THE MONUMENTS MEN
About The Characters
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 for dramatic
purposes. Though many of the characters are inspired by real Monuments Men,
Clooney and Heslov have invented characters for the film. "For the film, we
wanted some of the characters to be flawed - we felt it would help the audience
empathize with them as we tell the story," Clooney explains. "But it's not
really fair to take a great man's real name and then give him a flaw he didn't
have in real life." Heslov adds: "I think our characters end up looking pretty
heroic in the film, and if our movie inspires people do their own reading and
find out that the real men were even more heroic, I'm okay with that."
More importantly, even if the characters are invented, their story is 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.
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.
One might think it would be difficult to balance so many different huge stars
in a single film - but Clooney says that it's just the opposite. "All of these
guys are usually in movies where they have to carry the whole movie, but they're
all so comfortable with their own personas that they don't need to own all the
scenes they're in," he says. "There was a huge generosity of spirit in all the
actors - they were willing to come and play, because they were all enjoying each
This ensemble is just off the charts," says Matt Damon. "Every day, I came to
work with different, fun people who I really admire and whose work I follow
carefully. I said to George early on, 'I'm just going to smell the roses,
because this is as good as it gets.' When you're doing something with a director
that you have complete faith in, with a great script and a top-notch cast, it
just doesn't feel like working."
George Clooney heads the cast in the role of Frank Stokes, a leading art
historian. "He's working at The Fogg Museum - Harvard's oldest art museum -
working in art restoration when the story begins," Clooney explains. "He's
already been to war - World War I - and has seen what can happen, especially as
wars end. He's a natural leader."
What's it like for Clooney to direct himself in a lead role? "It's one of the
things you learn in acting class - director-proof is what we call it. I don't
pay attention to a single note I give myself," Clooney jokes.
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 (James Granger) marks his sixth collaboration with George Clooney,
but his first major role with Clooney in the director's seat (Damon had a small
part in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind).
"I literally knew nothing about this story, which is why I was so surprised
to find out it was real," Damon says. "It's a terrific story. Ultimately, this
is a movie about people who are willing to sacrifice everything to save what is
the very best of us, of humanity. To go after that art and try to rescue it, to
save it, to protect it and preserve it... Art is the soul of society, it
represents the very best things that we have achieved. To destroy that is to
obliterate something irreplaceable."
The James Granger character is inspired by James Rorimer, who later became
director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Granger's relationship with
Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett) was inspired by Rorimer's interaction with Rose
Valland, an employee of the Jeu de Paume gallery in Paris.
In the film, the character of Claire Simone holds the key to the location of
many thousands of pieces of looted art - and that location is a piece of
information she guards closely. "She's thinking, 'Why should I tell you where
the art is? You'll just take it,'" says Damon. "To her, it's all about
protecting the art. Granger has to earn her trust - he has to convince her that
by keeping it a secret, she's not protecting the art, she's actually endangering
it. By the end of it, she realizes that they are kindred spirits."
Damon was also gratified by the chance to work more closely with Clooney as a
director. "George cuts in the camera, which very few directors do," Damon
explains. "You're not shooting and shooting and shooting to cover scenes - he's
already made the decision on how he's going to edit the scene, so he only shoots
the necessary pieces. That helps keep everyone focused - any time the camera is
rolling, there's a high probability that the shot is going to be in the final
BILL MURRAY was excited to join The Monuments Men from the minute George
Clooney first told him about the project. "It was about two years before we
started shooting - and I went, 'Oh God, that sounds so good. I'd really love to
be in that movie,'" Murray says. "I really liked the story, chasing down stolen
art in World War II. It has everything. It's an action movie, but it's also
about good guys on the hunt in the name of something beautiful and wonderful. I
just thought it'd be great."
Just getting Murray onto the project was an adventure in itself. "We knew
Bill could knock this out of the park, but he can be a very hard man to track
down," says Heslov. "George had the special number that you have to call - you
leave a message and wait... but Bill called right back and just said, 'Where and
when do you need me?'"
