TORONTO — As George Clooney unveils his new film “Suburbicon,” about racial tensions in an American town in 1950, he says he feels a great sense of frustration and shame that the subject matter is so timely and that the U.S. is in a state of political upheaval.
Now screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, the dark satire stars Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac in a tale of a home invasion that unfolds alongside a white town’s vicious attack on an innocent black family that just moved into the neighbourhood.
Clooney directed the dark satire and co-wrote it with Grant Heslov and the Coen brothers.
The film that’s due in theatres Oct. 27 feels eerily reminiscent of last month’s deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., to which U.S. President Donald Trump responded that “both sides” were to blame.
“It’s a frustrating time and I feel as if everyone, even the people on (Trump’s) side, feel that there’s this black cloud hanging over all of us, mostly shame,” Clooney told a group of journalists Friday evening in an interview at TIFF.
“I’m ashamed of us for electing this man and I’m ashamed of the things I hear coming out of his mouth. And I can’t believe that this is the same White House that had Washington and Jefferson and Kennedy and FDR and Barack Obama. I can’t believe it. I’m so ashamed of it.”
Clooney said he welcomes accusations of Hollywood liberalism, noting he was raised a liberal growing up in Lexington, Ky. — not Los Angeles.
“I like picking fights,” said the two-time Oscar—winning actor, producer, writer, and director, whose other filmmaking credits include “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “The Ides of March.”
“I think you really aren’t engaged if you’re not in it and picking some fights. I like that Breitbart News wants to have my head. I’d be ashamed 10 years from now if I wasn’t. I really would.”
Clooney pointed to Hollywood’s relationship with the current U.S. administration, noting former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is a failed screenwriter and “Trump pays $100,000 a year to the Screen Actors Guild and has a star on Hollywood Boulevard.”
“I don’t have a star on Hollywood Boulevard — Donald Trump does,” said Clooney. “You go down the list of these people — Steve Mnuchin was a financier in Hollywood.
“I feel as if Hollywood is being quite well represented right now in the West Wing somehow.”
For those who accuse Clooney of being “out of touch” with his views, he points to his roots.
“I sold lady shoes, I sold insurance door to door, I worked in an all-night liquor store, I cut tobacco for a living, I can change a fan belt on my car,” he said.
“I grew up in that world in Kentucky. I’m not separate from it in any way, shape or form. I know every bit about it and I know my friends and I know what they believe.
“And I also know that this is not a moment that we will be proud of when we look back in our history. If I’m not standing on the side that I believe to be right, I’d be ashamed. So if that’s liberal Hollywood, bring it on.”
Some critics have remarked on the fact that “Suburbicon” doesn’t show much from the perspective of the black family.
Clooney said he feels “there are a lot of people better qualified to make the African-American story in suburbia in 1950.”
“Those are those things that polarize a film that there’s nothing I can do about it and I really don’t worry about that,” he said. “You just go, ‘Well that’s not the film we were making. That’s not the story.’
“We were telling a story about … white angst and that version, which I actually know something about having grown up through the civil rights movement in the ’60s and ’70s.”
Before flying to Toronto, Clooney had an emotionally charged week.
After being at the Venice International Film Festival for the film’s premiere on Sept. 2, he flew to Kentucky to see his parents with wife Amal and their twins.
“My father hadn’t seen the kids yet, because he had pneumonia, so I had to take them and show up there,” he said.
He also had to fly to Los Angeles for a much sadder occasion.
“My dog died. My dog Einstein. I had to put him asleep,” said Clooney. “He had a rough time. He was an old Cocker Spaniel. I’ve had him for a long time and he was a rescue.”