Riding a wave of positive reviews and early Oscar buzz, The Ides of March is basically a "fun moral tale. [But] once you put it in politics, it sort of ramps up all the problems," said George Clooney.
Clooney offered up his take on the new film as he presided over a breezy, joke-filled press conference for The Ides of March in Toronto on Friday.
The fast-paced thriller about dirty dealings and behind-the-scenes scandal on the campaign trail — screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, but also hitting theatres Oct. 7 — arrives at a time of divisiveness and cynicism in American politics.
Still, Clooney and the cast played down suggestions of the film referencing specific figures, or notions that they were making a pointed political comment.
"Films don't lead the way. People think that films somehow are trying to lead society ... Mostly we're reflecting the moods and thoughts that are going on in our country and around the world," Clooney — who appears, directs, co-wrote and produced the film — told a packed room of international reporters.
"If this film reflects some of the cynicism that's we've seen in recent times, that's probably good. It's not a bad thing to hold a mirror up and look at some of the things we're doing. It's not a bad thing to look at how we elect our officials."
The Ides of March sees Clooney playing a Democratic governor with an eye on the White House. But he takes a back seat to rising Canadian star Ryan Gosling — featured in the central role as the governor's idealistic and ambitious press secretary, who quickly becomes embroiled in an explosive scandal.
"I think he knocks it out of the park … centre of the hurricane ... requires intelligence in an actor ...," Clooney said of Gosling, who also plays the lead role in another high-profile TIFF film, action thriller Drive.
For his part, Gosling shared stories about Clooney's infamous pranks on the set — including surreptitiously spraying his pants with water immediately before they filmed key, dramatic scenes with veteran actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. The Ides cast also includes Marisa Tomei, Jeffrey Wright and Evan Rachel Wood.
On a more serious note, Gosling praised Clooney for his passion as a director.
"George was possessed by this film. It was nice, for a change, to be directed. That was it — I just trusted him. I just allowed him to take me into this world."
Asked about whether the tale of cut-throat, backroom politics could be set against Canada's system, Gosling quipped that "The Canadian version would be too nice."
"But it wouldn't be," co-star Giamatti retorted, sparking roars of laughter.
"I bet it's probably just as dirty up here as it is anywhere else," barked the star of the 2010 Canadian film Barney's Version, who has also filmed movies in Toronto.
"You people are filthy corrupt up here, aren't you? I think it's time to blow the lid off of Canadian politics."