In officially offering Murray the part, Clooney told Murray that he'd be
teamed up for most of the film with Bob Balaban. "George put us together and
said to me, 'Do you think you can give Balaban a hard time?' I thought for just
a second and said, 'Yeah, I think I can do that,'" Murray remembers. "Bob is a
great stooge, a great straight man - it was great working with him. We were like
Mutt and Jeff - it was just fun to be with him."
Murray and Balaban had worked together a number of films - in Cradle Will
Rock, Moonrise Kingdom, and the upcoming Grand Budapest Hotel - but never so
closely as in The Monuments Men. "We wanted two people who were opposites, who
would just irritate each other - without overdoing it," says Clooney. "Bill's so
good at playing that guy who finds a scab and keeps picking at it - he's so good
"Obviously, Bill brings humor, but even stronger is the emotional component,"
Heslov says. "Also, he's bigger than a lot of the other guys - especially Bob
Balaban - so he's physically intimidating. When he smiles, he's the dangerous
guy in the room."
Murray's role, Richard Campbell, is an architect. "He's recruited for the
Monuments Men because a lot of what they're going to do - saving and
reconstructing - involves figuring out how to preserve buildings and monuments,"
Murray explains. "Sometimes they'll have to prevent the destruction and
sometimes they'll have to figure out how to save something that's been damaged.
They need a broad group of artistic types, including fellas who are able to work
in a third dimension in real, practical, physical reality."
Murray notes that it's easy to go to the Louvre or the Met and take it for
granted that their most prized masterpieces are still part of the collection.
The film captures a period when that was in doubt - the ways that a world of art
wouldn't be here today if not for the Monuments Men. "You wouldn't be able to
see it in churches or museums - it would be gone," he says. "Lives ended too
soon, but the art lives on. The people fought for it in the same way they fought
for freedom. The people who fought to save this art have allowed the art to live
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 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. "My character is way over the hill as far as combat goes,
but he's doing what he can," says Goodman. "He leaps at the chance to get over
there and help. It's something that he does for passion and for love, to try to
protect what he could."
For Goodman himself, the chance to join the film was a dream come true. "I
always wanted to do a World War II movie and a buddy movie and a mystery - and
for my role, this has all of those elements rolled into one," he says. "I get to
put on a World War II uniform and helmet and carry a gun? Neat-o! This movie is
everything I wanted to do since I was five."
For the buddy movie aspect, The Monuments Men re-teams Goodman with his
co-star from The Artist, Jean Dujardin. "Jean is an incredible talent," Goodman
says. "He's extremely funny, he's a great-looking guy, he's very agile - he's
sharp and easy to work with. And since I worked with him in The Artist, he's
learned to speak English, which is great because I'm still too lazy to learn
French. Now we can communicate."
The film is also a re-teaming of Goodman with Clooney and Heslov. "John and I
worked together on the first season of 'Roseanne,' and then on O Brother and
Argo - we've been in the same circles for years," says Clooney. "The only
question I had was whether he was up for such a big, physical movie - he has a
bad knee. He said he'd be fine, and he was more than fine. He did what he always
does - he makes every movie he's in better."
"I think what we're doing is honoring the incredible struggles that my
father's generation endured, first through the Depression and then a war," says
Goodman. "They did the right thing and they did it for the right reason; they
did it constantly and they did it well. In this film, in a small way, I'm trying
to honor the previous generation."
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."
"These men and women lived their life for art," Goodman concludes. "They were
artists and art caretakers who were willing to risk all for the art they loved.
I would like to think a lot of us would be willing to risk our lives to protect
history and protect a culture - in this case Western culture but all cultures.
It is the best of us. It defines us on a certain level."
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.
"They don't talk much to each other, Garfield and Clermont," Dujardin says.
"They don't need to talk to each other. They have a mission to accomplish. But,
we have some very funny scenes together, and thanks to George Clooney's talent
as director, he manages to put some irony in scenes and very intense scenes as
"Jean 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."
