Director George Clooney transplants Trump’s America into the 1950s in the dark comedy, Suburbicon.
“We didn’t want this to be an ‘eat your spinach’ piece of filmmaking. We wanted it to be entertaining,” explains Suburbicon director George Clooney of his decision to combine a decades-old Coen brothers dark comedy with a more earnest story about the state of racism in modern America.
“We’d seen things on the campaign trail about building fences and scapegoating Mexicans and Muslims and were reminded that these things aren’t new in our history, and thought it would be interesting to talk about it.
“So we merged it with Suburbicon because we thought it would be a funny to set it in the suburbs of the 1950s when we all thought everything was perfect, if you were a white straight male, and to have everybody look in the wrong direction,” says Clooney when STACK meets with him and the Suburbicon cast at TIFF.
“What I love about it is that it starts on this kooky, comedic level and then it progressively gets darker until it becomes true noir – bad people doing bad things”
The trailer would almost have us believe that this is a Coen brothers film, although actually it’s a George Clooney and Grant Heslov adaptation of the Coen original screenplay for which, to add a further twist, Clooney was offered a role in 1999.
Casting Oscar Isaac in the role originally earmarked for himself, Clooney called upon old pal Matt Damon to step up to the lead role of Gardner, with Julianne Moore taking on dual roles as Damon’s wife/sister-in-law.
Following a home invasion, things turn dark pretty fast.
“I’d never been asked to do something like this before,” laughs Damon gamely. “Much like Downsizing, this was another script I was reading going ‘wow’ they’re really going to make this?’”
“There are very few actors in the world who are capable of being Jason Bourne and killing people and then turn around and be the buffoon who can’t do anything right – a man who can’t shoot straight but also kills people, purely by accident,” laughs Clooney.
While the town’s only black family, the Meyers, endure the scorn and bigotry of their racist neighbours, Damon and Moore provide the real evil in this story.
“The Meyers are blamed for absolutely everything and then you see us in our little house, quietly going about our dirty little business, consistently making bad choices,” says Moore.
“What I love about it is that it starts on this kooky, comedic level and then it progressively gets darker until it becomes true noir – bad people doing bad things. It’s shocking,” she adds.
Midway through filming, the unthinkable happened and Trump was elected. “That changed some of the temperature of the film in a weird way because the country got angrier, whichever side you were on – reminding us that we had to play with this in a different way,” says Clooney.
“This was another script I was reading going ‘wow’ they’re really going to make this?”
Struggling with conflicting themes, he admits that some of his favourite scenes were ultimately edited in an effort to adjust the film’s tone.
“We had to edit out this really hilarious scene with Josh Brolin; so slapstick funny with Josh in a baseball uniform talking to a bunch of nine-year-olds, trying to explain what the word ‘f–k’ means and it was really funny and really wrong, but we had to cut it out. You win or lose on tone in films, particularly when you’re playing in this kind of genre, and I’ve had it go both ways,” he reflects.
If Damon has escaped scar-free from his many action roles, then Suburbicon got him – right on the butt. “I was using a ping pong paddle for one scene. I was hauling ass and broke a paddle. I didn’t even realise how much I’d hurt myself until I was taking a shower the next morning and my wife says, ‘What is going on?’. My entire right cheek was black and blue.”
Suburbicon is in cinemas on October 26.