Clooney, Streep in London for film festival gala

October 14, 2009 8:52:46 AM PDT
Like the London Film Festival, Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" is a mix of British grit and American glamor.

The movie was made in England using old-fashioned stop-motion animation, and has a voice cast led by George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray - American stars who were bringing a dose of Hollywood to Leicester Square on Wednesday with the film's world premiere at the 53rd annual London festival.

Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach adapted Roald Dahl's book about the battle between a chicken-stealing fox and evil farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean.

The movie, from the director of "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," retains the book's English setting and was made at London's Three Mills Studios but the animal heroes speak with American accents.

"I feel like we were better writing American voices," Anderson told reporters Wednesday. "So we decided that we would make all the animals American, and the humans would be British."

"Because," added Murray, "they're the bad guys."

The film's British performers include Michael Gambon as the villainous Bean, and former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker as the farmers' musical sidekick.

Clooney said he had a great time working on the film - especially as the cast recorded their parts on a real-life farm.

"It was like going to camp," he said.

"We were out in the middle of nowhere on people's farms, doing sound effects and rolling around in the fields."

The lo-fi feature brings Anderson's hipster sensibility to Dahl's children's classic. Mr. Fox is a dapper optimist in a corduroy suit - very like the one Anderson wore to meet the press.

Anderson said he had loved Dahl's books since childhood, and also "wanted to do a stop-motion movie with animals with fur, because I've always loved the way that looked - that odd, sort of magical style."

Clooney said he was struck by the film's original quality.

"I remember reading the script and saying to Wes, 'I love it, and I'm thrilled and excited to do it, but I don't know who will see it, because it's sort of made for grownups and it's sort of made for kids,"' Clooney said.

"He said, 'Don't worry about it. Let's just go out and make a movie and have some fun,' and I thought that's a great way to approach making a film."

Anderson said Clooney - the closest thing modern Hollywood has to a matinee idol - had the right starry charm for the part of the suave Mr. Fox.

"I think Cary Grant would have been good," he said. "And within 20 seconds of thinking of Cary Grant, we were talking about George Clooney."

One of the world's oldest film festivals, London is trying to raise its international profile to compete with better-known events in Cannes, Venice and Toronto. Most of the 300 films from almost 50 countries in the London lineup have been screened elsewhere, but 15 are world premieres.

The schedule includes Austrian director Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon," which won the top prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival; prison drama "A Prophet" from France's Jacques Audiard; Jane Campion's visually ravishing John Keats biopic "Bright Star"; "Steven Soderbergh's whistle-blower saga "The Informant"; designer Tom Ford's directorial debut "A Single Man"; and Lone Scherfig's "An Education," the Nick Hornby-scripted story about a teenager coming of age in the 1960s.

British films include Lucy Bailey's hard-hitting documentary "Mugabe and the White African"; Julien Temple's rock-doc "Oil City Confidential"; and "Don't Worry About Me," directed by actor David Morrissey.

The festival wraps up Oct. 29 with the world premiere of "Nowhere Boy," Sam Taylor-Wood's film about the young John Lennon.

Clooney is raising the star voltage at this year's event, with appearances in three films. He plays a psychic researcher for the U.S. military in Grant Heslov's "The Men Who Stare at Goats" and a smooth management consultant in Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air."

Clooney was the star attraction at a packed "Mr. Fox" press conference, fielding the usual celebrity questions: Does he have any plans to marry? Has playing a vulpine patriarch made him want to start a family?

Clooney deflected the queries with a quip.

"I'm going to adopt some of Brad Pitt's kids," he said.

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" is released in Britain Oct. 23 and in the United States next month.

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