"Jean won the Academy Award in the same year that I was up for The
Descendants," Clooney notes. "I just wanted to get him in this movie and kill
him. Actually, I suggested killing him in the very first scene, but Grant
thought we should wait a while, so I waited.... Actually, Jean is one of my
favorite people that I've ever worked with. I wish we spoke each other's
language better, because it would be even more fun to be around him - he is
deeply funny and so talented. Even with the language barrier, he loses nothing
in personality. He's charming, sort of a rogue."
"He's the French George Clooney," says Heslov.
"George really trusts his actors," says Dujardin. "He's not a director who
tells you what to do; he just gives you some ideas. He's very flexible and
everybody really wants to give him their best. He'll come slowly towards you and
say, 'I may be wrong, but maybe you could try one like this,' or 'Why don't we
try to say it in a French way?'"
Still, Dujardin says that it was the chance to do things in the American way
that was especially attracted him to the project. "I got to do a different kind
of acting - the French way of acting is often a bit more private, while the
American way is very exciting, very playful. I was always criticized in France
for being too expressive, so it's very freeing, very liberating for me."
"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
"Jeffries is a flawed man," Bonneville continues. "As the story progresses,
he comes to terms with the errors he's made, moved by the art he loves. When he
finally finds the Bruges Madonna he takes a moment to write a letter home, to
his father, reflecting on his own life and its shortcomings. It's the stunning
work of Michelangelo right there in front of him that inspires him to seek
absolution from his father for the mistakes he's made - especially the mistake
of looking for answers at the bottom of a bottle."
"From the minute that we started thinking that Hugh would be good for the
role, we immediately started writing the part for him - it really focused us,
especially as we were writing the scene with the letter," says Clooney. "The
funny thing is, we were on a set - the set where we first introduce the
character - and there was a quiet room upstairs. We found him a microphone and
he read the letter - we knew it would be in voiceover. He just nailed it, first
take. And that's the piece we used in the final film - we didn't re-do it, we
didn't loop it again. It's just so good - he's extraordinarily talented."
Bonneville is an award-winning actor, an alumnus of the Royal National
Theatre, and has appeared on stage and in films with big stars several times;
however, he admits to being slightly star-struck by the cast in The Monuments
"I didn't sleep the night before my first day of shooting," Bonneville says.
"The call sheet read, 'George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bob Balaban, John Goodman,
Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Dimitri (Leonidas) and me.' I was awestruck on that
first day. But like all actors - and these are particularly fine actors - they
speak a similar acting language; you soon share a working shorthand. They're
wonderful characters, both on and of screen. It was a privilege. I kept pinching
BOB BALABAN takes on the role of Preston Savitz. "Savitz is an intellectual,
an art historian and a theatrical impresario," Balaban says.
Heslov does not mince words: "He's a dandy," he says." "This is not a guy who
you would expect to find in a war. All of the guys are fish out of water, but
Bob's character is a whale out of water. It's that juxtaposition against Bill's
character that I think is so funny."
"George is very focused. Very prepared. And very calm. He knows what he
wants, and he's a great communicator," says Balaban." "He maintains his sense of
humor under pressure. He pays attention to detail. He has great taste and he
makes it a pleasure to come to work in the morning. What more could you want in
Clooney and Heslov had both known Balaban socially, and were just beginning
to consider actors for The Monuments Men when their paths crossed." "We had just
finished the screenplay for The Monuments Men and we were at an event to support
Argo, and Bob was there," says Heslov." "That night, we were talking about it,
and we thought he'd be great for Savitz. We called him up, and he was in."
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.
The screenplay drew Balaban into the history. He gained a greater perspective
from Robert Edsel's book and he drew inspiration and insight from another book
given to him by Edsel - a book of poetry written by Kirstein. "It was written
while Kirstein was overseas." Balaban says. "He was clearly overwhelmed and
unprepared for his war experience. His book reminded me that while the Monuments
Men were often too old and in many ways unqualified for the enormous task ahead
of them, each of the guys was deeply honored to be there, and utterly committed
to their mission."
Teamed in the film with Bill Murray's Richard Campbell, their relationship
mirrors the one between Kirstein and Captain Robert Posey, who were assigned to
Patton's Third Army during their search for the Ghent Altarpiece.
