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Oddly, I couldn't find this interview in the archives. It's one of my favourites. Currently the quote about him sleeping in his closet is doing the rounds on twitter.
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"George Clooney is at my bedroom door clutching a pile of videos. I'm disappointed it's not his toothbrush. Perhaps it's porn?" Holed up in freezing Montreal to interview George Clooney, Mariella expects a quick chat between takes. Instead, she gets a private screening in George's room and very little sleep...
The Observer, Sunday 20 January 2002
George Clooney is four doors away in his hotel room. I'm having trouble sleeping. Outside, the rare sound of a siren fills the silence of the frozen Montreal night. Inside, my room temperature is set high and my mind is on overdrive. Two months ago, as I sat idly at my computer looking for an excuse not to work, I decided to email George. I'd heard from a mutual friend that he was heading to Canada to begin work on his directing debut. With his most recent movie Ocean's Eleven about to hit cinema screens in the UK, it seemed the perfect time to ask for an interview. Most importantly, I'd just split up from my boyfriend and needed cheering up.
George has a talent for making you feel like the superstar. We first met at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999 and it took just two hours for me and my best friend Natalie to succumb to the Clooney charm. In between his hectic interview schedule and along with Clooney's best friend Benny, we spent the next three days in the hotel bar. We were the most envied women in Cannes and sadly too drunk to notice.
Since then, we've met up occasionally and carried on an irregular email relationship. I was surprised when my request for an interview was answered overnight. 'I'm here for five months. So pack your Parka, your notebook and pen and let's do it. And then the interview!' I didn't have to be asked twice. However, supernovas are notoriously unreliable. I fully expected some pompous PR to call two days later and tell me, 'Now isn't a good time, he'd rellay luuuve to talk to you when he's finished the movie. Have a nice day.' Instead, I received a call from Angel, one of Clooney's two assistants, arranging the details of my trip. George is a man of his word.
Four weeks later, I'm on a flight to Canada buried in a mountain of Clooney's old interviews detailing his commitment to singledom and his long-term relationship with Max, his Vietnamese pot-bellied pig. All the air hostesses are beside themselves with envy.
Clooney has been in Montreal for two months and has another three to go. He's forsaken the sunny streets of Hollywood for the frozen north to direct his first movie, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind - The Unauthorised Autobiography of Chuck Barris. It's based on the book of the same title and is a controversial true-life account of the curious life of Chuck Barris. In the 70s, Barris was credited with bringing US television to 'new lows' with hit reality shows like The Dating Game (which inspired our own Blind Date ) and The Gong Show. In his autobiography, Barris asserts that his TV successes took place in between hitherto secret spells as a CIA hitman. Adapted from the book by Charlie Kaufman, who wrote Being John Malkovich, it's a fascinating noir tale focusing on Barris's Walter Mitty-esque life story.
I'm expecting to spend five days waiting for the interview to be squeezed in, and two hours with George just before I leave for the airport. Instead, the day I arrive, miserable with a post-New-Year cold, he calls. 'I hear you're sick. I could have told you that!' His meandering message continues with the news that he's just down the corridor (I'd imagined my small hotel was for employees and he'd be shacked up in the Four Seasons) and could he come visit. I call him back and two minutes later he's at my door. Ribbed grey sweater, woollen hat to match and the hilarious hirsute addition of an incongruous Village People-style moustache. I could swear he's dressed up to see me!
In person, George Clooney lives up to all your expectations. Six foot tall and broad shouldered, his stomach doesn't quite lie flat above his belt. He's obviously fit, but has a lived-in quality that's so much more attractive than perfection. His dark-brown eyes suck you in like quicksand.
He walks in, sits in my only chair and doesn't draw breath for an hour. ' Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is the best script I've ever read... couldn't bear to see it destroyed... a succession of different directors and stars have been attached over five years... I was always in line to play the gay CIA operative, (hence the facial hair)... finally take the bull by the horns and direct it myself... had to put up a helluva fight to replace Johnny Depp with Sam Rockwell... Johnny's just too cool to play a nerd... head of Miramax Harvey Weinstein thought I'd gone insane... had to give away a large proportion of our [his and Steven Soderbergh's] production company to Miramax to get the project green lit... I've storyboarded the entire movie shot by shot...' And finally, when I'm wilting in the onslaught of his enthusiasm, 'Shall we go to the bar?' I've brought two suitcases of clothes but go out in a sweatshirt and no make-up.
