Men Who Stare at Goats, The: Recruiting the New Earth Army

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"The Men Who Stare at Goats," which stars George Clooney as is directed by Grant Heslov, is an adaptation of Jon Ronson's novel. The films is being released November 6, 2009 by Overture Films.

In addition to crafting an irresistible narrative, screenwriter Peter Straughan created a number of plum roles that attracted some of Hollywood’s top acting talent. “We’re so lucky to have this great cast that George and Grant brought together,” says Paul Lister.

George Clooney as Lyn Cassady

Clooney plays Lyn Cassady, a conscript to the New Earth Army. “Lyn is a compilation of various characters who appeared in the book,” says Straughan. “They are all ex-military figures who were involved in various different projects that were like Project Jedi. I picked the best bits of those people and put them together in Lyn.”
Clooney’s well-known sense of humor set the tone for the production, both on- and off-camera. “George is a really funny guy,” says Heslov. “He knocks it out of the park in this role. On top of that, he also brings a real grounded gravitas, and a salt-of-the-earth quality to the character.”

Jeff Bridges as Bill Django

Lyn’s mentor, Bill Django, is played by Academy Award nominee Jeff Bridges. “Django is the founder of the New Earth Army,” explains Lister. “He’s a visionary and a free thinker who has fallen on hard times. Towards the end of the movie, he has to reclaim his role as leader. Jeff brought enormous creative energy to the set. He’s full of ideas and wants to explore different ways of doing things that give the director and the editor many options.”

The character is a composite drawn from several characters in Ronson’s book, says Bridges. “I got a lot of inspiration and a lot of valuable information from Jim Channon, who is a pioneer in this field,” he says. “And I used my memories of John Lilly. He’s the guy who invented the isolation tank. He also worked on interspecies communication with dolphins. He was a big inspiration for me.”

The Men Who Stare at Goats appealed to Bridges as the kind of film he would like to see himself. “I like to be surprised,” the actor says. “This certainly fits that bill. I’ve never seen anything like this movie. You don’t know what to expect next. It takes you on a wild adventure.”

The chance to work with actors he likes and admires was also a big draw for Bridges. “Kevin Spacey is a good friend of mine. It’s always great to be able to play with your buddies, and he’s wonderful in the part.”

In fact, they met while Spacey was still in high school. “He and his brothers and his father came to my high school to perform,” remembers Spacey. “My drama class was their backup chorus. When we ended up doing K-PAX together, we spent a lot of time in Jeff’s trailer singing along because he loves to play the guitar and sing.

Kevin Spacey as Larry Hooper

Like most of the other people involved with the film, Spacey was initially surprised to learn it is based on the truth. “I was amazed to learn that these programs went all the way back into the 1950s,” he says. “The United States Army believed that the Russians were spending a great amount of money on psychic discoveries. And the only reason the Russians were doing it was because they thought the Americans were doing it.”

Spacey plays Larry Hooper, a renegade Jedi. “In every organization, there’s a character that could spoil the fun for everyone else,” notes Lister. “That’s Kevin’s role in this movie, and he does it with a twinkle in his eye.”

Hooper is the kind of character Spacey excels at portraying, says Heslov. “He gets under the skin of this guy—and he’s also incredibly funny. Hooper embodies the exact opposite of the spirit that all these guys should have and there’s a competition between his character and George’s character, Cassady. At least, he’s in competition with Cassady, although Cassady isn’t really in competition with anybody.”

“Larry Hooper is the Judas of the group,” according to Spacey. “He’s a jealous, petty, mean-spirited character who does everything he can do to destroy anyone he sees as his enemy, which in this case is George Clooney’s character.” 

Ewan McGregor as Bob Wilton

Spacey knew Ewan McGregor before the film as well. “I directed Ewan in a commercial for a British television network a few years ago,” he says. “He was dressed in a tomato suit standing next to Dame Judi Dench. who was dressed as a lobster and they announced the film in Trafalgar Square. Ewan says I got him over his fear of ever being photographed doing something incredibly embarrassing, because that was about as embarrassing as you could imagine.” 

The film marks the first time Bridges and Ewan McGregor have worked together, and the actors developed a strong bond during their scenes together. “Ewan’s role is the thread that runs through the whole movie,” says Bridges. “We have some dance scenes and crazy, crazy stuff we do together.”

McGregor was eager to work with Bridges as well as Clooney. “There’s a list of actors that I’d like to work with, and both of them were on there,” he says. “I did work with George on an episode of ‘ER’ years ago and I’ve always wanted to work with him again.

“Then when I heard that Jeff was involved, I was beside myself,” he continues. “Jeff’s incredibly meticulous and well-prepared, and then you really get to play with him when the camera is turning. We did this amazing tai chi exercise on top of a container in the middle of the desert as the sun was setting. It’s one of those movie moments that I won’t ever forget.”

Like most people, McGregor was unaware of the existence of the First Earth Battalion before getting involved with the film. “I knew nothing about it or about Jim Channon,” he says. “Making my character a journalist is a very clever way of presenting the information. I’m asking all the questions and soaking it all in, just like the audience.”

 

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