In possibly the largest press conference audience this writer has ever witnessed, the cast and filmmakers behind the “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” kicked off the London Film Festival by taking some time to discuss the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel on Wednesday.
The previously announced Meryl Streep was strangely not on hand, but Clooney (who was reminded he could officially be called “foxy” now) and Bill Murray made up for the iconic actresses’ absence in what could only be described as a competition to see who could charm the press corps the most.
Unless buddy Brad Pitt is around, Clooney usually becomes the centerpiece of any press event he’s at (such problems) and is always ready to entertain the press corps. Still, he had some fine things to say about why he decided to voice the lead role in Anderson’s first feature length foray into animation.
“Listen for me this guy was just an optimist and I really thought it was a fun character to play,” Clooney says. “But, I remember reading the script and saying to Wes, ‘Listen, I love it and I’m happy and thrilled, excited to do it. I don’t know who will see it. It’s sort of made for grown ups, it’s sort of made for kids and you never know how that plays.’ And he said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Let’s just go make a movie and have some fun.’ For me, it was just about the process about working with Wes and working with these guys.”
Clooney then adds, “I didn’t enjoy working with Bill. That’s fair to say. We fought a lot.”
“That’s accurate George,” Bill deadpans.
Score: Clooney 5, Murray 5
As always, Clooney can’t escape any questions about his personal life. When asked by a British journalist about whether the tender moments between Mr. Fox and his son Ash (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) caused him “any broody,” Clooney was actually at a loss of how to reply.
He answers, “O.K., That’s a word most Americans don’t understand. Broody?”
When informed it means a yearning to have kids, Clooney tip toes around the question and replies, “you know, just having Jason here next to me I feel like a father. And he just got married by the way, so I feel almost like a grandfather. So yes, I’m jumping right into it. I’ll bring lots of kids on the red carpet.”
Score: Clooney 10, Murray 5
In what can only be a publicist’s nightmare, a Scottish reporter asked director Wes Anderson a long winded deep question about whether the style of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was akin to the look of Czech stop-motion films of the communist era (or something to that degree). Luckily, someone was on hand to jump right in and run with it.
“That’s the kind of question we’ve been hoping for,” Murray interjects as the room explodes into laughter and applause. “That’s why we flew over here. Go get ’em Wes.”
“That kind of Eastern European animation was an inspiration to me,” Anderson says. “I hadn’t thought of the political thinks, but I do think the movie — and Dahl — is a bit anarchic. And the movie is a bit of a Robin Hood story, so it’s a bit communist I think which maybe links it like that.”
“Or English,” Murray finishes to more local laughter.
Score: Clooney 10, Murray 20
Seizing on yet another opportunity to charm the room, Murray was asked about whether like Dahl, he’d get moody and difficult in the weeks before a new project was released. It seems the author’s second wife Felicity complained of how difficult her husband was to be around before the immediate publication of a new book.
“I was just with Felicity Dahl every day and she made me feel that way too,” Murray expertly responds to a tremendous laugh. “She brings out the real fear in you. She seems OK. He’s dead now so she’s safe. She can’t do him any damage now. Whatever happened in their household should stay there.”
Murray then turns serious and remarks, “We saw where they lived. It’s an amazing place and she’s quite a person. They had quite a life together and she’s very devoted to him very now. I’m sure in that moment it must have been very forceful for to realize there is I can do for him now. It’s an anxiety no person can help you with. It’s your own question about your own self worth. But she’s a wonderful, wonderful woman and if I were going to remarry I’d take a chance on her.”
Score: Clooney 10, Murray 35
Now it’s Clooney’s turn up to bat and he’s got a humdinger from a pretty smart reporter with ulterior motives to say the least. The question: “In the first production by Smokehouse you played a character that needed to grow up and get responsibility in this film you are very believable as a character that takes on responsibility. Do you feel that’s why everyone keeps asking you ‘Are you going to have kids, are you going to get married'”
“Wow,” Clooney says. “You went from there to there. That was good man. I have to applaud you on that. That’s a hard swing.”
Murray jumps in, “Do you intend to adopt?”
“I am. I’m going to adopt some of Brad Pitt’s kids. I owe him a few,” Clooney answers sarcastically still causing headlines to break across the world.
Clooney continues, “Well thank you for that question. And will now have to continue the other jobs I was going to play, ‘Peter Pan,’ etc. That’s a good question though.”
Score: Clooney 25, Murray 40
The next reporter was willing to go into process and, of course, asked Murray how he found his “inner animal” in voicing the character of the Badger.
Smilingly offended, Murray replies, “My little animal secrets must remain my little animal secrets. We’ve all got a little critter in us and when cornered we can fight ferociously and sometimes we burrow deep, deep deep to be safe. None of that makes sense to you know, but playing a badger? Unless you’re done it we can’t even have this conversation.”
Score: Clooney 25, Murray 50
Close to the end of the escapade, Anderson was asked why he chose to feature American voices in a landmark of English children’s literature.
“Well, Noah Baumbach and I adapted the script and we work better writing American voices we decided we would make all the animals American and all the humans British,” Anderson says.
And after an appropriate pause, Murray adds, “Because they are the bad guys.”
Score: Clooney 25, Murray 55
And your winner ladies and gents: Mr. Bill Murray. He’s playing London all week.
“The Fantastic Mr. Fox” has it’s world premiere tonight at the London Film Festival and opens nationwide on Nov. 20.
For constant updates on awards season and entertainment news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter at Twitter.com/HitFixGregory