With George, you're always pressed for time. It's something he's all too aware of. 'In the gym there's people who go on the bicycle and go a steady 10 miles an hour and break a good sweat in half an hour. I go as fast as I can for 15 minutes. I'll break the same sweat but I'll do it in less time. I don't have time to screw around.'
Despite the gym analogy, George's body is no temple. In the hotel bar we down a couple of what Natalie and I christened a Clooney, his regular tipple of Absolut vodka and soda. His inarguable theory is that you 'hydrate while you dehydrate'. Then it's a short walk down the road with Cuban hairdresser pal Waldo for an orgy of Italian food. George orders three starters to share, and then a bowl of bolognese to follow. He says he's recently lost 20 pounds. On this diet I can't imagine how. Conversation doesn't flow so much as flood. He's indiscreet, funny and without artifice, telling tales of his adventures in movieland. Stories about his Ocean's Eleven co-stars Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Andy Garcia are peppered with impersonations. Moments of potential silence are filled with a stream of self-deprecating jokes. His energy is exhausting. Three hours later we say goodnight in the hotel corridor. Two minutes later the phone in my room rings. 'Can I come over?' Yessssss!
Moments later, George is at the door clutching a pile of videos. I'm disappointed it's not his toothbrush. Perhaps it's porn? But no. It turns out to be the footage from his first four days of filming. My disappointment is balanced by the tiniest grain of flattery. Dailies are top secret, hidden from any outsider. I feel like the chosen one. Judging by the little I see, Clooney's current image as mere Hollywood heart-throb will be short-lived. His film owes more to Scorsese than Wolfgang Petersen. I can't wait to see the finished product. Screening over, we retire to his room so I can be taken through the storyboard scene by scene. It's not a euphemism. Finally, we arrange our interview for the following night and I get to bed at 3am, utterly exhausted. Luckily I can have a lie in. George has to be up for a 9am meeting.
We reconvene in his room at 6pm next day. He's wearing the same sweater and a pair of baggy green chinos. His clothes are scattered around the bedroom and there's a pair of discarded thermal socks and long johns lying on the tiny sitting-room floor. His home for the next three months is no sumptuous suite. In fact, it's almost pokey. The message light is flashing on his phone, but when I bring it to his attention he shrugs and says they'll call back. George has spent the day scouting locations in a snowstorm. He's also managed to work out a tricky scene in the movie that he was losing sleep over. He explains his solution in minute detail and smiles with relief.
We get into a discussion about leading men. 'Anyone who knows me knows I'm not one.' I beg to differ. George quotes Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable as having that certain 'Je ne sais quoi.' I challenge him for contemporaries and run through a list of names that includes Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Harrison Ford and Denzel Washington along with newcomers Benicio Del Toro and Billy Crudup. He agrees with the last four. Then it's on to the films of 2001. His favourite by a long shot is British director Jonathan Glazer's feature debut. ' Sexy Beast is the best film of the year. It's really, really good storytelling.'
The interview is supposed to take place over dinner. We're both reluctant to pollute our dining time with business. Instead, we decide to eat and then retire to his room and talk afterwards. George wants to introduce me to his cinematographer and friend Tom Newton, whom he first met on the David O Russell movie Three Kings. We make it a foursome when we include Amy, Clooney's right-hand woman. Conversation centres, as usual, on Confessions. This time, the look of the film. George talks like he's been directing all his life and his movie knowledge is encyclopaedic. He quotes scenes from Frankenheimer and Pakula. Today, he's particularly excited about an infrared film that Tom has suggested they employ for the flashbacks. We argue about A Beautiful Mind. George hated it and I loved it. He's very convincing. By the end, I'm starting to question my own judgment. Between sentences, George orders three starters to share, 'drunken beef' as a main course and manages to squeeze in a chocolate soufflé for dessert.
Later, we waddle back to the hotel, arm in arm so I don't break my neck on the icy streets, and settle into his room for the interview. He offers me a drink. My request for water is met with a grimace. His customised minibar contains only Gatorade - a vile version of Lucozade - and bottles of soda. I presume they're to go with the Absolut that sits on top of the fridge. We decide on soda, for 'professional' reasons.
