George Clooney didn't want to work with Tony Gilroy.
Sure, he liked the script for "Michael Clayton," which Gilroy wrote. He knew Gilroy's proven track record as the screenwriter for the "Bourne" trilogy, among scads of other box-office successes. And he admired Gilroy's ambition in attempting such a complex feature for his directorial debut.
When it boiled down to it, though, Clooney just wasn't interested.
But Gilroy is not the type to give in easily. Despite Clooney's initial reluctance, Gilroy knew he was the man for the part. It had to be Clooney.
"It was the dream. I went to him early on and he blew me off. He said he didn't want to work with a first-time director," said Gilroy, writer and director of "Michael Clayton," in a recent interview. "It was two years later before I got him on board."
Getting actual lawyers to come on board as informants for the script was far easier. All Gilroy had to do was buy them a drink and offer a mild push to coax them into talking. The lawyers didn't even have to tell the truth, just tell him what they'd heard.
"If you never put people on the record, they are a lot more forthcoming," Gilroy said. "I told them they could lie to us, just tell us what happens behind closed doors. I don't need a fact checker. I have no intention of putting people on the record. It's all the glamour of Hollywood, and people want to talk to you."
Revolving around the inherent drama that surrounds lawyers, "Michael Clayton" tells the story of a law firm's "fixer." In this case, Clooney's character is the guy who, in the middle of the night, goes to a high-profile client's house, smooths over the facts and keeps the names out of the papers.
Whether the story hails from factual events or is a complete work of fiction, Gilroy won't say. But he will admit to doing months and months of extensive research to create the storyline for the film.
"I loved the research. There is a big part of my job that is journalism, and it's the coolest thing about the job. I get to travel some place and become a very superficial expert on something for a few months," he said.
As he immersed himself in the microcosmic world of lawyers, Gilroy discovered a somewhat foreign land, and he used much of what he learned as material for the film. The scene with lawyers who are awake at 3 a.m., tucked away in a hotel room doing research? That happens. The scene with papers strewn about desks as a handful of lawyers make ends meet in the one lit room of a dark skyscraper? That happens, too. It was this constant flow of stress and theatrics that kept Gilroy fueled throughout the eight years he spent working on the film.
"With lawyers, it's always a battle," he said. "I saw what was going on in the back rooms. It's a horrible, industrial world. It's not pretty, and I wanted to capture that."
After the turbulent ride of "Michael Clayton," Gilroy hasn't lost his lust for making films and exploring new realms. While plans have yet to be solidified, Gilroy hopes to direct another film in the every near future. Will this, too, be an intense, moody drama?
"No," Gilroy said. "I think I want to do a romantic comedy."