Venice film festival: I come to play the president, not to be him, says Clooney

Actor/director rules out ever running for White House as he unveils Ides of March

He is playing a brilliant and compassionate Democrat governor with his eye on the White House but no, he is not about to take up politics: it never will be "George Clooney for president".

The actor told journalists at the Venice film festival: "There's a guy in office right now who is smarter than almost anybody you know, who is nicer, has more compassion than almost anybody else you know, who is having an almost impossible time governing. Why would anybody volunteer for that job?"

The question was perhaps inevitable since, in his new film The Ides of March, Clooney plays a man who could almost have made a remarkable president.

His character is Mike Morris, the governor engaged in a two-man fight for the Democratic nomination. The candidate is liberal: he pledges to end US dependence on oil, he is pro-hydrogen, pro-gay marriage, anti-guns and anti-invasion. But a plot twist suggests he is less than ideal.

The film had its world premiere on Wednesday at the opening night of the 68th Venice film festival. It gained loud applause at its first screening, particularly for Ryan Gosling, who plays the idealist spin doctor. It would be a surprise if Gosling did not to get an Oscar nomination for best actor.

The film is about politicians and the machine behind them but for Clooney it is not a political film. "You could literally put this in Wall Street or pretty much anywhere and it's the same issues. It is issues of morality, issues of whether or not you're willing to trade your soul for an outcome."

Clooney said the film was under discussion in 2007 and even got to the pre-production stage, but the timing was wrong. "The president was elected and everyone was in such a good mood. We realised we had to shelve it. It took about a year for that to be over."

It is the fourth film that Clooney has directed. The $12m movie, which also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood, is based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon. Clooney changed the title to the Ides of March to suggest that little has altered since the days of Julius Caesar.

Clooney and his stars were due on the red carpet on Wednesday night. This is the last year for the festival programme director, Marco Mueller, and it seems he's intent on going out in style, with a glittering array of A-list stars at the event, including Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Al Pacino, James Franco, Viggo Mortensen, Gary Oldman and Colin Firth. Madonna is scheduled to show up on Thursday to present her take on Britain's abdication crisis in the film W.E, starring Andrea Riseborough as Wallace Simpson.

There are 22 films in the competition, including three from the UK. The first is Shame, the second feature-length film from the Turner prize winner Steve McQueen. While his first film, Hunger, told the story of Bobby Sands and the IRA hunger strikes, this is expected to be a more glossy affair, starring Michael Fassbender as a man with problematic sexual compulsions, and Carey Mulligan as his sister.

On Monday there will be the world premiere of John le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with Gary Oldman as George Smiley, and a striking line-up of British talent with co-stars in Firth, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Kathy Burke, and Toby Jones. It is a very British film, but directed by a Swede, Tomas Alfredson, best known for his vampire movie Let The Right One In.

On Tuesday Andrea Arnold, director of Red Road and Fish Tank, presents her take on Wuthering Heights.

One notable absentee at this year's festival will be Roman Polanski. The 78-year-old director worked on his film Carnage while under house arrest in Switzerland. Three of its stars, Winslet, John C  Reilly, and Christoph Waltz, are expected although its fourth, Jodie Foster, may be absent. The film will be familiar to theatre-goers as it is an adaptation of Yasmina Reza's popular middle-class angst play The God of Carnage.

Other US films in the competition include David Cronenberg's psycho-sexual drama A Dangerous Method, Steven Soderbergh's bird flu-style disaster film Contagion, and William Friedkin's Killer Joe.

The top award, the Golden Lion, will be given out a week on Saturday, decided by a jury led by the director Darren Aronofsky, a Venice favourite.


Mark Brown in Venice

The GuardianTramp

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