When we look back at this time when America was great, we have to remember that it wasn’t particularly great for a lot of people
Suburbicon is a picture-perfect 1950s suburb where the best and worst of humanity is reflected through the deeds of ordinary people. But when a home break-in turns deadly, a family must turn to blackmail, revenge, and betrayal in order to survive.
It is directed by Academy Award winner George Clooney (Good Night and Good Luck) and written by Academy Award winners Joel & Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men), and Clooney & Academy Award winner Grant Heslov (Argo).
Trouble in Paradise
In the decade following the Second World War, America’s emerging middle class was moving to the suburbs: idyllic, affordable homes in planned communities. For many, the American Dream of owning a home was becoming a reality for the first time.
“The GI Bill helped everybody coming back from the war to buy a nice house with a garage and a yard. You could get a good job, live in a nice neighborhood and start a family, as long as you were white,” says Clooney. What’s fun is peeling back that veneer of the perfect home life, and seeing how ugly things can get.”
“George and I were writing a script based on the events that unfolded in Levittown, Pennsylvania,” says Heslov. “In our research, George came across a documentary film from 1957 called “Crisis in Levittown,” It’s the true story of what happened when William and Daisy Meyers became the first African American family to move in to Levittown.”
Grant Heslov has been recognized for his work as a producer, writer, director and actor. A four-time Oscar nominee, Heslov received his latest Academy Award nod and a Best Picture win for producing the historical drama and thriller Argo. He also earned a Golden Globe, BAFTA Award and Producers Guild of America (PGA) Award, among many others.
Heslov previously earned an Oscar® nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for the 2011 political drama The Ides of March, which he co-wrote with Clooney. In addition, Heslov received Golden Globe and BAFTA Award nominations for the screenplay, as well as a PGA Award nomination as one of the film’s producers.
Heslov also earned dual Oscar nominations, for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay for Good Night, and Good Luck which he co-wrote with Clooney. For his work on the film, Heslov also won the Writers Guild of America, Paul Selvin Award and the PGA’s Stanley Kramer Award. Among the film’s numerous honors, Heslov also garnered two BAFTA Award nominations, for both Picture and Original Screenplay; a Golden Globe nomination for Best Screenplay; an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Feature; and a Screen Actors Guild Award® nomination as part of the ensemble cast.
In 2009, Heslov made his feature film directorial debut with The Men Who Stare at Goats, starring Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey.
Heslov also co-wrote and produced The Monuments Men. Other producing credits include the Clooney directed Leatherheads and Anton Corbijn’s thriller The American.
He also served as co-creator and executive producer on the HBO series “Unscripted,” for which he directed half of the episodes, and a co-executive producer on “K Street,” also for HBO.
“The day the Meyers moved in, the mailman assumed Mrs. Meyers was the maid and asked her if Mrs. Meyers was home,” Clooney recounts. “When she explained that she was Mrs. Meyers, the mailman took it upon himself to go door to door, calling himself ‘The Paul Revere of Levittown,’ asking everyone ‘Have you met your new neighbors?’ By that evening, there were about 500 people on their lawn shouting racial epitaphs, hanging Confederate flags, and burning a cross on the lawn next door.”
Around the time they were working on their Levittown idea, Clooney recalled a script the Coen Brothers had sent to him sometime back in 1999 called Suburbicon. “It was a comedy/thriller with similar themes to Fargo and Burn After Reading: hapless characters making really bad decisions. We thought we’d like to make something a little less funny and a lot angrier. It seems like a good time for a film that feels angry.”
“At that point George had the idea to take the existing Suburbicon script and setting it in Levittown during the week the Meyer’s moved in,” says Heslov.
“There’s something in the national consciousness that wants to look at this era with rose colored glasses,” says Matt Damnon, who plays embattled suburban father Gardner Lodge. “We want to believe everyone was somehow happier, but obviously people are people, and there was still a lot of dark stuff going on.”
Have you met your new neighbours?
