With “Ides of March” hitting theaters this Friday, writer/producer Grant Heslov is nearing the home stretch of a lengthy press tour that began in late August with its Venice Film Festival premiere. Directed by George Clooney, the political thriller is based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon, and follows the exploits of a twenty-something presidential campaign spinmeister/wunderkind named Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) and the dirty pool he plays to get his candidate (Clooney) the nomination against a rival senator. Paul Giamatti , Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood round out the solid supporting cast of the starry project, and Heslov's next producing effort is not wanting in star power either.
The very busy Heslov has been spending as much time as he can on the set of Ben Affleck’s next directorial effort, “Argo,” which is currently shooting. That film is features Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Scoot McNairy among the ensemble, but it's no surprise that the movie has drawn so much wattage. With a filmography that also includes "The American" and "The Men Who Stare at Goats," Clooney and Heslov's Smoke House production shingle boasts an attractive, ongoing list of projects that offer actors and directors the kinds of films and roles they don't usually find on a studio slate these days. We recently caught up with Heslov and he took us on a rundown of the current Smoke House production slate, contrasted the styles of fellow actor-turned-directors Ben Affleck and George Clooney, and revealed what's next for the company.
Based on the Wired article “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran,” “Argo” centers on the real-life C.I.A. plan to rescue a group of diplomats from Tehran after the 1979 Iranian revolution by claiming that they were part of a Hollywood movie crew shooting a film. Affleck directs and also stars as Tony Mendez, and with the movie now in its fifth week shooting just outside of Los Angeles, Heslov is pleased with things so far.
“It’s going great,” Heslov tells The Playlist. “We’re on the set, it’s an amazing story. Some of the people who were the hostages that actually escaped the embassy were visiting us today; some of the people the story is based on. I’m on set every day unless I have to go do a press day for “‘Ides.’”
Ben vs. George
It’s no secret that actors like working with actor/directors. And in the case of Clooney and Affleck, star power certainly doesn’t hurt the drawing power. “I think actors are attracted to working with other actors who they respect, particularly if they’ve already done a couple good films, as obviously Ben and George have," Heslov says. "Actors know how to talk to other actors in a way that sometimes other directors just don’t. I mean, look, there are some great directors that have never acted a day in their life so it certainly isn’t a prerequisite, but it can definitely help.”
So how do Ben and George differ on set? “Both have a very sort of easygoing style,” Heslov tells Playlist. “They are very different as directors in approach, but the end results are very similar in the way they put scenes together.”
"Hamdan v. Rumsfeld"
First announced in early 2009 under the title "The Challenge," the Aaron Sorkin scripted project centers centers on Osama Bin Laden's chauffeur, who was captured in Afghanistan before being shuffled off to Guantanamo Bay. This was the case that proved the actions being taken at Guantanamo were in fact a violation of the Geneva Conventions, thanks primarily to the work of Hamdan's dashing, slick, and overwhelmingly handsome lawyer Charles Swift, a role that Clooney was going to take on in addition to directing the picture. He later handed the lead role over to Matt Damon instead, and last we heard two years ago, the scheduling just couldn't be lined up, and the project was delayed. But it's still in development.
Heslov tells Playlist they are working with a new writer (whom he did not name), but didn’t offer any definitive plans for production. “That’s still something we’re working on. We’re with a different writer now. It’s just still something we’re trying to figure out.”
"Monster Of Florence"
Announced earlier this year, Clooney would play real life writer Douglas Preston (his book serves as the foundation for the film), who teams with local crime reporter Mario Spezi upon moving to Florence to try and solve a 30 year old murder mystery haunting the city. The one has been kicking around for a while, first coming to life as a Tom Cruise vehicle in 2008, and Heslov is still awaiting a script from “Valkyrie” co-writers Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander.
“I’m just waiting on a draft,” says Heslov. “Chris McQuarrie is writing it. I’m excited to see a first draft.
"Our Brand Is Crisis"
First announced in 2007, this dark comedy draws its inspiration Rachel Boynton’s political documentary about the role of James Carville's political consulting firm in the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. “It’s something that we’re probably going to put up next. It’s at Warner Bros. and I’m just trying to figure out who’s going to direct. We’re going to make that one. It’s a really great script. For Smoke House, I would say ‘Our Brand is Crisis’ [is next]," Heslov said. "We’ll definitely be producers on it, but what other role we would play I don’t know at this point. Right now it’s just a great script.”
So what else is on the docket for Smoke House? There is the financial bailout movie based on the Washington Post article “700 Billion Man” by Laura Blumenfeld that Clooney is eyeing to direct. “We’re just at the scripting stages on that,” says Heslov. Zach Helm ("Stranger Than Fiction") is writing the screenplay. First announced way back in 2007 as a possible vehicle for David Gordon Green, the adaptation of John Grisham's "The Innocent Man" is no longer at Smoke House. “That was something we had worked on and then Grisham was being sued about the book. He finally won the lawsuit, but it took so long we sort of moved after that,” Heslov said. And oh yeah, the Coen Brothers scripted "Suburbicon," long mooted as a potential movie for Clooney to direct, isn't even at Smoke House at all. “I don’t know how that got [attributed] to us,” says Heslov. “I don’t think we ever really had anything to do with that.”
But even with all these projects vying to get on the big screen, the goal remains the same. “We’re constantly just trying to develop great scripts,” explains Heslov. “That’s the main thing. And then if it’s something that we want to do or something that we want to develop with George or another actor in mind. It’s really all about getting a good script.”
“Ides of March” opens nationwide on October 7, 2011.