"Well you know I’ve always worked for the candidate, I've never been one myself so that's definitely different. The whole Oscar campaign thing is just a little bit of a mystery to me...I think typically the studios and producers are the ones that are really trying to solicit those votes from the six thousand odd people in the Academy and I guess another thing that's a little bit different about political campaigns and an Oscar campaign is that you know who the electorate is, who the registered voters are [but] there's a whole cloud of mystery as to who exactly the Academy voters actually are...You know it would be interesting if there were debates. Wouldn’t it?," he joked.
But of course, Willimon wouldn't be a candidate at all if "Ides Of March" had stayed a play and never made it to the big screen. It's an unlikely story, one in which the the right alignment of faith, skill and plain dumb luck found his play winding up in the hands of two of the biggest stars in Hollywood.
"I first wrote the play eight years ago. I was 26, I had just come off the heels of the [Howard] Dean campaign, I'd never had a play produced, much less a movie, and I sent out the play to about forty theaters nationwide and none of them wanted to do it. So I shelved the play and a couple of years after that, my current agent read my work and said, 'I want to send out Farragut North,' I said 'Good luck, I've tried it already but maybe you'll have better luck then I did.' And he did," Willimon explained. "So we got immediate interest from the theater world, and we just sent out the play to L.A. mostly as a writing sample in the hopes that I might get a meeting, or might be able to get a staffing job on a TV show or something like that. And it made its way to Warner Brothers and I had one of those fairy tale, Hollywood phone calls where my agent called me and said, 'A major studio wants to turn your play into a movie and by the way George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio want to produce. How does that sound?' I was driving a car at the time [and] the car almost went into a ditch and I believe I said something along the lines of 'Yes, yes, yes, yes.' About sixty times. And we began that process and that was almost six years ago."
"You just have to re-wire your brain when you're shifting from the stage to the screen, or the silver screen or the HD flat screen. I certainly learned a lot from the process in terms of how to think in a filmic way. Film is much more visual, a scene is typically a lot shorter, you're dealing with a lot more characters, a lot more locations and you're able to rely on things that you just can never do on the stage," Willimon elaborated. "Like the close up or creating texture [such as] the texture of a campaign rally by actually shooting it as opposed to short of sharing it off stage or having people talk about it. And so it lends a lot more opportunities to you and then really what it becomes about is making choices because you have so many opportunities available and you can't choose them all. So it's really thinking about a more economic way to work with more if that makes sense."
"I have to be most grateful to George and he did get nominated, we all got nominated for adapted screenplay but I think the guy should be nominated for director, for best film in terms of producer and as an actor," Willimon told us. "Because if you think about it the guy had to wear four hats in order to make this movie. Money didn't grow on trees, he went out and he raised it and then he got Sony to distribute and market it and they put a great campaign together. Meanwhile he's working on the story with Grant and me, meanwhile he's behind the camera directing it and then he got out to flip around and be in front of the camera and act in it. And to wear that many hats and wear them so well is a rare talent."
If you missed it, "Ides Of March" is on DVD and BluRay now. Willimon is currently working on "House Of Cards," the upcoming Netflix series produced by David Fincher and Kevin Spacey. We'll have more from Willimon about that project next week.