I sit on the sofa. George disconcertingly lies at my feet. Having watched him at work for two days I'm amazed at the slight regard he pays his status. The meagre room, lunches in the office canteen, travel in a muddy 4x4 along with various members of his crew. Having experienced fame as a child, albeit on a minimal level with his father Nick Clooney's Cincinatti TV career, I wonder what exactly it means to him. 'I guess I thought it would be fun. It's not just the fame though. You can't be "famous" for murdering Nicole Brown Simpson. It matters what you're famous for. In the microcosm of Cincinatti, Ohio, my dad was a superstar and he was liked and respected. That was something that appealed to me.'
The reality of his own experience, he admits, is somewhat different. After all, the Clooney clan only had to cross the border into Indianapolis to experience normal living. There are very few corners of the globe nowadays where George goes unnoticed. 'You've seen what it's like. It's not what it's cracked up to be. It certainly makes you lead a smaller life. I don't leave the hotel room in the majority of places I go. The world becomes quite claustrophobic.'
I remember a call he made to me from Italy once. As we attempted to arrange dinner I could hear shrieks, screaming and sirens in the background. It sounded like the aftermath of a major explosion. 'What's going on there?' I asked. 'Oh, I'm in Rome and there's a couple of people outside my hotel, well...' he mumbles apologetically, 'a couple of hundred... and a woman's just thrown herself in front of my car.' Anyway, shall I just call you when I get into London?' As I replaced the receiver I was struck by a Marquezian image; women fluttering down like discarded angels around George's car. 'Then again, if I was in Kentucky cutting tobacco I'd say, "So what? It's better than cutting tobacco." And I can say that with surety, 'cos it's what I used to do.' I brush away a sepia vision of George, stripped to the waist, strong tanned arms working the tobacco plants in a golden blaze of summer sun. Focus, Mariella, focus.
Neither does money play a major part in his thinking. After five years on ER he was still on $35,000 a week instead of the $300,000 and upwards that fellow cast members were earning. On Three Kings, he returned half of his $10m fee to get the film finished and with the Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? he worked for nothing just to see the film made.
His latest screen excursion is no exception. Ocean's Eleven is a frivolous but fun remake of the 60s Rat Pack heist movie. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, it's the first product of George and Steven's partnership in the production company Section Eight. Set in Las Vegas, the movie is a vast improvement on the original. 'We both read Ocean's Eleven over a weekend and thought we could remake it better. If there's a germ of an idea that just got pollinated in the wrong way, you can remake a not-very-good film. The only way to do it was like Murder on the Orient Express, those old Irwin Allan films, pack it full of stars but do it in a funny way.' George may have had to cut his fee again, but this time he was in good company. All the stars were persuaded to forsake a large pay cheque in exchange for a share in the movie's profits. It's a gamble that paid off. The movie has done big business in America and looks set to do likewise over here.
George doesn't have the greatest regard for his own acting skills. 'I can't give you 150 takes. I can't even give you 30 different ways of doing it! I don't have the talent or the range for it. Kevin Spacey can do that. I'm not saying it's a limitation that can't grow. I'm pushing everything outward from there and at the same time protecting myself with good scripts and good directors.' If Out of Sight is his favourite film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? was his biggest challenge as an actor. 'It was definitely the scariest for me, because I knew I would have to play a character. But if I was ever going to do a goofball comedy it would be with the Coen brothers. It couldn't be a Jim Carrey kind of role.'
I ask if he had to solicit for the part, as he did with Three Kings. 'No, no. Joel and Ethan came over to see me and said, "We've got this part for you. It's about an idiot. He's about the dumbest guy you'll ever meet. We think you're perfect for it!"' George chuckles at the memory. 'I'm like, "I'm flattered. Thanks guys. I'm in."'