“When they told me it was a dark comedy, I said ‘there’s nothing funny about this situation,” says Karimah Westbrook, who plays the fictional Mrs. Meyers. “But there’s a great deal of irony and social commentary in my character’s story. They’re a growing family in search of the American Dream and feel like they’ll be welcome and safe in their new home. Unfortunately, their new neighbors are really disrespectful and sometimes dangerous: breaking windows and jumping on their car. Meanwhile, there’s a real problem next door no one is addressing.”
The real life Meyers were deluged day and night with a constant stream of auditory harassment, as a mob of neighbors banged drums, blew loud instruments and sang loudly in an effort to get them to leave.
“In our research, we saw that these protestors built a wall around the Meyer’s house, flew confederate flags, burned crosses and wrote a petition to have the family removed. We use the actual wording from the petition in the film,” Clooney explains.
“When you see a film that deals with race and bigotry in the 50s or 60s, it’s almost always in the South,” says Clooney. “We’re used to people with Southern accents using this kind of language, but as someone from Kentucky, it’s worth discussing that these are people from Pennsylvania and New York scapegoating minorities. This kind of bigotry existed in the Northeast; it’s not hard to imagine it happening anywhere.”
“Throughout the film, we use actual footage from the documentary,” Clooney continues. “Sometimes you have to see the real stuff to make it really land. Often the bigotry is casual and shocking to an audience today, but the truth is, this wasn’t that long ago.
“Suburbicon speaks to the time we are living in,” adds Damon. “The neighborhood is building a wall around the house of the African American family that just moved in, trying to annex their little area. Meanwhile, the crazy people in the neighborhood are right around the corner.”
“Everybody’s looking in the wrong direction,” says Clooney. “They want to believe this myth that nothing bad happened before the minorities arrived. When we look back at this time when America was great, we have to remember that it wasn’t particularly great for a lot of people. That’s a conversation that’s always topical.”
An actor’s director
George Clooney is recognized as much for his global humanitarian efforts as he is for his accomplishments in the entertainment industry. His achievements as a performer and a filmmaker have earned him two Academy Awards, four Golden Globes including the Cecil B. DeMille Award, four SAG Awards, one BAFTA award, two Critics’ Choice Awards, an Emmy and four National Board of Review Awards.
When Clooney received his eighth Academy Award nomination, he earned a special spot in the Oscar record books. He has now been nominated in more categories than anyone else in Oscar history.
Through his production company Smokehouse Pictures, Clooney produced 1950’s noir crime drama Suburbicon. Recently through Smokehouse, he produced and starred TriStar Pictures’ Money Monster, Warner Bros.’ Our Brand is Crisis and produced, directed and starred in Sony Pictures’ The Monuments Men. In 2016 he also starred in the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Ceasar!, a Universal Pictures film. In 2015, Clooney was seen in director Alfonso Cuarón’s drama Gravity for Warner Bros., Disney’s sci-fi film Tomorrowland and Netflix’ “A Very Murray Christmas.”
In 2013, Smokehouse, along with Jean Doumanian Productions, produced a film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play August: Osage County for The Weinstein Company.
Other Smokehouse films include Warner Bros’ Academy Award winning drama Argo and The Ides of March. Ides, which Clooney starred in, co-wrote and directed, received Golden Globe nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Motion Picture Drama. In addition, the film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
In 2011, Clooney starred in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants for Fox Searchlight. Clooney won the Critics’ Choice Award, Golden Globe Award and National Board of Review Award for Best Actor. In addition, he received a SAG nomination and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
In 2009, Clooney starred in the critically acclaimed film Up in the Air. He received an Academy Award nomination, a Golden Globe nomination, a SAG nomination and a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor for his performance. He also won National Board of Review and New York Film Critics’ Circle Awards for Up in the Air.
When Clooney received his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Syriana in 2006, he also earned Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Good Night, And Good Luck. It was the first time in Academy history that an individual had received acting and directing nominations for two different films in the same year.
Clooney and Heslov first worked together at Section Eight, a company in which Clooney was partnered with Steven Soderbergh. Section Eight productions included Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, Ocean’s 13, Michael Clayton, The Good German, Good Night, and Good Luck., Syriana, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Jacket, Full Frontal and Welcome To Collinwood.
