Award-winning troupe assembled in ‘The Monuments Men’

The unlikely group of war heroes in "The Monuments Men," in Philippine cinemas Feb. 12. (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

The unlikely group of war heroes in “The Monuments Men,” in Philippine cinemas Feb. 12. (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

“The story of the Monuments Men is one that really very few people know,” says George Clooney, who returns to the director’s chair for the story of a small group of artists, art historians, architects, and museum curators who would lead the rescue of 1,000 years of civilization during World War II in his new film, The Monuments Men. “Artists, art dealers, architects–these were men that were far beyond the age that they were going to be drafted into a war or volunteer. But they took on this adventure, because they had this belief that culture can be destroyed. If they’d failed, it could have meant the loss of six million pieces of art. They weren’t going to let that happen–and the truth of the matter is, they pulled it off.”

Part of the drama of the film is that all of the Monuments Men are so unsuited to serving as soldiers in wartime. “Wars are fought by 18-year-olds,” says Clooney. “Once you get to the John Goodmans and the Bob Balabans and the George Clooneys, you know–these guys are not getting drafted.” Producing and writing partner Grant Heslov adds: “They did it because it was clear that they were the only people who could do it.”

Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett in "The Monuments Men" (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett in “The Monuments Men” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

“Culture was at risk,” says Clooney. “You see it time and time again. You saw it in Iraq–the museums weren’t protected, and you saw how much of their culture was lost because of that.”

“Even today, people are still trying to get back the art that was looted from their families by the Nazis,” Heslov says, noting that just recently, a treasure trove of looted art was discovered in a Munich apartment–1,500 works worth $1.5 billion, paintings by Matisse, Picasso, Dix, and other artists that had been thought to be lost.

Clooney and Heslov note that while the film is based on the true story of the Monuments Men, they did take some liberties with the characters, such as creating new ones, for dramatic purposes. But though fictional, the new characters’ stories are real. “We invented a few mundane scenes, just to help the story along, but the things in the movie that you’d think are so ridiculous and strange, ‘well, there’s no way that those actually happened’–those are the things that actually happened,” says Clooney.

Meet The Monuments Men

"The Monuments Men" (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

“The Monuments Men” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

For the film, Clooney and Heslov were able to attract a top tier of actors, including Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett.

George Clooney in "The Monuments Men" (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

George Clooney in “The Monuments Men” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

George Clooney heads the cast in the role of Frank Stokes, a leading art historian. The inspiration for Clooney’s character was art historian George Stout.“In real life, he was a very scrappy guy. He could do anything–like fix cars and radios.” The head of the conservation department at the Fogg, and later the director of the Worcester Art Museum and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Stout was on the front lines during the war, helping to rescue cultural treasures in Caen, Maastricht, and Aachen, as well as Nazi art repositories in Siegen, Heilbronn, Cologne, Merkers, and Altaussee.

Matt Damon in "The Monuments Men" (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Matt Damon in “The Monuments Men” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Matt Damon takes on the role of James Granger and marks his sixth collaboration with George Clooney. The James Granger character is inspired by James Rorimer, who later became director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bill Murray in "The Monuments Men" (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Bill Murray, with Bob Balaban, in “The Monuments Men” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Bill Murray was excited to join The Monuments Men from the minute George Clooney first told him about the project. Murray’s role, Richard Campbell, is an architect. Murray’s character is inspired by several real Monuments Men, including architect Robert Posey. While embedded with Patton’s Third Army during the war, Posey discovered the salt mine at Altaussee, where the Nazis had stashed the Ghent Altarpiece, the Bruges Madonna, Vermeer’s The Astronomer, and thousands of other works of art. For his contributions, Posey was awarded the Legion of Honor from France and the Order of Leopold from Belgium.

John Goodman, with George Clooney and Jean Dujardin on the set of "The Monuments Men" (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

John Goodman, with George Clooney and Jean Dujardin on the set of “The Monuments Men” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

John Goodman says that his character, Walter Garfield,
represents the people, men and women, who were stuck on the
home front but eager to help the war effort in any way they
could. Goodman’s character is inspired by the real-life
Monuments Man Walker Hancock, a renowned sculptor. Hancock was a native of St. Louis, as is Goodman. “Oddly enough, when my mother and I would take the bus to downtown St. Louis to go shopping, we’d pass one of his sculptures, the Soldiers’ Memorial,” Goodman says. “It just put me in touch with the character. It’s a small connection, but a happy coincidence.”

Jean Dujardin, with his castmates in "The Monuments Men" (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Jean Dujardin, with his castmates in “The Monuments Men” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Goodman’s character, Walter Garfield, is paired with Jean Claude Clermont, portrayed by Oscar-winning actor Jean Dujardin, a re-teaming of Goodman and Dujardin from The Artist. “Jean’s role as Claude Clermont is a French Jew who is an art dealer in Marseilles,” Dujardin explains. “He escapes and takes refuge in London with his family. He is recruited by the American army for his artistic knowledge. He’s not a soldier, but it’s really important for him to take part in the war. He’s really proud to be a member of the Monuments Men.”

Hugh Bonneville, with George Clooney in "The Monuments Men" (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Hugh Bonneville, with George Clooney in “The Monuments Men” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville plays Donald Jeffries, a flawed man seeking a second chance. “When the characters are introduced, you see them in their natural habitats, so to speak,” Bonneville explains. “Donald’s happens to be a pub. We come to learn that he has made mistakes in life, has been unreliable and George’s character gives him a second chance to re-embrace his first love, which is art.”

Bob Balaban, with Bill Murray in "The Monuments Men" (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Bob Balaban, with Bill Murray in “The Monuments Men” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Bob Balaban takes on the role of Preston Savitz. “Savitz is an intellectual, an art historian and a theatrical impresario,” Balaban says. Preston Savitz is inspired by Monuments Man Lincoln Kirstein, an American impresario, art connoisseur, author, and a major cultural figure in New York who co-founded the New York City Ballet.

Dimitri Leonidas, with his castmates in "The Monuments Men" (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Dimitri Leonidas, with his castmates in “The Monuments Men” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

The final Monuments Man in the film is Sam Epstein, played by Dimitri Leonidas. Not yet 19, Epstein is the only real soldier in the group, recruited for his ability to drive and to speak German. “My character grew up in Germany–but Germany rejected him, because he’s Jewish,” Leonidas says. The inspiration for Leonidas’s character is Harry Ettlinger. “I was born in Germany under the Jewish faith,” says Ettlinger. “Hitler was on his way to get rid of all Jews in all the world. My father lost his business, and my parents realized that economic life for a Jew was no longer possible in Germany.”

Cate Blanchett in "The Monuments Men" (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Cate Blanchett in “The Monuments Men” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Cate Blanchett rounds out the cast as Claire Simone, a Frenchwoman in a unique position in Occupied France. “Claire Simone is a curator at the Jeu de Paume–once an art museum but became a kind of depot for art looted by the Nazis,” Blanchett explains. “But her real work goes on at night, when she records the provenance of the works and where they were being taken in an obsessively detailed way. She’s the catalyst for the third act of the movie–the Monuments Men know the works are disappearing but they don’t know where they are going, and they need her information.” Blanchett’s character is inspired by Rose Valland, a French woman who bravely and secretly kept track of the Nazis’ systematic tracking, risking her life in the process.

The Monuments Men, from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros., opens in the Philippines Feb. 12, 2014.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s