Max Minghella Talks 'The Ides Of March,' George Clooney And Political Idealism

A Young Star's Experience With George Clooney

Max Minghella is young, smart, articulate, politically active, has an impressive resume and is doggedly determined to get what he wants. Which made him the perfect choice to play a young campaign aide opposite Ryan Gosling in the political drama of the season.

The 26-year old British actor, son of Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, is something of a prestige film good luck charm, having featured in titles such as "Syriana" and "The Social Network." This week, he re-teams with his "Syriana" co-star George Clooney in "The Ides of March," the story of a presidential candidate (Clooney) with a secret, his brilliant young aide with a moral dilemma (Gosling) and the seasoned campaign vet with a bout of bitterness (Seymour Philip Hoffman).

Minghella's character, Ben, is thrust into the spotlight after a series of campaign firings and moral breakdowns. It's hard to tell whether Ben is ready for the star turn or not, but Minghella is certainly well prepared to talk about both his role and the larger themes of the film.

What made you want to get involved in the film?

I was obsessed with the play -- the play before it was a movie. I saw the play twice in New York, and then I saw it twice in LA and I heard they were doing a movie of it. And I wasn't sent the script or anything, but I just heard it was happening and it was actually going ahead, because there had been various articulations of the movie that had never been green-lit. So I said okay, the movie is happening, and I got a copy of the script and I remembered that there was a small part in the play and I wasn't sure if they had carried it over. They had, and so I thought okay, maybe I'll have a go at this, and I just took one of those speeches and I did it over and over and over again. It was definitely the most psychotic I've been about preparing for a read, but it paid off.

What did you think of Mike Morris? He's a candidate of great ideals, but he had his indiscretion.

It's a line in a movie, "You can start a war, but you can't fuck the intern." I mean, that's a weird imbalance. I didn't think less of Bill Clinton. That's a stupid thing to say out loud, but I didn't think anything less of him. He's doing a job. Unless it affects his job, unless he's like a coke addict, then it doesn't bother me. He's not my friend, he's the president.

With Ryan's character, you kind of want to root for him, but aren't sure that you should.

That's what you want, for people not to be sure where they stand on it. What's been amazing and what's been surprising to all of us is how much people root for Ryan. They're on his side -- I've seen the movie with an audience -- they're on his side through it all, through the end of the film. And I don't think any of us anticipated that. I think it's a credit to Ryan's ability to make a character fully rounded and complex, that you don't judge him and dismiss him.

Does George being an actor help him be a better director?

I find his notes as a director particularly applicable. Often I was trying, I'd have an idea of what I wanted it to be, and then I'd try to get there and wasn't sure how successful I was at getting to that place. He's very good at helping you get there. Very good at giving you the one thing that's going to help you solve it all, and I think that probably comes from having an actor's mind, he actually gets it.

You took a few years off to go to Columbia University. Why'd you make that decision?

Well I dropped out of high school to start acting, and I started working quite a lot, very quickly. So I was in high school one day and suddenly I moved to LA on my own and nine months had passed, and in this hotel room, and I didn't really have a lot. I didn't know anybody, I didn't really feel that smart. And I still don't. But I felt kind of worried about it. I felt like I don't know if I'm done yet, what am I going to be talking about? There's nothing for me to talk about with anybody, my experiences are so limited. ... It sounded kind of fun to me, to go to college, especially as a British person, to go to an American college because it is this glamorous idea, and stupid stuff like girls, and just dumb shit like green campuses, it sounded like fun and I really wanted to do that. So half of it for good reasons, half of it for bad reasons.

So, did it make you feel smarter?

I don't know if it made me feel smarter. It was good for me to do. There were a lot of bad movies that I avoided at that time, so I'm grateful for that. I don't know if I would be able to do this if I had gone and done a bunch of really bad big movies. I think that it was great for me to be around people my age, American kids my age. They were very smart, it was really grounding and humbling experience. I went in there a little arrogant, I was 21 when I went and everyone else was 17. But you get there and it's like, these guys are smarter than you, they're more experienced than you, they get it. And so that was really good to realize that you can engage with your peers.

Well, to be fair, you picked a good school.

Crazy, crazy brains in that school. And I did not deserve to be there. And that's another reason why I didn't last (Minghella dropped out after finishing his core curriculum in two and a half years), is that I really wasn't capable enough to be there. You have to be really smart, and I'm just not that person.

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