Before his film career, Clooney starred in several television series’, becoming best known to TV audiences for his five years on the hit NBC drama “ER.” His portrayal of Dr. Douglas Ross earned him Golden Globe, SAG, People’s Choice and Emmy Award nominations.
For Section Eight’s television division, Clooney was an executive producer and directed five episodes of “Unscripted,” a reality-based show that debuted on HBO. He also was executive producer and cameraman on “K Street,” another show featured on HBO.
Clooney is a strong First Amendment advocate with a deep commitment to humanitarian causes. In 2006, Clooney and his father, Nick, went to drought-stricken Darfur, Africa, to film the documentary Journey to Darfur. Clooney’s work on behalf of Darfur relief led to his addressing the United Nations Security Council. He also narrated the Darfur documentary Sand and Sorrow. In 2006, he received the American Cinematheque Award and the Modern Master Award from the Santa Barbara Film Festival.
In 2007, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and Jerry Weintraub founded “Not On Our Watch,” an organization whose mission is to focus global attention and resources to stop and prevent mass atrocities in Darfur.
Among the many honors received as a result of his humanitarian efforts in Darfur, one of them was the 2007 Peace Summit Award, given at the eighth World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. In 2008, Clooney was designated a U.N. Messenger of Peace, one of eight individuals chosen to advocate on behalf of the U.N. and its peacekeeping efforts.
In January of 2010, Clooney, along with Joel Gallen and Tenth Planet Productions, produced the “Hope for Haiti Now!” telethon, which raised more than $66 million, setting a new record for donations made by the public through a disaster-relief telethon.
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Clooney with the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the 2010 Primetime Emmys. Later that year, Clooney received the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award for his dedication to humanitarian efforts in Sudan and Haiti.
In December of 2010, Clooney, along with the United Nations, Harvard University and Google, launched “The Satellite Sentinel Project,” an effort to monitor violence and human-rights violations between Southern and Northern Sudan. “Not on Our Watch” funds new monitoring technology, which allows private satellites to take photographs of any potential threats to civilians, detect bombs, observe the movement of troops and note any other evidence of possible mass violence.
In March of 2012, Clooney was part of the delegation that peacefully demonstrated in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C., calling worldwide attention to the human-rights violations being committed in Sudan, which resulted in his arrest.
In October of 2012, Clooney was the honoree at the Carousel of Hope Ball, which benefits the Children’s Diabetes Foundation and the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes (BDC.)
“Any time I’ve had to act in a film I directed, I hated it,” says Clooney, who remains off camera in Suburbicon. “But I’ve enjoyed this process more than on any other film. From the beginning, everyone was hitting on all cylinders.”
“It’s so much easier for him not to have to be in it,” Heslov confesses with a laugh. “It’s so much easier for everybody.”
“Working on a film with George is like working on a car in your backyard,” says Damon, expanding on Clooney’s metaphor. “You throw the hood up, gather around, and go to work. It’s fun, it’s collaborative, and we’re not precious about any of it.”
“He’s a very generous director,” adds Moore. “He has a genuine appreciation for everyone in the room and what they’re capable of, and has a real sense of joy in what he’s doing. He’s there because he wants to be.”
“George wants everyone to have a good time, and tell a cool story,” says Isaac. “No one’s time or energy is wasted.”
Clooney credits his mentors: “I learned a lot from working with The Boys (Clooney’s term of endearment for the Coen Brothers). They’re really efficient, storyboard all their shots, get what they need and move on. I’ve also been lucky to watch Steven Soderbergh and Alexander Payne work up close. I try to learn from all of it.”
“Whenever you make a movie, you hope people enjoy it, because if they do, you get to make another one,” Clooney says. “Our job is to make the best films we can for as long as we can, because someday, we won’t be able to. We’re committed to staying in the sandbox as long as we can, doing the stuff we want to do until they take the toys away. We are very lucky to be doing what we do for a living, and we acknowledge that every day.”