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Global Casting
With over 70 speaking parts in Syriana, the filmmakers cast roles with talented actors culled from over a dozen locations around the globe, including Los Angeles, New York, London, Cairo, Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait and Damascus. Gaghan's absorbing script enticed a host of exceptional performers to come together as part of a large ensemble – esteemed actors such as Oscar-winners Chris Cooper and William Hurt were eager to join the cast. "Gaghan's such an excellent writer that when we sent the script out, the first thing that happened was everyone we sent it to wanted in,” says Clooney. "And that doesn't happen very often. We were saying to actors who were used to carrying movies, Listen, it's not a large part, and they'd come back saying, I don't care. I just want to be in this. It's truly an ensemble piece. The star of this film is the screenplay that Gaghan wrote.”

For his part, Gaghan feels that the actors' performances were instrumental in taking his script to the screen in such a stellar fashion. "You get actors of this caliber and they just bring so much to the script with their performances,” he says. "It happened with the whole cast throughout shooting.”

Clooney plays veteran CIA operative Bob Barnes, who made his career working deep within the Middle East in the 1980s. As a member of a rapidly dwindling number of operatives in the Middle East, Bob is one of only a handful of agents capable of infiltrating on that level.

"One of the aspects of Bob's storyline is the systematic deconstruction of the CIA and what the effects of that are,” says Clooney. "It results in there not being many Arab-speaking operatives left in the Middle East, which is a danger. The idea is that we are finished with the Cold War and that we don't need surveillance anymore, we don't need boots on the ground, i.e., CIA operatives. And so Bob gets caught in what is basically a downsizing.”

Bob has always put his career first, even before his family, not only out of dedication and a belief in the value of what he is doing, but also out of necessity. "CIA officers lie to everybody, for their entire careers,” Gaghan points out. "They lie to their families, they lie to their children, they lie to their wives, they lie to their friends. They lie everywhere they go.” As a result, Bob is estranged from his wife and has a difficult relationship with his son Robby, who resents the life he's been made to lead, constantly moving and having to start a new life everywhere his father travels. As Robby prepares to go to college, Bob fears he may finally be losing his son forever.

However, no matter how much he's sacrificed along the way, Bob's dedication to his work and his intricate understanding of the region mean nothing if he is not willing to play the game in Washington – i.e., telling powerful people what they want to hear, even if it's not the truth he's witnessed in the field. And when his honesty becomes a liability, his government has no problem cutting him loose.

"Bob is a fascinating character because he's a true believer,” says Clooney. "He's not a cynic – he believes that his work is the right thing to do, that it helps his country. But he becomes disillusioned because, basically, the company he's devoted his life to lets him down.”

While Robert Baer served as the departure point for the character of Bob Barnes, Clooney did not base his characterization on Baer. Rather, he took the essence of the CIA foot soldier and interpreted it into an unique character that isn't strictly beholden to any real-life model.

"We wanted to let the character serve the story rather than the other way around,” says the actor. "That freed me up quite a bit because I was no longer playing a living person; instead, I was dealing directly with the issues that the movie brought up

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