Interview: G. Clooney
Rounding out my press interviews for the upcoming release of
SOLARIS (read my
interview with Steven
Soderbergh here and James
Cameron here), I sat down with George Clooney, the A-list leading man and famous wisecracker to discuss everything from working with Steven Soderbergh again, to directing his first film, to his now famous arse. First things first, Clooney, just as everyone had told me ahead of time, is one of the easiest, bestest interviews you can do. He holds nothing back, is clever, witty, and not afraid to discuss past flops or poor career moves (yes, that was him on THE FACTS OF LIFE) in any way. Overall, a good guy.
Here's more from George…
Why did you think you could do this film? Supposedly they didn't even offer you the role to begin with?
No, they didn't. I wrote him a letter. Pretty much, I read the script. It all happened really quickly. We were doing
OCEAN'S ELEVEN, he had just finished the script, and he offered it to Daniel Day Lewis. And he works, and then he doesn't work, and so he was going away to not work. And in that middle moment when it was just sitting there, while we are partners so there is some complication there, I didn't want to guilt him into something. I wrote him a letter because I didn't want to sit in a room with him and try to get it. That's a lot tougher thing. And if he said no, that would be very hurtful. So I figured I'd write him a letter and said I don't know if I can do, if I'm the right guy for the job. I don't know what your thoughts are on that, but I can tell you I'd give it my best shot. And if you think I can do it, then I'd love to. And that was all I wrote…And he called me up and said let's do it…And you never know if you were the right guy for the job, because you never know what other people could've done. But it was sure fun to try.
Is this really the scariest and most difficult role you've ever done?
Sure. Well, I mean, the part that's scary is that you have to go in with Steven and you have to let go of all the things that, you know, you've done before. And trust when he says, do this. It's hard to not question. It's hard when you've got 20 years of acting experience, and you think maybe I should protect myself. But it's not hard to do it with Steven. If you're going to do it, you do it with Joel and Ethan Coen, with Steven, and with all the directors that you trust.
How come they didn't try selling the film with George Clooney's butt on the poster, since it's in the film?
It's funny, that's sort of a perfect example of marketing buzz. Before any press started on the film, all of a sudden we hear it got an R rating because of that. And it's fairly obvious it's a studio leaking out something just to get something going. Who gives a shit if it's got an R rating or not? It's not going to harm this film, and Steven likes an R. So clearly that was their first way of trying to generate something. In all fairness, it's a difficult movie to make a trailer for. I think avoiding space is a dumb thing, but that's just me.
It seems like Fox is ashamed to market it as a sci-fi film.
Yeah. Well, it's funny, when we did OUT OF SIGHT, that was the worst marketing campaign ever for a good film. And it seems that I always seem to find myself in the middle of those.
But the romance angle's not a bad thing, right?
No, it's not. But I don't think that plays in the trailer. It doesn't quite make sense. Oh, wait, it's George Clooney, but in space? I don't understand.
What makes you and Steven such a good team?
We seem to have the same taste in things, and we seem to work the same way. And we're also in the position, both of us, to fight for films that we want to see get made. I don't know how long that will last, but right now we're really digging it.
Do you feel like, to make the more controversial, risk-taking films, you need to throw in an OCEAN'S ELEVEN type film, that's pretty much guaranteed to make money?
Yeah. You do. As a company, we understand that. We're not snobs about that. We get it. OCEAN'S ELEVEN is a good movie. I loved it. But it did what it was designed to do. And it did it well. And that's fine, cuz then they say ok, now you can go play. And that's ok, and then if we blow it, we blow it.
Now that you've directed CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, is it different working with Steven?
Yeah. It is different. It's funny because there are scenes that he cut out, and takes that he cut out that I thought worked for me as an actor. But as a director, you understand that it's better for the film. It's all so myopic, and you're so concerned with your world, as an actor. But when you're a director, you also have to be concerned with the film as a whole…But thank god, coming off directing, I worked with Steven and then right on the heels of that I worked with Joel and Ethan. I think I would've had trouble if I was working with someone who is just a footage gatherer.
Why did you choose CONFESSIONS as your first directorial project?
I didn't want to direct. It wasn't my goal in life. I didn't know enough about it, really. I wanted this film to be made. And as it fell apart, and fell apart, and I was playing a supporting role in it, suddenly there was about $4 million in pre-production costs up against it. We started and stopped, started and stopped. And suddenly, if we were going to have any actors in it, it was going to become a $40 million film, which it can't be. You can't do a film that's based on a book about a guy who killed 33 people in that way, and have it be the cost of a studio film. I knew if I played the lead for less money, which I knew I couldn't do, then it could be made. The only other way I could do it was to direct it, and act in it for nothing. And ask Julia and Drew Barrymore to come in and take huge hits, and make it for under $30 million. It was mostly just about trying to get the film made.
What do you like about Steven's style of directing?
He's so easy going. He's one of those guys that just casts the right people. He puts you in great situations. And having directed now, I know how good he is. I was unfair to actors and build the set around a shot and tell them exactly what to do. But Steven walks into a set and says, where does this want to be? And he walks around with a viewfinder, figures out the shot, and then starts.
If you had been to SOLARIS, what would you like the chance to do over?
BATMAN AND ROBIN (laughs). Actually, I don't know. The truth is, some of them were really fun and you want to do those over again. And I've certainly made plenty of mistakes, and they all lead here. And here's fine for me right now.
Are you surprised that O' BROTHER might be the high water mark for your career?
Well, we'll see. I don't want to limit myself yet. I don't know what the high water mark is. CONFESSIONS is interesting. SOLARIS is interesting. THREE KINGS was certainly, as history is now proving, a high water mark because of what it said politically. And I think OUT OF SIGHT might have been the best film I've made. So, I don't know what a high water mark is. I'm enjoying all of the different flood stages, and I will do some bad ones and screw up. Until they start taking away the option for me to try new things, which they will eventually because everybody loses it, I figure why not just try to do stuff I really like, whether I fail or succeed. But I'd much rather fail swinging for the fences than doing something just because I think there's an audience for it.
Do you feel like you need to play a nasty villain role to get away from the good guy George Clooney?
I don't think I have such a good guy, clean cut image. I've been lucky, probably because a lot of the films weren't successful that I've done, that I've never really been pigeon-holed into one thing. If you look at the movies that I'm doing, they're all pretty different.
You struggled for a while at the beginning of your career. Is it fun now to be on top of the mountain?
Well, you never of course think you're on top of the mountain. But it's fun to be where I'm at right now, which is that I'm in the position to pick and choose. And also I'm able to pick ones that you think are fun. That's fun. It's really fun. Especially since I came out of RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, you understand and respect it. But you never really think you're on top of the mountain. And once you've directed, believe me you never think you are. You more think you're on the bottom heap.
That's it from George. Classic, as usual.