidate is not Howard Dean. It’s a fictitious story. I think that he just took his experience of being a campaign worker and used that as a backdrop to write this play.
 


That campaign is so interesting to me, because did he really lose just because he screamed?

I don’t know if that’s the reason he lost but I think that that was definitely a turning point. He’d said some off the cuff things that were not the smartest things leading up to that. Then I think that really was the turning point.

 

At least if it’s what he said, then people are making an informed decision not to support him. If it’s just they don’t like the way he expresses enthusiasm, that’s silly.

Well, it is silly, you’re right.

 

Are the ‘Ides’ really about political backstabbing, or a broader metaphor?

I think the metaphor is broader. Look, there’s a lot of backstabbing that goes on in the film. So we sort of wanted to leave it open to interpretation on who you think is stabbing who and who ends up dead in the end. For me, in a certain sense, Ryan’s character ends up dead at the end because in a way he’s sold his soul, he’s lost his soul. But I leave it up to the viewers to interpret it. That’s what I like about the title.

 

What were the discussions about “We can’t call it Farragut North?”

There were none. George and I just decided that we liked this. We thought that Farragut North wasn’t as interesting a title for us as The Ides of March. That was the extent of the discussion really.

 

What kind of writers’ schedule do you and George have? Are you 9 to 5-ers?

Nah, we have our offices. We’ll just say, “Let’s meet tomorrow at 10” and then we work until we’re finished or until we’re not getting anywhere. But we don’t really keep a set schedule because he’s obviously busy. I’m busy as well with other stuff. Then if we’re on something and we’ve got it, then we’ll just meet every day and work.

 

When you’re writing something like ‘Ides of March,’ do you have a sense of the timing for Awards Season?

It doesn’t impact the writing but we knew that this was a fall release. That’s what you want, to be a fall release. What you don’t want to happen is make it with the intention of a fall release and they tell you, “Oh no, we’re going to release this after Christmas or end of summer.” You get some slot where you feel like they don’t have a lot of faith in it.
 


 

Were you thinking of doing a political film for election season as you developed it?

No. We had thought about making this film a while ago. We’d written the script and then put it on the shelf. It didn’t feel like the right time. Then we said, “Let’s make it now.” It times out pretty well as we get into a political season but we didn’t write it [for that.] As much as we can, maybe we have this luxury because we’re lucky, but we don’t think about the outside factors like will somebody ever make this film? Will we be able to cast this film? We just write the film that we want to see, that we want to make. Then we just go do it. So I think the timing actually works out really great for us now. We’ll see if people respond.

 

As a producer, how is ‘Argo’ going?

It’s going great. This will be the end of our third week today which I’m missing.

 

From pre-production to seeing it in action, how is it shaping up?

It’s amazing. It’s always fun when you’re doing a period piece and get to see the first stuff on film and how everybody looks. We’re doing some really interesting stuff with the look of the film. I’m really excited. I think Ben’s a terrific director.

 

How is he making the transition from the modern day crime genre stories?

I didn’t work with him on the other ones so I don’t know how he’s adjusted, but he really has a sure hand. He knows what he’s doing, he knows what he wants. He’s on schedule and on time and he’s doing a great job.

 

You guys sure have good luck with actors turned directors, huh?

Yeah. I don’t know if that’s just coincidence. Look, a lot of directors were actors, even if they were unsuccessful actors which I think is helpful. I think it’s a really helpful thing for a director to have experienced that. It helps you know how to talk to actors and how to get what you need from them. So directors who have never acted before, to me it’s miraculous that they can do so well with actors.

 

Will ‘Argo’ come out about this time next year?

Yeah, I think it’ll come out in the fall. I don’t think we have a date yet but it’ll probably come out in the fall.

 

Is it a good thing that the fall is considered the season for “important” movies?

Well, I don’t know if it’s a good thing but I think it’s a good time for films like this. The summer is full of summer films and I think come this time of year, people are hungry to see interesting, good, different kinds of films. So that’s why I like to come out in the fall and I know as a filmgoer, that’s my favorite time of the year to watch films.

 

Will you always be drawn to thinking films?

We made Leatherheads. I wouldn’t call that a thinking film.
 


 

I would. Thinking comedy but still.

You would? Yeah, maybe. Maybe it was too much and that’s why it didn’t do as well as we had hoped. No, I think I’ll always be attracted to what I think are good stories or potentially good stories. I never really thought about the thinking man’s aspect of it.

 

Are you directing again?

I will, yes. I’m going to. I haven’t settled on the next thing that I want to direct. What you learn when you direct a film, even more so than as a producer, it’s a marriage. It’s like a relationship with that film so you’ve got to make sure that it’s really something that you want to live with for three years or however long it is. So I haven’t found the right thing to marry yet.

 

Arnold Schwarzenegger has returned to acting. If he happens to get a ‘True Lies’ sequel together, would you want to return to acting for that role?

Oh, I would do that in a second. I think that would be fun but I’d be surprised if they do another one.

 

It might not be with James Cameron but maybe Arnold would bring someone else on.

Maybe if he wanted to do it he could probably get it done. Maybe too much time’s gone by. There’s a lot of generations of audiences that have come and gone since that was made.

 

Before he was governor, he would always talk about ‘True Lies,’ ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Running Man’ sequels but now he’s not even doing another Terminator.

I’m curious to see film-wise how that’s going to work for him. He’s certainly older now and I’ll be curious to see. I know Tom Arnold wants to do it. He calls me every once in a while.

 

Does he know how that sounds when he’s the only one who talks about it?

Probably. He probably does.


Photo Credit: Lu Chau/ WENN.com