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NYFF: With Kids On The Set Of 'The Descendants' George Clooney Couldn't Resist His Prankster Ways

by Jen Vineyard
October 21, 2011 9:34 AM
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Clooney Farts With His iPhone, Plants A Kiss & Matthew Lillard Nearly Didn't Make It To The Audition



Despite a fact-filled press conference earlier this week the filmmakers and cast behind the now-Gotham-nominated “The Descendants” still had more info to share when they hit the red carpet for the premiere at the New York Film Festival on Sunday. In case you missed it, here's what George Clooney had to say about some of the movies on his horizon. For the rest of the chat, and some stories from the rest of the cast, read on. Warning, there are some spoilers.

Force feeding kids ice cream and playing with a fart app on his iPhone is all in day's work for George Clooney
“How could you not on this set?” he asked. “These were kids! I had to mess with them!”

When he was supposed to be quiet, Clooney whipped out his iPhone to make strange noises. “We were shooting the plane scene,” said Nick Krause, who plays Sid, a friend the eldest daughter brings along on the family’s journey. “It was a very tight set, a lot of extras, and no one really knew each other. And out of nowhere, we hear this fart noise! So we look around, and it’s George, playing around with his phone, his apps. It was awesome.”

And when Clooney could have revealed pertinent information, he kept quiet, such as when he failed to inform his youngest co-star Amara Miller -- who had never been in a movie before -- that she would have to eat the same amount of food in each take. “We’d give her a bowl of ice cream,” he said, “and we wouldn’t explain that we were going to do five or six takes, and she’d end up eating the whole bowl!”

“I didn’t know when to stop!” Miller said. “It got me sick the next day.” When the director of photography was framing a shot, sometimes Clooney would dip his legs so he would appear to be shorter than usual. “He would just do that for a couple of seconds, just to mess with him on the other end of the camera,” Krause said.

“That’s one of his talents that gets unnoticed somehow,” Krause added. “He has this real ability to make everyone feel much closer and more comfortable together. He worked hard to make sure everyone on set was happy, especially during the heavier scenes. It’s part of why he’s a great actor.”

“I did it just to keep the whole thing moving,” Clooney admitted. “Part of your job is to keep it fun.” Taking his cue, however, some of his friends and cast mates have gotten him back recently. “You know, some of my friends changed my outgoing phone message, unbeknownst to me,” he said. “So yeah, I got some revenge coming! I owe Brad [Pitt] back bad for that one.”

Clooney’s surprise kiss with Judy Greer was not a prank – but it wasn’t in the original script, either.
Of course, in a film about forgiveness, you expect a few people to turn the other cheek – but not during a goodbye kiss! Clooney’s character Matt King visits a beach cottage rented by Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard) and his wife (Judy Greer), to confront Speer about sleeping with his wife and give him one last chance to redeem himself. That charged conversation happens unbeknownst to Brian’s wife, who tries to give Matt a pleasant goodbye by kissing him on the cheek. But then he executes a quick move and the kiss instead lands on the lips – much to her shock. “It wasn’t in my script, but Alexander [Payne] added it during the table read,” Greer said. “I was like, ‘Whoa!’ And then Alex said, ‘I did that for you, Judy.’”

You might remember the pair shared a sex scene in “Three Kings” – which Clooney reminded Greer of earlier in the week when he asked, “Do you remember what our first scene was ever?” as she blushed – the two actors had never kissed on screen. “I didn’t get to kiss him then!” she exclaimed.

“Doesn’t it seem improvised?” Clooney asked. “The look on her face [during the kiss], that was great, wasn’t it? That was such a funny thing. She’s such a good actress. She can do anything.”

