The man who directed men to stare at goats

A&E interviews director/actor/producer/writer Grant Heslov.

George Clooney both stars and stares in “The Men Who Stare at Goats.”
PHOTO COURTESY WINCHESTER FILMS

George Clooney both stars and stares in “The Men Who Stare at Goats.” PHOTO COURTESY WINCHESTER FILMS

Tony Libera

Grant Heslov is probably best known amongst the college crowd for his roles in films like âÄúTrue Lies,âÄù âÄúEnemy of the StateâÄù and âÄúBlack Sheep ,âÄù but the man is hardly a one-trick pony. HeâÄôs a filmic Renaissance man that has thrown himself into the vast ocean of the biz, filling every role from producer (âÄúIntolerable CrueltyâÄù) to screenwriter (âÄúGood Night, and Good Luck âÄú). He recently sat in the directorâÄôs seat for âÄúThe Men Who Stare at Goats,âÄù a film about the U.S. militaryâÄôs exploration into psychic warfare. A&E spoke with Heslov about directing, the psychic manual and just how much of the film is actually true. You have a very diverse collection of movies under your belt. What made you want to direct this particular film? I liked the fact that it was funny, but at the same time it pokes several areas that are interesting, and I was attracted to these characters, to be honest with you. I like the idea of people that really believe âÄî regardless of if you think what they think is true âÄî the idea that they believe it so deeply. I think thatâÄôs pretty fascinating. âÄúThe Men Who Stare at GoatsâÄù starts with a disclaimer that says, âÄúMore of this is true than you would believe,âÄù and then rides this line between absurdity and reality that makes it hard to distinguish the two. How do you think audiences are going to react to the facts presented in this film? My guess is that audiences will be like, âÄúHoly [expletive].âÄù TheyâÄôll want to know what was true, and hopefully theyâÄôll go on the Internet and find out, or theyâÄôll go see the movie again five times, or theyâÄôll read the book. The truth is probably 65 percent of the film is true. I mean, true to the effect of this unit existed, and these people existed and they tried to do these things. Now, whether or not he really stopped the heart of a goat or really burst clouds and all that stuff, that remains to be seen. Of the things depicted in the movie âÄî the handbook, the various exercises âÄî how much of that was real and how much did you make up? That manual is absolutely true. You can buy it. We changed the name on it, but you can get it online. Just look up Jim Channon ; go to his Web site and you can see it all there. Ewan is reading from the actual manual when heâÄôs reading the stuff out loud. ItâÄôs wild, and thatâÄôs why I loved it. I actually admired the military for exploring these alternative tactics. I think any time the military is exploring other ways of fighting wars that maybe wouldnâÄôt involve killing people is a good thing, even though I understand that thatâÄôs altruistic and probably is never going to be possible. But it certainly doesnâÄôt hurt to strive for it. You had the chance to work with an amazing cast. How do you direct someone like, for example, George Clooney who is not only incredibly talented, but also a friend of yours? You know, oddly enough, heâÄôs really easy to direct. The truth is because heâÄôs so talented he doesnâÄôt need a ton of direction. And my style is pretty low key anyway. My style is sort of, âÄúLetâÄôs see what you want to do.âÄù And nine times out of 10 itâÄôs right on for all these guys. And then if itâÄôs not, itâÄôs just a question of little beats and little things. ItâÄôs sort of an extension of our normal working relationship anyway because weâÄôre constantly talking about scripts; weâÄôre talking about character; weâÄôre talking about the way we want things done. So, itâÄôs pretty easy. Of your many working roles, which one do you find the most fulfilling? IâÄôve been asked this question a bunch, âÄúWhich do I like the best?âÄù The one that I like the least is the writing part. For me, thatâÄôs by far the hardest thing, but itâÄôs a necessary evil. But between the acting, producing and directing âÄî I really like them all. They all feed something different. ItâÄôs great because when you direct a film it takes everything you have, so itâÄôs nice that IâÄôm now producing a film. ItâÄôs a different muscle, and I enjoy that because it recharges me, and IâÄôll start to feel like IâÄôm itching to direct something again. I feel pretty lucky to be in this place right now.