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Happy To Be One Of The Boys
A Battered George Clooney Depends On His Friends To Be His Anchor
December 04, 2005|By RON DICKER; Special to The Chronicle
NEW YORK — Celine Balitran arrived and left. So did Lisa Snowden. And many before that in George Clooney's revolving door of bachelorhood.
The real loves in Clooney's life are ... Richard ... and Thom. They are among a group of nine committed souls more likely to knock you out with their aftershave than their knack for matching curtains to the china.
Clooney calls them ``the boys,'' and they have been his rock, his Sunday barbecue for longer than he has been a movie star.
``The thing I'm most proud of in my life is this group of friends,'' he says. ``It's not some sort of groovy clique. We're real good friends. After 25 years together, there's this incredible ease to it.''
Clooney has needed his friends lately. He feels battered from the right for his liberal views. And he feels battered on the inside by an injury he sustained during a staged beating in his new movie, ``Syriana.'' Severe headaches, the result of a ruptured spinal fluid sac, led to an operation to have his spine fused with plastic bolts.
``After six hours of surgery, I wake up, and there's all eight guys standing around,'' he says.
His chums include Richard Kind, the stage and TV character actor (``Spin City'' and ``Mad About You''); the B-movie actor Thom Mathews; and Clooney's hair stylist, Waldo Sanchez. Although everyone is successful, there is not a Brad or a Matt in the bunch. Those luminaries are his A-list associates, the ones with whom he generates headlines on location. The boys are Clooney's life blood in a profession all too eager to suck the blood out of you. While they might share his politics, the ``Ocean's 11'' star says he has encountered plenty who don't. His detractors will find plenty of ammunition in his artistic taste these days.
After chronicling journalist Edward R. Murrow's stand against McCarthyism in directing ``Good Night, and Good Luck,'' Clooney is now starring as a miserable CIA lifer in ``Syriana.''
``I'm not looking to make statements,'' he says. ``One, I'm looking for good scripts, and two, I'm asking, `What are movies that are difficult to get made that I can get made?'''
Clooney, looking trim and matinee gorgeous in a polo dress shirt and slacks in a Park Avenue hotel room, points out that both films were green-lit when he was being branded a traitor by the conservative press in the wake of his protest of the Iraq war.
The fallout has affected him more than any paparazzi encounter or tabloid falsehood. You want to call him a leftie? Go ahead.
``Dissent is not disloyalty,'' he says. ``It's the most patriotic thing.''
He figured that as long as the criticism persisted, he would use his Pepsodent power to launch socially conscious films.
``What's the worst thing that's going to happen?'' he asks. ``They're going to take away my movie-star card? I'll be fine. I can survive it. What I don't want to do is end up on the wrong side of history. I would be ashamed of myself if, 25 years from now, they looked back and said there was a group of people talking about what a bad idea going to war was, and I wasn't one of them.''
Those worrying that Clooney's activism will get in the way of his hunkiness can heave a sight of relief. He says he is ``movie-star-ish'' in his next two roles: as a journalist searching for his lost love in post-World War II Berlin in ``The Good German,'' and as a lawyer who grows a soul in ``Michael Clayton.''
``Syriana'' fits squarely into Clooney's pot-stirring oeuvre. While critical of American spying, it does not point the finger at any administration, he says. Instead it distills the intelligence failures in the Middle East of the last 60 years into two hours of a diplomatic stew destined to boil over.
``Syriana,'' directed by ``Traffic'' screenwriter Stephen Gaghan, is based on the memoirs of former CIA operative Robert Baer, who is personified in Clooney's agent Bob Barnes. Barnes stumbles through a mission while U.S. oil and government interests meddle in the power struggle between brother princes in a geyser of an Arab country.
Barnes is chubby, detested by his son, and does not beat up the terrorists who kidnap him.
``I think having gone through the last couple of years in American politics, we have less and less of a thought that it's James Bond,'' says Clooney, who packed on 30 pounds for the part. The movie opens Friday.
In fact, it was a Beirut torture scene in which Barnes is knocked backward on a chair that began Clooney's medical woes. He says he is feeling better, but not 100 percent.
Clooney begins to make headway into a plate of scrambled eggs. The barbecue at his Los Angeles home had to be canceled for this Sunday interview, but that is more the exception than the rule.
While he has received much publicity for buying a villa on Lake Cuomo and developing a Las Vegas casino (25 percent of his profit will go to African relief), Clooney spends most of his time at home in Hollywood.
To some, he is redefining what it means to be a matinee idol. He has starred in heavier films, from the space drama ``Solaris'' to his first directorial effort, ``Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,'' about a game-show host's alleged CIA activities, to his current pair of films in release. He isn't swearing off bon-bons such as ``Ocean's 11'' and its sequel, but he may finally get a nod from the Academy for his brainier choices.
Oscar talk swirls around both ``Good Night, and Good Luck'' and ``Syriana.'' Warner Bros. asked him if he would like to be nominated in the best-supporting actor category for ``Syriana.'' Clooney countered that he was lead billing, so how could he be supporting?
``I want us to have both films successful,'' he says. ``The more successful, the more people see it, the more discussion. Nominations help that. On the other hand, there's something uncomfortable about literally a campaign for an award to compare art. There's something unhappy about that.''
If Oscar were to come calling, one could imagine Clooney raising his statuette and thanking his eight friends. Group high-five, anyone?
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