One of the biger movies leading the charge for the film industry in February 2014 is The Monuments Men, a feature directed by George Clooney based on the real-life treasure hunt where a unique platoon is formed during WWII at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to rescue culturally important artwork from the Nazis. The squad sent to Germany consists of museum directors, curators, and art historians – all played by veteran Hollywood talent, including Bill Murray, Bob Balaban and John Goodman.
Don Kaye had the opportunity to interview Murray, Balaban and Goodman on behalf of Screen Rant where they tease Matt Damon, share their personal favorite war movies, and discuss their knowledge of the real-life story behind The Monuments Men.
Matt Damon said he didn’t know anything about this story before George Clooney talked with him about it. Were you guys familiar at all with —
Bill Murray: Matt is a Harvard jerk.
John Goodman: (laughs)
Murray: You know, test scores do not make for real, true intelligence. Am I right, fellas?
Goodman: I’d go along with that.
Bob Balaban: The thing that I knew the most about – I didn’t know about the wholesale stealing. I knew the Jewish collectors had their art taken. And the other thing that I knew about was – I knew because all of us knew about Hitler doing these horrible watercolors and decided that Picasso and certain other artists were decadent – and that I knew, it was pretty well known that they went around torching every Picasso they could find. But that was even before the war started.
Is part of the fun of acting that you get to learn about these things that you never knew before and experience them?
Goodman: That was the most of it for me. I didn’t know anything about this and I wanted to know more about it now, doing the little bit of research that I did. Just trying to recreate some of the period, just where America came together, where everybody came together to fight this evil, was really thrilling for me.
Did each of you have a favorite war movie growing up?
Murray: Well, I liked the one by Kubrick with –
Balaban: Full Metal Jacket?
Murray: No, the older one. Paths of Glory. That one I liked very much. I liked Gallipoli very much too.
Goodman: Yeah, that was swell. I liked The Dirty Dozen.
Balaban: I’m a big Bridge on the River Kwai fan. I liked that a lot.
Seemed like Mr. Clooney was going for that kind of vibe – Dirty Dozen, River Kwai – that kind of old-fashioned World War II…
Murray: Absolutely. That’s what he was going for, and it was very – all the actors sort of, we had these sort of heroic lines to say and there wasn’t a whole lot of drama. We had a job to do and we did it. The script was that way. We had scenes to do and we did ‘em. There wasn’t a lot of talking about it, we just did ‘em.
Goodman: That was the way they were back then. They were just normal guys under extraordinary circumstances. You know, we were all too old to serve, and this was one way we could serve our country in uniform, by using our special talents to help.
Balaban: Sort of like we did by being in the movie. Sort of, but not exactly.
Goodman: I didn’t use my special talent. I have heat vision.
Would you like to demonstrate that for us?
Goodman: I can’t.
Did any of you research your characters or the real guys they were based on? Mr. Balaban, your guy founded the New York City Ballet, for instance.
Balaban: The New York City Ballet. I kind of knew about him, actually. I didn’t know him, but I knew a certain amount about him. I read the book, The Monuments Men, Robert Edsel’s book, and actually, Robert gave me a book of poetry written by my character, and I found it an interesting insight into a person’s mind, to see what a person who isn’t a poet, how they’re writing about their experience during the war. So it was kind of like being inside his head a little bit. But we were all composites, really, we’re not – so we didn’t have to try to look like or act like or be like our characters. But it was helpful to learn something about them.
Goodman: Yeah, I have the happy coincidence of being from the same hometown as my character. Maybe that’s why I was cast – “We need a guy from St. Louis, nobody else can talk that way…”
Murray: Typecast again, John.
Balaban: Did he have a statue?
Mr. Murray, Mr. Balaban, you’ve worked together a few times now. Do you have any scenes together in The Grand Budapest Hotel? Can you talk about that movie quickly?
Balaban: It’s a wonderful, wonderful movie. I don’t think we have any –
Murray: We’re part of the group with the keys.
Balaban: Oh yes, we do have – are we on the mountain together when it’s snowing?
Murray: We’re at the end. We’re certainly in the final scene (inaudible) –
Balaban: We risked our lives going to a location at the end.
Murray: We risked our lives climbing a mountain just to end the film. Just to stop shooting. Yeah, it’s a wonderful – we share a certain kind of – are you familiar with 101 Dalmatians? You know the chain of dog calling (imitates dog barking)?
We do a human version of that in this film, and it’s a wonderful film. Bob’s really great in it and –
Balaban: Bill’s pretty good.
Murray: I’m just as good. I’m just as good.
George Clooney directs The Monuments Men and stars in it alongside Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and Hugh Bonneville.
The Monuments Men opens in theaters on February 7, 2014.