Things have changed in the best of ways for George Clooney since TV viewers first noticed him as the sixth banana on "The Facts of Life," since he gained star status as hunky Dr. Ross on "ER" and since he jumped to leading roles in successful movies with "Out of Sight" and as a feature director with "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind."

George Clooney talks about impact of ‘Monuments Men'

By Ed Symkus

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Things have changed in the best of ways for George Clooney since TV viewers first noticed him as the sixth banana on ìThe Facts of Life,î since he gained star status as hunky Dr. Ross on ìERî and since he jumped to leading roles in successful movies with ìOut of Sightî and as a feature director with ìConfessions of a Dangerous Mind.î

Clooneyís newest double-dip project as actor-director is ìThe Monuments Men,î the based-on-fact tale of a group of American and British art experts who, with the blessings of President Franklin Roosevelt, traveled to Germany in the midst of WWII in an attempt to save some of the worldís great works of art from theft by the Nazis and accidental destruction by Allied forces. The film also features Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman and Hugh Bonneville. Clooney spoke about it last month in Los Angeles.

ìThe Monuments Menî deals with a serious issue, but manages to do it in a somewhat light way. Was that your plan from the start?

We were not all that familiar with the actual story, which is rare for a World War II film. Usually you think you know all the stories. We wanted it to be accessible. I like those John Sturges films [ìThe Great Escape,î ìThe Eagle Has Landedî]. And we liked the story. We thought of it as sort of a mix between ìKellyís Heroesî and ìThe Train.î We wanted to talk about a very serious subject, thatís still ongoing, and we wanted to make it entertaining. That was the goal.

How were the characters developed?

We changed the names of the characters because we wanted to give some of them some flaws for entertainment purposes, for storytelling purposes. You donít want to take somebody whoís real and heroic, and give them a drinking problem. Thatís not really fair to do. So we changed the names because we wanted to be able to play with the story some. But theyíre all based on real men. There was a hundred of them eventually. They went to Italy and did the same thing. But theyíre based on real people all the way through.

What do you feel the impact of the film will be?

A lot of this art has been found and is in other peopleís homes or in museums. Thereís a generation who believe theyíve lost 25 million people, and to the victor goes the spoils, and they believe in keeping it. But it seems to be getting more towards returning it to the rightful owners. Sometimes itís tricky because itís very hard to raise sympathy for someone named Rothschild, who had the largest private collection, because people think, well, theyíre pretty wealthy and itís not such a big deal, although of course you want it to be returned. It is a long process, and it is a continuing process. Quite honestly itís also about looking at the loss of artifacts and art thatís going on in Syria right now. Itís understanding how important the culture is to each of these countries, and trying to find a way to get them back. So if this raises some awareness, and opens up some discussions on it a little bit, I think thatís really helpful.

Since you started directing films, youíve done one, almost like clockwork, every three years. Have you been keeping to some kind of schedule?

The timing for directing is usually because it takes that long to develop a piece and do pre-preproduction and postproduction. That takes at least a couple of years. I prefer directing to doing other things. I think directing and writing seem to be infinitely more creative.

Whatís the difference between the George Clooney who directed ìConfessions of a Dangerous Mindî and ìThe Monuments Men?î

You know, all youíre trying to do is learn from people that youíve worked with. Iíve worked with the Coen brothers and Steven Soderbergh and Alexander Payne. Iíve worked with really great directors over the years. So you try to see what theyíre doing and then just steal it (laughs). Thatís the theory. You go, ëOh, I like that; Iím gonna do it that way.í So the truth is, you hope your development is the same way as everything: You succeed some, you fail some, and you keep slugginí away at it. I really enjoy it, itís fun. I like it more than acting now. Itís tricky directing yourself, obviously. But I enjoy directing. I donít know whether itís improving or not, but itís certainly evolving in different directions.

ìThe Monuments Menî opens Feb. 7.