"This is the third time I've worked with Bill," says Bob, "And this time our
characters were practically joined at the hip."Bill taught me everything I know
about Thai cooking. And my putting improved dramatically just being around him.
Preston Savitz and Richard Campbell didn't exactly get along. But we did. If I
had to be tied to anybody for five months, I'm glad it was him."
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. "When we meet Sam, he is a private in the Army and is
basically lost in the system. They don't know what to do with him. They know he
could be useful in some way, because of his German background, but he falls
through the cracks. Frank Stokes is the one who sees his true value - as a
driver and with his ability to understand German, he's handy to have around."
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."
So, in September 1938, Ettlinger's Bar Mitzvah was moved up from January -
and the next day, the family left for America. "Actually, the rabbi suggested
that we leave that same afternoon - even though you're not supposed to travel on
the Sabbath," Ettlinger remembers. "But my father said, 'The war isn't going to
start this afternoon' - and we left the next day."
After coming to America, Ettlinger enlisted at 18 - as all young men did at
that time. On his 19th birthday, he was pulled out of a transport on its way to
the front lines to fight the Battle of the Bulge, and three months later, joined
the Monuments Men.
Working in the mines, Ettlinger came into contact with numerous pieces of
priceless art. "Jim Rorimer found a painting by Grunewald, the Stuppach Madonna
- that was the item most precious to everybody - but on a personal basis, I saw
a Rembrandt self-portrait that belonged to the museum in Karlsruhe, my home
town. That painting was the museum's pride and joy - and actually, my
grandfather had a print of that painting. It is hanging in my living room.."
In fact, Ettlinger's family had an extensive collection of ex libris prints
that they had lost when coming to America. "During my stay in Germany, I took a
Sunday drive to Baden Baden, the resort town, in a Jeep driven by a Holocaust
survivor named Ike. I hadn't told my sergeant, so technically, I was AWOL.
That's where I found the warehouse with my grandfather's collection," says
Ettlinger. "We had a bit of a celebration - and that night, we ended up in the
top suite in the best hotel in town. Here we were, a Holocaust survivor and an
AWOL buck private, sleeping in a bed meant for the Kaiser of Germany. I'm very
proud of that."
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 says that there was truly something different about the ways the
Nazis went about looting art. "In every war, there's looting. What was shocking
to me was the mathematical, calculated and systematic way the Nazis went about
their looting, and the fact that their acquisition of works began as early as
The other element that made the Nazi looting different was the so-called Nero
Decree. "When Hitler realized he was going to lose the war, he ordered that
everything the Nazis had amassed was going to be destroyed. He was going to
leave nothing in the hands of the victors," Blanchett explains. "In relation to
the art, what the Nero Decree meant was that everything that they had stolen was
to be destroyed."
"Matt's character, Granger, must win her trust," Blanchett continues. "There
was an understandable fear on the part of the French that, if the works were
recovered by the Allies from the Nazis, they'd simply go to collections or
collectors in Russia and the United States. From that standpoint, did it really
matter whether it was stolen by the Germans, the Russians or the Americans?"
Ultimately, Granger and Simone forge an unusual bond, Blanchett says. "I
think the love story that exists between them is a mutual love of art, of
culture." Blanchett says. "They are both gripped - passionately gripped - by the
importance of saving this work for all time. They believe that no single person
can ever truly own a masterpiece. It's for everyone. So, I think they're united
in the nobility of the cause."
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. "Rose Valland was, at first, a volunteer and then overseer at the
Jeu de Paume, which adjoins the Louvre. During the war, it was a depot for
looted Jewish art collections and other objects. Hermann Goring basically used
the Jeu de Paume as a shopping mall - the Nazis set it up like an exhibition
space for the pilfered art," Blanchett explains. "Her work singlehandedly saved
crate-loads, castle-loads full of works of art that otherwise could have easily
been destroyed. The fact that she was working alone was an act of extraordinary
bravery. I think she was able to achieve what she did because she didn't stand
out - she was the woman least likely."
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