The character of the youngest daughter Scottie played a larger role in the book.
The first draft of the script by Payne and screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash included more of Scottie (Miller). Stuck suddenly caring for his ten-year-old daughter alone, Matt is bewildered by many of her actions and spends a great deal of time trying to figure out what to do with her. (Sample line from the book: “She’s nuts. Who knows what’s going on in that head of hers.”) Scottie is acting out – harassing her peers on her Blackberry, wearing provocative slogans on her T-shirts, and trying to emphasize her not-quite-there-yet breasts. “Scottie was such a presence,” Rash said, “because he’s trying to understand her and that’s part of his journey.”

“Our first draft was really big,” Faxon said, “because there was so much of that we loved, and we wanted to keep all the things that fit thematically, and that made us laugh, or made us cry. But at some point, you have to remove some things from the book and put your own point of view on it. You can’t have a four-hour movie.”

In the book, Matt is aware Scottie is constantly taking pictures of her comatose mother to document her for a social studies class. In the film, her photography is reduced to a scene in which he’s called in for a parent-teacher conference to be told the project is not appropriate, and Clooney looks surprised at the book’s existence. The movie also condenses Scottie’s interest in being more physically developed by showing her getting ready to go swimming by putting on her older sister’s underwear, and in a scene at the beach, filling her bikini top with sand. “We had one more scene where Matt walks in on Scottie as she’s posing in the mirror, and she does this thing with her breasts,” Rash said, pantomiming cleavage. “And that moment happens right before he goes and talks to Sid on the couch, which is why he’s a little bewildered.”

Matt King's wife was supposed to be a model.
Of course, Clooney can date models – but his character Matt is a schlub. But he’s got a beauty of a wife who is seven years younger than him and used to model for catalogs and newspaper ads. His teenager daughter Alexandra also used to model, posing in a bikini for a postcard company. Neither of these occupations are mentioned in the movie, but they go to help explaining Scottie’s copycat poses. “It’s part of the theme of how her mom was beautiful,” Rash said. “So when she’s posing in the mirror, she’s mimicking her mom, as if she were a model, too.”

Since they were trimming Scottie’s fixation, they opted not to flesh out that aspect of the rest of the women in the family. But there still remained a question of how much to show of the mother’s life before she’s comatose, since in the book, Matt spends a lot of time thinking about his wife, arguments they’ve had, close moments shared, and his suspicion that she’s been cheating on him. “We wondered how much to show of her life,” Rash said. “When he rethinks those moments, they’re not exactly flashbacks. But that was a choice we had to make, whether we’d see her more than in the hospital bed. So it was a big deal for us to show her racing.”

Matthew Lillard barely made it to the audition – which is why he’s so grateful for the part.
The actor only found out about the audition the night before it was scheduled, and he didn’t have the time free in his schedule, because of an obligation to his kids. Lillard rejected the idea of going at first: “It was one of those things where I said to my agent, ‘I can’t do this. There’s no way I can even be this guy. This is a waste of time.’” His agent told him to try anyway. When he arrived, he had second thoughts: “I’m just going to turn around. I’ll just go back.” He asked his agent to reschedule. “But they said, ‘No, you can’t just reschedule it,’” Lillard said. “’Somebody dropped out, so we pushed you in that slot. They didn’t want to see you, and we pushed you in.”

And so, Lillard had to make a choice – chase an audition that might or might not lead to something, or “be a good dad.” “So I went in to see Alexander,” he recalled, “and I was like, ‘Look, I’m on my way to taking my kids to a thing, if I can just do this fast, that would be amazing.’ I thought I would just act, say, ‘Thank you very much,’ and walk away.” Then, when he walked into the room, there were five other hopefuls – “Adonises,” Lillard called them. “Which tells you, you’re not the kind of guy [Alexander] wanted to see,” he said. “To know that there are five gorgeous, Hollywood, leading-men types there, and to know I had to be somewhere way more important to be, in terms of my life, my kids, and my family, it took everything not to just walk away.”

Pushing all of that doubt out of his mind, he said, was “liberating.” “I was just going to do what I do, and it’s either going to work, or not,” he said. “And it worked!”

"The Descendants" opens on November 18th.

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