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By Lesley O'Toole, Metro Life Last updated on 21 Februaray 2003
Rumours abound that 20th Century Fox weren't pleased that George Clooney spent most of his recent time in London campaigning against the war in Iraq rather than promoting the sci-fi love story Solaris.
It's also being said that Clooney really couldn't have cared less. The star was too busy telling the Mirror that 'There's no proven link between Saddam and the September 11 attacks on the US' and informing the Guardian, 'They tell us we're going to war and no one says bullshit' to worry about how his political views might affect a movie that has already rolled over and died at the American box office.
Besides, the increasing media attacks at home are probably something the star is perversely proud of. Long considered a rake, a stud and a prankster, at 41 George Clooney is finally being taken very seriously indeed.
Hence Solaris. The remake of the Russian classic may not have been a commercial success, but commercial success wasn't the point. The point was to prove that our era's Clark Gable, A-list action man and tabloid fixture had the chops to pull off esoteric material. Result - the best personal notices and worst box office of Clooney's career to date.
And, yes, the rumours are true - he had to beg his production partner, director Steven Soderbergh, for the role of the astronaut-psychologist whose dead wife (Natascha McElhone) returns to him in the dark, existential depths of outer space. Soderbergh was auditioning other names he thought more... suited to the part. Heavyweight names.
'I actually wrote Steven a letter,' Clooney is saying over drinks. We're sitting on a hotel balcony atop LA, the city of dreams sparkling below us in the sultry evening air. We've done with the small talk --his new home on Lake Como, Italy, his forthcoming cameo return to ER to honour Noah Wyle's departure, his adoration of former co-star Julia Roberts.
Clooney is unusually sombre as he continues, 'I didn't want to get face-to-face with him and have him go, "Er, I don't think so." I don't think I could have taken that.'
From any other actor this could be easily dismissed as PR pap. One look at Clooney's face tells you how much he means it. 'I think I have more in me --more characters, more range, other sides. I need challenges.
I don't need to stockpile money and have this list of really bad movies at the end of my life. You want to be at a charity retrospective when you're 70 and have it not be filled with crap movies. There's a need now to do stuff I'm proud of.' A need or an obsession? A legendary workaholic, Clooney drove himself to exhaustion directing his debut, the bitterly funny and splendidly received Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, while simultaneously producing the remarkable Fifties pastiche melodrama Far From Heaven.
'I was just trying to emulate the films I love - those great studio films from the mid-Sixties to the mid-Seventies,' Clooney says, backing away from my sincere praise. 'So all I've done is ripped off those great directors like Mike Nichols, Alan Pakula and Sidney Lumet.'
Clooney's craving for respect isn't so unusual when you consider how the first half of his professional life saw him labelled 'the poor man's Tom Selleck'. Working regularly but relegated mostly to TV, he didn't break through to mass consciousness until a certain medical drama --and even then ER's Dr Doug Ross was pin-up fodder. He can still remember living in a friend's walk-in wardrobe and sweating on a construction site between auditions. Which hurt. But not as much as seeing his boyhood ambition of becoming a professional baseball player shattered when the Cincinnati Reds turned him down.
Luckily, Clooney's background prepared him for the ups and downs of showbiz. His father, Nick Clooney, was once a famous TV journalist, and his uncle and aunt - the actor José Ferrer and singer Rosemary Clooney --knew all about the vagaries of fame. 'They were very famous in the Fifties. Then in the Sixties and Seventies they weren't. And they didn't handle it well, my aunt particularly.
I got a good lesson at an early age that fame has very little to do with you personally.' In fact, Clooney thanks God his fame came late. 'If I was 24 and getting this kind of white heat, I wouldn't have handled it well. When you're young and people tell you you're a genius, you believe them. That's the biggest mistake you can make.'
Clooney stares into the distance. I break the silence by joking that, for all his reputation as a womaniser, his most fulfilling relationships have been with his adored pot-bellied pig and directors like Soderbergh and the Coen brothers, who twisted his romantic image into bizarre pretzel shapes for O Brother, Where Art Thou? Eyebrows are raised. 'I've never analysed that, but clearly you have. I've had long relationships before, I'm just not in one right now. I have tried therapy. I've been to plenty of shrinks but this is better right here with you. And it's free! Can I just lay down here on the couch?'
I protest - but George, your sex life is legendary. He shrugs, 'I took my parents to the LA premiere of Solaris. What does that tell you?' What about Lisa Snowden? 'We dated but that was nearly two years ago. You've got to keep up! She's a great girl and a friend, though, and I talk to her a lot.' What about the rumours of a revived romance with Golden Globe winner Renee Zellweger? 'Just that.
Rumours.' Clooney sighs. 'I've been reading these great stories about my dating and thinking, "I want to do that." There are plenty of times I've been out and had fun and been busted. But it hasn't been in the last year, trust me.'
Too busy. Too busy being serious. 'Look, I now know what I want and how to get it. Celebrity? I'm using it to my advantage to get films I really want to make made. But it's still embarrassing to be in a hotel lobby like I was earlier and have people scream "George! George!" when I'm standing next to a legend like Robert Duvall. I feel like screaming back, "It's Robert Duvall, you dumb-asses!"'
George Clooney looks down on the city. Night has fallen.
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Thanks, Katie - I like this interview! I wonder if he really tried therapy like he says here.
- Getting serious about George
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Yeah, I wondered that too. It doesn't seem to be a joke of his, but it's sometimes hard to be sure.
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