Almost exactly 30 years ago, two young aspiring actors named Grant and George signed up for an acting class. They immediately got along and as well as sharing opinions on sports, women and humour, they both had an optimism that they would, some day, somehow, make it.
"You can probably see our old acting school from this window!" grins Grant Heslov, gesturing towards the giant window in the
In the intervening decades, Heslov and Clooney - who, you'll be delighted to learn, did eventually make some headway as an actor - started up a film production company,
"God, that was awesome," says Heslov, plucking at his jeans as if still pinching himself. "Honestly, it's one of the great, great experiences, to do that. Yeah, I've got that monkey off my back now."
Heslov has been so successful as a producer and writer, winning 18 awards in less than a decade, that he confesses to feeling a little disappointed with the reception for August: Osage County, which Smokehouse also produced.He couldn't be further from the usual image of a high-powered movie producer if he walked around in a clown suit. He is soft-spoken and far happier asking questions than answering. Whereas
Heslov directed and produced the film version of
Heslov mentions Clooney frequently and warmly, and their likemindedness about what will make an interesting story is a testament to their friendship: "We have eclectic taste, but we always just know what will work for us," he says. Sometimes they choose stories as a reaction to current events: 2011's The
They write their scripts together, sometimes alternating scenes, sometimes line by line, with Heslov on the computer and Clooney handwriting. "It's like pulling teeth for me, so it's great to have George there to crack the whip." (For his part, Clooney has dryly said that he's grateful to have Heslov around because "he's a magnet for all the paparazzi - he soaks it up".) Was it strange when his close friend started to become so insanely famous? "Oh sure, but you get used to it, and George takes it in his stride. He gets a lot of criticism, too - people online can be so brutal!" he says, his eyes wide with shock at the cruelty of the internet.
The Monuments Men is not, to be honest, one of their best films, but it's easy to see what attracted them to the story. Based on
"Um, we weren't worried, but I know there will be people who say that," he says. "So we made a conscious choice to make it about the culture as opposed to a single piece of art to show the importance of what these guys are doing."
Heslov, who grew up in LA, was raised conservative Jewish - "but on the liberal side of conservative" - by his father, a dentist, and mother, a businesswoman. Given his background, had he wanted to write a film about the second world war for some time?
"It wasn't something I'd been consciously looking to address, but part of what I loved about making this film was being Jewish and being able to tell this story that affected Jews all through
Clooney and Heslov never imagined they would end up writing, producing and directing films together when they met as struggling actors in the 80s. "And, in fact," Heslov says, with some satisfaction, "I was more successful as an actor than George back then, having had some TV spots."
Familiar faces reappear throughout his and Clooney's films, such as Damon and Goodman. Murray has already said that he'll come back for anything Clooney and Heslov make. Is there something in particular that they look for in an actor? "There's a certain amount of 'what's going to make our lives easiest?' George and I are both doing so many things on a film so we want guys - and gals - who are going to be fun to work with and aren't going to be a pain in the ass."
So is writing and producing films with Clooney and winning Oscars as fun as it looks?
"Fun? Is it fun?" he asks, looking downright perplexed at the question. "Well, it's hard but, I love it and, well, yeah. Yeah, it's pretty fun."
The Monuments Men , co-produced by Clooney and Heslov (below left)
Oscar-winning Argo (above left), another Clooney/Heslov production
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