George Clooney says Hollywood can be a ruthless place — but it's nothing compared to the world of politics.
The star, who plays a U.S. presidential hopeful in "The Ides of March," said Wednesday that "there's a certain cutthroat element to the business" of moviemaking, but added that actors share a spirit of generosity that he doesn't often see in politics.
Most performers "are pretty kind to one another," Clooney told reporters ahead of a gala screening of the movie at the London Film Festival.
"Because you're so lucky if you get to the position where you get to be in a film," Clooney said. "You're very privileged, and you understand that it's not just your brilliance that got you there, that you're standing on the shoulders of a lot of happy accidents along the way."
Clooney directed, co-wrote, produced and stars in the tale of a Democratic presidential contender, with Ryan Gosling as an idealistic aide swept up in a sex scandal in the final days of a closely fought primary campaign. The film also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti as rival campaign managers, and Evan Rachel Wood as an ambitious intern.
Clooney said the movie, adapted from a play by Beau Willimon, is "a pretty cynical look at politics." He has said he held off filming it amid the wave of optimism that accompanied the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. Three years later, amid political division and economic gloom, that positive mood is long gone.
"I think that the 'hope' part of the hope message has been tamped down a bit," Clooney said.
"It's all cyclical," he added. "It'll change back again. I feel fairly optimistic about the way our country works."
Clooney has politics in the family — his father made an unsuccessful run for Kentucky's 4th Congressional District in 2004. But he said playing a politician was a challenge.
"Playing a candidate is tricky because, you would think actors have a gigantic ego — and they do," he said. "But politicians have a tremendous amount of ego.
"It's very hard when the product you're selling to the entire country is yourself, and you're just selling the hell out of it all the time. ... We have to have it, and we need somebody who's really good at it, but ego is something that was really tricky to embrace."
Clooney said the type of scandal the film depicts is universal, but thinks the public and media will have to grow more forgiving of politicians' personal peccadilloes.
"I think we're going to have to get to the point where we just have to start, every candidate, with 'Yeah, I did it' and just go on from there," Clooney said. "Because it's going to be very hard to find people who haven't smoked a joint or drunk some bong water along the way."
Clooney, whose own private life is the subject of constant scrutiny, said he's not tempted to step into the even more unforgiving world of politics.
"Hollywood is a bit more forgiving," Clooney said, "because they don't expect us to be saints."