When Ewan McGregor first heard the story of The Men Who Stare At Goats, based on the book by Jon Ronson, his initial reaction was to laugh. And then to laugh some more and then to question whether or not the story was true.
“I was like ‘are you kidding? There is no way that this is true…’ But actually, remarkably, it is based on a true story. “How wonderful is that? And I absolutely loved the script. It’s so funny.”
The Men Who Stare At Goats is a surreal, hilarious and frankly bizarre tale of a team of US soldiers who investigate and then try to utilise paranormal powers in the field of combat. Jeff Bridges plays Bill Django, the soldier/guru who trains a band of New Age warriors, while George Clooney plays Lynn Cassady, one of his recruits, who claims to have the power to stare a goat into an early grave and make rain clouds disappear.
McGregor plays broken hearted news reporter Bob Wilton who heads to Kuwait, leaving behind the wreckage of a broken marriage, at the outbreak of the second Gulf War desperate to get inside Iraq and cover the conflict. Then he meets Cassady who tells him of the Army’s First Earth Battalion and Wilton realises that he might have stumbled across the story of a lifetime.
“George’s character starts talking about these physic soldiers and he says that he is on a mission in Iraq,” explains McGregor. “And I think this is a better story and go with him. Not a good idea!
“So then I’m on this road trip with George in Iraq on this mission and of course we get kidnapped, we get held hostage, we get swapped to some more nasty kidnappers, we manage to run away with an Iraqi guy whose house has been burnt by American soldiers and we get caught in the cross fire between one set of contractors and another who are shooting at each other. And eventually we get lost in the desert together having hit a mine. It’s crazy. And very, very funny."
The Men Who Stare At Goats is director Grant Heslov’s first feature film but he has worked with Clooney closely in the past – they have their own production company, Smoke House, and they wrote Good Night and Good Luck together, which Clooney directed and starred in. Heslov also produced Leatherheads, which Clooney directed. They are, says McGregor, a formidable team but very welcoming.
“They are old mates and they work together so they’ve got a great working relationship, but I never felt excluded,” he says. “I was always included in their laughs and we all went out for dinner most nights. We had a really great time - we were away on location, so there is precious little to do, other than that, so we had a good laugh.
“Grant and George go back a long way. They’ve been friends for years and I think they actually met in acting class. The story is that Grant lent George $100 to get some headshots done when they were both a lot younger. And they’ve been mates ever since although I don’t think George has ever paid him back the $100!”
Men Who Stare At Goats is out today