It's a far cry from the period directly after Batman & Robin, when Clooney despaired of his film career ever taking off. He decided to go back to basics. 'It's possible for me to make a bad movie out of a good script, but I can't make a good movie from a bad script. I watch Batman & Robin from time to time. It's the worst movie I ever made so it's a good lesson in humility.' What he could have done was settle for roles that set female hearts pulsing every time he appeared on the big screen, and banked the cheques. Instead, he believes that, 'money buys you freedom' and since he's had it, he has steadfastly refused to take the money roles. As a result, he's developing an enviable reputation as a character actor - 'People would keep pitching me ideas based on roles I'd played already. You end up replicating yourself.' So, instead of embarking on Another Fine Day, The Sequel or some such, he's in Montreal directing an art movie. In April, he returns to acting; first with Soderbergh on a sci-fi film co-written by Tarkovsky, and then with the Coen brothers, co-starring in a black comedy opposite Catherine Zeta Jones.
Famously single, George blames his lack of commitment to relationships on his workload. In the five days I spent with him in Canada, I worked out that he probably gets a maximum of seven hours to himself a day, including sleep. 'I really do believe that there's a period of time when you can actually make your mark. I can only say it as a man; I can't speak for women. And there's no better time for me than right now. This is my shot. And I understand how unkind and unfair it is not to be available.' I ask whether this is a result of having parents who by his own admission were workaholics. 'They still are. Dad is 67 and he gets up at 3.30am and goes to work on a radio show. When I was young he worked five full-time jobs at once. There's a great photograph of him from that time with his fingers in five pies.'
He says the latter with immense pride, but I can't help thinking it must have been hard to be his father's son. 'Well, it's a little more fair to do it the way I'm doing it in a sense, but it also comes from my own experience of being in relationships. Celine [Celine Balitran a french waitress whom he met in Paris] and I were together for three years. She was a really nice girl; wanted nothing more than was normal. Just to go out a few times and go to dinner. And I couldn't do it. I was doing a full-time television show and simultaneously I did eight feature films. That requires that you work non-stop. Throw in the element of being famous, which means that when I finish work on the set all these other people demand my attention. What I really needed was to go home and have six hours of rest, six hours where I didn't have to entertain. Right now I'm working 16 hours a day. I'm just not available for dating.' Dammit.
His famous bet with Nicole Kidman and Michelle Pfeiffer, both of whom put $10,000 on him being married and a father by 40, has come and gone. (Nicole actually sent him the cheque on his birthday. George returned it offering her double or quits on his 50th.) While he may have lived to regret the statement he made in a TV interview vowing he would never marry again or have children [he was married to Talia Balsam from 1989 to 1992], it appears his sentiments haven't changed. 'I made that statement eight years ago and I've had to deal with it ever since. It was just how I felt then and I still feel it now. I don't know that I'd be a great dad. It's not something that you can half-ass do. If you fuck up there, you've fucked up generations. I don't want to be responsible for someone else that I could hurt.'
I wonder if he worries about women wanting to date George Clooney the star. 'When I was 19 years old, women wanted to sleep with me because I was a funny kid, or because I was an athlete or even because I was Nick Clooney's son. There are always reasons you're attractive to someone and they're all make-ups of your personality. It's not that I lead this oblivious life where I think I've got such a great personality that people want to spend time with me. If someone has a poster of you or asks for your autograph, clearly you can't take them out on a date. It's not that interesting if someone is just interested in you.' Neither is he oblivious to the horrors of bachelorhood post 40. 'My worst nightmare is being one of those old Lotharios. I was in a bar a month ago with my friend Waldo and I looked over to him at one point and said, "You know we've become those 40-year-old guys that we used to look at and say, 'Isn't it sad?' Don't let me be that guy."'
The mask of the funny prankster that George presents in public is beginning to slip. I'm reminded of another occasion when I visited Clooney in Los Angeles at his 'eight-bedroom mansion', as the tabloids like to describe it. More like a rambling family home, it normally houses George, two English bulldogs, a pig and a friend or two between apartments or relationships. For once, none of the bedrooms was occupied. Not even George's. Instead, he had taken up residence in his walk-in closet, where he'd laid down cushions and a duvet. His excuse: 'I was having trouble sleeping at the time. All the bedrooms are too light.' So get some thicker curtains, George. I'm not convinced and the image continues to haunt me. The Hollywood icon seeking refuge in the smallest, windowless, phone-free room in the house. He refutes my attempt at analysis. 'If you didn't know my life I guess it would seem a bit Howard Hugh-ish and freaky.' Frankly, yes.
