Press conferences are a fixture of life in Washington and Hollywood alike. George Clooney's upcoming movie, 'Ides of March,' showing this week at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a dark morality tale set in the world of American presidential politics, so it's only fitting that he would choose to discuss it in the setting of a press conference, where Canadian entertainment reporters were able to channel their inner Jake Tappers and ask "gotcha" questions of Clooney and his star-studded cast. Moviefone's Michael Hogan and Mike Ryan sat in on the event and dissected it for your pleasure and, perhaps, edification.
Hogan: So, Mike, we just sat through the 'The Ides of March' press conference, which was billed as the media's only chance to talk to George Clooney about his latest directorial effort. What did you think?

Ryan: My first thought: I am a straight male, but George Clooney is a very, very good-looking man.

Yes, several of the people asking questions seemed to share that opinion. You could tell from their trembling voices (and knees).

Either they were in awe of Clooney's aura -- or Canada is just really the nicest place on Earth. Honesty, 90 percent of the questions were, "Hello, George. Would it be OK if I kissed your ass for a few seconds?"

Yes, although I was more interested in the other 10 percent. Clooney's devilish disdain for this process got me thinking about how journalists really fall into three categories: the ones who want to make you say something stupid, the ones who want to prove how smart they are, and the ones who want you to love them.

Did you see him roll his eyes at one point? And then there was the absolute takedown of one of the journalists. I believe his name was Paul.

That was the guy who dared to bring up Clooney's personal life. Clooney really took delight in publicly shaming him: "I'm disappointed in you." I sort of love how Clooney gets it not just both ways but every way: he lives a 13-year-old boy's fantasy in public, then ascends the high horse any time anyone brings it up. It's actually kind of awesome.

I've never been in a room before with someone who is THAT media savvy. Not even close -- and we were both in a room with Brad Pitt today. But I suppose he has to be. I kept track of who would get asked more questions: Clooney or "The Field" of the other eight participants -- which includes Ryan Gosling. Clooney won twelve to ten. And keep in mind, a couple of times the moderator forced people to ask "The Field."

Yes, it's clear that everyone else was a little bored, or intimidated, or both. And we're talking about a group that included arguably the biggest rising star of right now (Ryan Gosling), two Oscar winners (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei), another guy who was nominated (Paul Giamatti), and a dude with every other award there is (Jeffrey Wright). And we both noticed that Max Minghella never said a single word.

Poor Max. I almost asked, "Hey, man, you OK up there?" Speaking of bored: who had the more "I'm pissed to be here" face, Giamatti or Hoffman?

It was a dead heat between Giamatti, Hoffman, Tomei, and, for some reason, Gosling, who kept rolling his eyes over and over again. He was also VERY annoyed at the female reporter who joked (lamely) that Clooney could never be president because of the women and the drugs. That offended his Canadian sensibilities.

You know what else offended his Canadian sensibilities? Being asked if 'The Ides of March' would work as a Canadian political thriller and being asked if he would ever run for Canadian political office. It really looked like the guy wanted to scream, "I don't live in Canada any longer, you f*cking hosers!"

Now that he's bulked up to the point where it would have been possible for him to single-handedly defeat the entire audience in hand-to-hand combat, I'm sure it was a struggle for him to not get all Florida on our asses. But can we talk about clothing? Apparently, in Hollywood, having an Oscar means never having to wear a jacket.

In other words: Having an Oscar means you can wear a sensible white tennis shirt. Also having an Oscar means that you can tease Evan Rachel Wood about fondling her under the table and everyone thinks it's hilarious. (And it was.)

Yeah, that was awesome. For those playing at home, Evan Rachel Wood was talking about how great Clooney is, and then said, "George is handing me money under the table." (He had already made a big show of passing Gosling cash during a similar routine.) Clooney said, "That's not money," which got a very real-sounding squeal out of former Mrs. Marilyn Manson.

I have to agree with what Gosling said about Clooney: being in a room with him is like watching a unicorn being born.

That is very true. Another thing I thought was interesting: which actors took the bait when journalists asked loaded questions. Clooney himself dodged the biggest one -- which politician did you model your character on? -- but Evan Rachel Wood went right ahead and admitted that she wants to direct!

Speaking of Evan Rachel Wood: I felt like one of the press questions -- and I should add that the question I'm thinking of was asked by a female -- was a tad sexist. She and Tomei were both asked, "What was it like hanging out at night with these men who get so much attention?" Which felt like it was asked in a "While our boys are fighting in Europe, what are YOU doing to help the war effort?" kind of way.

Yeah, that was a weird question, though I really enjoyed it when Evan Rachel Wood gave the guys that backhanded compliment by saying that she grew up with big brothers and felt comfortable with older guys. Clooney was noticeably wounded by that one, which would be a bit sad if his occupation were anything other than international movie star.

I'd be remiss if I did not mention my absolute favorite part of the event. When the moderator asked Marisa Tomei -- who plays a New York Times reporter in the film -- had spoken to any real life Times reporters for her research. Then he pauses and says, "Like Judith Miller." Clooney's reaction to that might be in my top ten list of favorite things of all time.

Yeah, Clooney was just incredulous. That was one of several moments where I sensed Clooney feeling the pain of being maybe the smartest person in the entire entertainment world. It was around that time that I toyed with asking him the question, "Who do you despise more, politicians or journalists?" But as a journalist, I really don't want to know the answer.

Me either.

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Photo: AP