"I was driving when I got the call, and I almost passed out at the wheel, and drove my car into the ditch."
This seems the natural response for a solitary screenwriter Beau Willimon, on discovering that, not only does a major Hollywood studio want to bring his largely-overlooked play The Ides of March to the big screen, but that the world's hottest cinema property wants to direct and star in it.
"It was one of those fairytale calls where my agent said, 'oh by way, George Clooney would like to produce - how would you feel about that?' I think I agreed before he even finished speaking. Apparently, I was just saying 'yes, yes, yes!' into the phone. I had never even had a single play produced up to that point, so I agreed pretty quickly."
The play in question was The Ides of March and the fairytale has continued for Willimon, with BAFTA and Oscar nominations for his screenplay covering a presidential campaign and the tension between charisma and potential corruption such a hothouse environment provides.
Wiith such heavy-hitters on board, Ryan Gosling signing on as troubled protagonist Stephen Meyers as well as Clooney in the shadowy candidate's role, did Willimon ever feel his screenplay was slipping away from him? He's emphatic that wasn't the case.
"From the very beginning, it was clear that George understood the core story and considered that as sacred as I did," he remembers.
"Obviously, there were going to be changes to accommodate it for the screen, but I saw this as an opportunity to broaden the story, and to really capture the energy of a campaign that you never could on stage. I wrote the first few drafts, at that point George decided he wanted to direct it, so he worked on it a bit more - so it really was a combination."
Willimon's credentials for putting such a story on the screen are watertight, with his own CV including working on a number of high-profile political campaigns, including that of Hillary Clinton's Senate run in 2000. He laughs at the idea he may have exaggerated the intrigues and double-dealing for dramatic effect:
"I'm not making this stuff up, " laughs. "I've known circumstances in which an opponent will create a traffic jam to prevent their rival's supporters getting to the polls in time. They've sent out fake campaign literature, sending wrong polling locations to your opponent's supporters so they show up at the wrong place... all sorts of examples of people poaching staff from one another... and illicit affairs are a dime a dozen.
"Wherever you have democracy, you're going to have people trying to manipulate the principles, that's just the nature of the game."
For Willimon, Ides of March has seen his career turn a significant corner, with his next project a "complete reinvention" of the iconic British political thriller House of Cards - with more heavyweights, director David Fincher, star Kevin Spacey, coming to the table.
"It's a grand experiment, " Willimon explains. "We've got 26 episodes guaranteed through Netflix, green lit before a single frame was shot, and it's the first TV show to go direct to streaming bypassing broadcasting.
"There will be some similarity to the original series, but it's set in Washington in the present day, and we have more time to go deeper and create something more substantial."
Finally, from navigating his way through political campaigns to negotiating with movie moguls in Hollywood, who's the nastiest person Willimon's had to deal with - there must be a whole bunch of them, surely? Wait for it...
"You very well might think that, I couldn't possibly comment," he answers on cue. Sounds like the much-loved British favourite is in safe hands.
The Ides of March is released on DVD & Blu-ray on 5th March from Play.com. Watch the trailer below:
Suggested For You
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more