TORONTO — George Clooney may be surrounded by extravagance these days, but there was once a time when he couldn’t scrounge together $100 to pay for much-needed portraits.
Clooney, then a fledgling actor, ended up getting the cash from Grant Heslov, his longtime friend and fellow performer who directs him in the new goofball comedy The Men Who Stare at Goats.
“He needed to get headshots, eight by 10 photos,” Heslov recalled with a laugh during an interview at the recent Toronto International Film Festival.
“As an actor you have to have those so I had to lend him the money to do that.”
And what would’ve happened if Heslov hadn’t loaned him the cash?
“He would’ve gotten it from somebody else I’m sure,” said Heslov.
“You couldn’t hold him back.”
Heslov, 46, was a student at the University of Southern California when he met Clooney.
The pair have since worked on several films together, including the six-time Oscar-nominated Good Night, and Good Luck, which they co-wrote.
They’re also business partners in the California film production company Smoke House, under which they made Goats. One of their next projects is a film called The American.
“He’s directed me and I’ve also produced a few films that he’s directed so we’ve worked pretty closely together,” said Heslov.
Goats, which opens Friday, stars Clooney as the moustachioed and mysterious Lyn Cassady, who claims to be a “Jedi warrior” in an experimental psychic U.S. military unit called the New Earth Army.
Kevin Spacey co-stars as another member of the group, which tries to read minds, walk through walls and kill goats just by staring at them. Ewan McGregor plays a reporter helping Lyn find the unit’s founder, Bill Django (Jeff Bridges).
The screenplay by Peter Straughan was inspired by Jon Ronson’s non-fiction bestseller of the same name.
“The stuff that it talked about, I actually knew a lot about it,” said Heslov, whose other acting credits include the films True Lies” and Enemy of the State.
“I knew that this stuff existed. I didn’t know the extent in the military how it played out sort of later on in the war on terror and all that stuff.”
Heslov said his interest in such extra-sensory abilities was sparked by American Art Bell’s paranormal-themed radio program “Coast to Coast AM.”
“What I liked about him was that all the guests that he had on his show, no matter how, sort of, out there they were — and some of them were really out there — he took them seriously and he really engaged them,” said Heslov.
“I liked that idea, and I tried to do the same in the film.”
In fact, some of the characters in the film were based on real people, said Heslov.
“I’ve talked to a couple of them on the phone.
“The guy who Jeff Bridges portrays, I’ve talked to on the phone and I’ve seen a lot of video on him and he’s a great guy, a great, fascinating character. He lives in Hawaii.”
Clooney directed Heslov in Good Night, and Good Luck, and Heslov said that helped him as he made his directorial debut on Goats.
“I don’t know if he learns from my style but I certainly have learned from his style,” said Heslov.
“Not so much the technical side, more the way he deals with actors, the way he works on the set and all that stuff. I’ve definitely learned really a lot from him.”