American, The (2010): Corbijn’s Casting American (and Italian) Actors–George Clooney

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George Clooney, Paolo Bonacelli, and Violante Placido star in “The American,” directed by Anton Corbijn. The film, which is set in Italy, Is being released by Focus Pictures on September 1.

As the production firmed up its commitment to shooting in Italy and the fall filming schedule, casting began.

George Clooney plays Jack

 Corbijn already knew that he had found the right actor to play Jack, George Clooney. He states, “This is a character George hasn’t played before; it’s always interesting when an actor finds something new. He’s so good with dialogue, and in this movie he is playing a man of few words who is always on the lookout and constantly in a state of tension.”

Heslov adds, “Jack is someone who is only now finding moments of beauty in his life. Even if he now makes the right choices, does fate have a different idea for him?

“George brings this stillness to the role of Jack, who spends a lot of time in silence. That’s a challenge for an actor, to keep the inner life going on-screen.”

Green offers, “This role reminds me of George’s work in Michael Clayton, in that he can convey so much through his eyes alone.”

Carey notes, “Audiences instinctively place their trust in George, which is important to our establishing the character of Jack.”

Wingate says, “It’s a much darker role for George, yet he embodies the character so well. We were all rather ecstatic to get him to play the part.”

For the casting of the Italians who have an impact on Jack, the filmmakers were set on hiring actors who were established in their native Italy yet not necessarily known internationally.

Paolo Bonacelli as Father Benedotto

Veteran actor Paolo Bonacelli was cast as the priest, Father Benedetto. Whether the role is large or small, Bonacelli feels that “every scene is useful to know the role, know the character. The ‘little scenes’ are important – and one must study, study, study.

“Father Benedetto wants to be a friend, but Jack is very cautious. To me, as an actor colleague, George Clooney was professional and kind.”

Violante Placido cast as Clara

To play the prostitute Clara, the woman who cues Jack’s realization that another life might conceivably be on the horizon for him, Italian leading lady Violante Placido was cast. The director says, “Violante is a classic Italian beauty, and is an intelligent actress in front of the camera. She doesn’t overplay, with big gestures all the time, which was important because she has to represent heart in the film. She is a sexual being on-screen, which the role absolutely required, yet she also has that old-fashioned movie-star quality…

“…as does George, of course, which is why chemistry between them came naturally. That was a tremendous asset, because directing intimate scenes was new to me. I wanted to impart a raw feeling to them, given the darkness in Jack’s character. In their first scene together, I shot it to focus on Clara; through looking at her, you see what he sees in her and you sense a change for the characters. I wanted to achieve tension and sensuality, without cutting away.”

“Those scenes aren’t easy,” admits Placido. “But, any scene can be difficult; in a way, you’re naked any time you act. George put me at ease; I appreciated this because I’ve worked with actors who are insecure and try to make the other actor that way.”

Placido sees Jack and Clara as “two souls brought together because they each have something extreme in their lives – their jobs – that isolates them. They first relate to each other with their bodies, with animal instincts, but then they become more intimate personally – which scares them both.

“Neither is used to trusting other people, but Clara communicates to Jack her dream of changing her life. Each feels their own identity changing because they are being seen through the other’s eyes. They are both searching for something within themselves and also outside themselves.”

Despite – or, rather, because of – already speaking English well, Placido had to work with dialogue coach Dianne Jones. The actress laughs, “She helped me to make my English worse! Because Clara comes from a small town, what made sense was that maybe she studies English, and only so well; she needed to have a bit more Italian in her way of speaking.

“At the first audition with Anton, there was a translation from English to Italian that sounded a bit strange to me. So I asked him if I could freely improvise some Italian slang and swearing, since Clara is a bit rough. He let me do that, and I think that’s why he wanted to meet with me again – and when they told me I got the part, I read the script and saw that they had written in the switch for that exchange.”

Placido’s familiarity with Abruzzo was also helpful in her playing Clara. Placido reflects, “When you’re there, it’s like going back in time. My best friends come from there. A few years ago, I recorded an album of music and spent three months in the area; it inspires creativity. This countryside is so beautiful, with its powerful mountains and the milky sea close by. Making our movie, I got to be in parts of the area I didn’t know before.

“In my work, I am getting to collaborate with people who bring something that can be a treasure to experience. On this movie, Anton and George were so focused and so generous.”