The longer into the night we talk, the more serious he becomes. It's 1am and a conversation about Three Kings and its comedic take on the ridiculousness of America's involvement in the Gulf War segues into a discussion about America post 11 September. His view on his country is refreshing. 'We live on an island. A giant big fucking island. We don't understand that people actually get mad at us. We still think of ourselves in terms of WW2. It's not uncommon for us to say to France, "Hey, you'd still be speaking German if it wasn't for us." The problem is the world has changed and our involvement in these tiny little places is different than it was in 1941. It was a lot clearer then. We were attacked.'
George was instrumental in setting up the 911 fund, a TV telethon that gathered together an awesome display of Hollywood's finest to raise money for the victims of 11 September. At present, he's locked in a battle with Fox News Network host Bill O'Reilly, who declared the fund a fraud while on a publicity tour for his latest book. George's letter, clearly refuting O'Reilly's accusations, was printed on the front page of the Washington Post. During our interview he digs it out and reads it to me proudly. Clooney's enthusiasm for his correspondence frequently dwarfs his enthusiasm for his own films. At the premiere of the Coen brothers' movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? in LA, as we sat in our seats waiting for the movie to begin, he did the same thing, pulling from his pocket the letter he wrote to the editor of Elle magazine, rebuking her for a feature about a journalist's experiences dating an anonymous movie star. His issue was with the headline 'Don't Date George Clooney' when the star in question quite clearly wasn't Clooney. Elle later printed an apology.
I wonder if devoting all his energies to the movie business doesn't seem a little trivial. He disagrees. 'I don't think movies are trivial. From the time I was a little kid, they took me out of tiny rooms in Augusta, Kentucky and let me dream and believe in things better than where my world was. They're exactly what they're designed to be in general which is two hours of escape when things aren't going well. Look at the history of films and watch when we did our best. The Great Depression, World War Two. People want that escape and I don't think it's trivial. Watching Inherit the Wind changed my life. I was always questioning things at school and getting in trouble for it. Then along comes this film that says if the only thing that separates man and birds is our ability to reason, then how can you ask us not to use it? I remember seeing Dead Poets Society and walking out of the theatre thinking, "I've got to do something with my life."'
Certainly he seems to have achieved his goal. In five years, he's transformed himself from TV pin-up to one of the most important players in the movie industry, both behind and in front of the camera. 'I'm much more successful then I ever thought I'd be. Much more than I could have ever dreamed. It's all icing on the cake from here on in. If I get hit by a truck tomorrow, everybody would go "Crammed a lot into 40 years." But I still don't feel that where I am now is a success. I think that the minute you feel you've truly succeeded you should stop. It doesn't mean you can't have victories. There are moments, satellite moments in your life when you go OK, good, I can bank that as a success. But what I'm interested in now is making great movies. The early 70s had some of the best movies in the history of films. Look at Lumet, Pakula, Scorsese, Coppola. That's what I grew on. If I am in the position now of being able to force-feed people on my taste, I want it to be movies like those. If I'm wrong, at least I'll die by my own taste. Which I'm much happier with than making films like Batman & Robin. '
My eyes have drifted to a strip of bare belly that's revealed itself between George's T-shirt and his trousers, as he lies on the floor. I'm trying hard to be professional, but sitting in Clooney's bedroom at 2am I admit I've lost it. Forget dating him; I'm on the verge of sliding onto one knee and begging him to marry me. We've talked way into the night and, conscious of his schedule the next day, I draw the interview to a close, sure that he'll want to get some sleep. Instead, he spends another hour chatting about the Bill O'Reilly battle and showing me a videotaped interview with his current nemesis. As I leave his room he thrusts a copy of the script of Solaris, his next acting/producing project, into my hand to read. Despite the hour, I can't put it down. A haunting minimalist look at love and our relationship to God, I suspect it may be the one to earn him an Academy nomination.
Next day as I sit in my room checking my tapes the phone rings. It's George, who's been on the go since 8.30am. He's calling from some godforsaken location, head to toe in thermals in sub-zero temperatures. He wants to make sure I'm not bored. I'm left fantasising about what he'd do if I said yes.
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always interesting to read
always interesting to read
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That lady surely can write!
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I certainly would have remembered reading this one. It's great! Thanks Katie!!
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Thanks Katie . I remembered the article and enjoyed reading it once again .
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I love this article. Said alot about the man and his energy - and angst at times.............
party animal - not!
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