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Another oldie, but a good read:
By Bernard Weinraub
From Playboy website (oh, the horror!)
On Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, George Clooney walks into the decidedly untrendy Du-Pars, a restaurant chain known for its homemade pies. The cashier brightens and calls out, "Hey George."
As Clooney drives past the security checkpoint at the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, the guard grins and waves him in. At the studio commissary, the waiter jokes with him and the fellow selling newspapers and magazines gives him a thumbs-up. Clooney climbs behind the wheel of a golf cart and drives speedily from the commissary to his company, Maysville Pictures, waving to an extraordinary number of people walking past-technicians, actors, executives. On every television and film set, Clooney hangs out with the crew and plays basketball with them. He even knows their first names. On the set of ER, when separate lunch facilities were set up for the A-list—the stars, producers and directors—and the B-list—the crew—Clooney led a revolt. He embarrassed the producers into merging the lunch facilities. If anything outrages Clooney it's when someone throws his weight around. It has led him into a few fistfights over the years and to nearly strangle David Russell, director of Three Kings.
Before the visibility that came from ER, Clooney was himself an underdog, a working television and film actor whose career seemed stalled. He had worked on such television shows as The Facts of Life ("I wasn't very good"), Roseanne ("a nightmare") and Baby Talk ("embarrassing"). There were also about 15 failed pilots. He acted in a series of mediocre and largely forgettable films such as Red Surf, Return to Horror High and Return of the Killer Tomatoes.
ER changed all that. For five seasons, he played Doug Ross, the heartthrob pediatrician. Clooney, who is shrewd about his career, says he knew from the outset that ER would serve as his break. He fought to get on the show after he read the script for the pilot, pleading with John Wells, the show's executive producer, "Don't read anyone else. This is my part."
Leslie Moonves, former president of Warner Bros. Television and current president of CBS Entertainment, said, "Even before ER, Warner Bros. had him under contract because we felt it was only a question of time before he popped and became a major television star. There is, with George, this match of personality and talent. A lot of times you get one or the other, not both. With George, what you see on-screen is what you see offscreen. He can be a huge movie star."
His film career has suffered numerous lows, from the disappointing One Fine Day, opposite Michelle Pfeiffer, to the lackluster The Peacemaker, opposite Nicole Kidman, and the critically drubbed Batman and Robin. The more recent films Out of Sight and Three Kings won critics' praise for Clooney's performances, though box office receipts fell below expectations.
Despite this uneven record, Clooney earns as much as $10 million to star in a film. That places him just below stars like Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford. He hopes that will improve with the release of The Perfect Storm, which is based on the Sebastian Junger best-seller. The book is the story of fishermen in New England who battled a rare convergence of lethal storms in 1991. Clooney won the role only after Mel Gibson and other top stars passed on it.
Clooney grew up in the small Kentucky town of Augusta, 40 miles upriver from Cincinnati, where his father, Nick—brother of singer Rosemary Clooney and now host on the American Movie Classics channel—presided over a local talk show and became a popular news anchor. His mother, Nina, was a beauty queen. He also has an older sister, Ada, an accountant.
Clooney enrolled in Northern Kentucky University but spent more time partying than studying. He dropped out after his cousin and friend, Miguel Ferrer, son of Rosemary and her husband, Jose Ferrer, came to Lexington, Kentucky to make a low-budget film about horse racing. On the basis of his good looks, Clooney was given a small role.
In 1982, with $300 in his pocket, Clooney drove to Los Angeles to try acting. He arrived at the doorstep of his aunt, Rosemary Clooney, in Beverly Hills, working as her chauffeur while living in the guest quarters. He took acting lessons, did construction work, sold women's shoes and, of course, partied.
Clooney was married for three years in the late Eighties to actress Talia Balsam. Most recently, he had a three-year relationship with Celine Balitran, a French law student and model. In the days before ER, he lived with Kelly Preston, now the wife of John Travolta. Several years ago, the actor faced down paparazzi and inspired numerous celebrities—ranging from Steven Spielberg to Tom Cruise and Madonna—to join him in threatening to boycott Entertainment Tonight because another Paramount show, Hard Copy, was invading the privacy of celebrities. The action by Clooney proved effective and Hard Copy backed off some of its more invasive coverage.
Soon after Clooney completed The Perfect Storm, New York Times entertainment reporter Bernard Weinraub (who previously interviewed Clint Eastwood and Ben Affleck for Playboy) met with Clooney for an interview. Here is Weinraub’s report:
"Clooney was friendly, talkative and without a shred of pretense. He spoke with remarkable candor about his career, the mistakes he's made and how he sees himself. But beneath his good-guy exterior, one couldn't help sensing that Clooney is intensely ambitious. I also noticed that he has far more knowledge about the business side of movies and television than most actors do. As he told the Los Angeles Times in 1996, 'When you've failed enough, you learn how to be good at the business. I'm probably better at the business side than I am at acting.'
"His Los Angeles home, which is behind a modest wooden sign that reads Casa de Clooney, is on three and a half acres and is protected by an electronic fence. It's a bit ramshackle, especially for a movie star. When I first met Clooney a few years ago at the house, I did a double take when I noticed a 150-pound pig snoring not too far from the pool and the tennis and basketball courts. The pig is still there.The home is now used as a crashpad for Clooney's friends, and every weekend, the actor and his buddies play basketball, watch movies and have a barbecue with their wives and girlfriends.
"Referring to the home, Clooney said, 'I was pushing it financially when I bought it. But now. . . .' He shrugged and smiled. Showing a gift for understatement, he said, 'I can afford the house. I got very lucky.'"
PLAYBOY: Are we leaping to a conclusion to assume that you’ve got it made when it comes to women? What’s it like to be single and George Clooney?
CLOONEY: I had a much easier time before this.
PLAYBOY: Before you were a star?
CLOONEY: Before. Here’s an example of how it works. I had never been to the Playboy Mansion and really wanted to go. When I finally did, it was for one of the Mansion’s pajama parties, where I was hanging out with DiCaprio and Jim Carrey. We were all sort of protecting one another; you don’t want to seem like you’re desperate. I grew up with the magazine, so naturally I wanted to see the Grotto. When I got there, I was cornered by about 15 people, most of them pretty girls. But it’s not like you might imagine. Instead, they all wanted to have their picture taken with me. When that happens, it’s like you’re a cardboard cutout for people to stand next to. It’s not like talking to a girl and getting to know her. At the height of it, when there were people pulling at me from every direction and it was at its most embarrassing, some guy comes over and says, “Look at this shit, man! You got it made! Chicks are all over you." ” Meanwhile, I was thinking how much easier it was before this.
PLAYBOY: Was it really easier?
CLOONEY: Then it was just about being a guy talking to a girl and all the other stuff that’s so interesting about dating—that dance you do. You see somebody at a party and lock eyes and eventually get closer and closer to each other. Somehow you find a way to talk and maybe—all that stuff. That’s a turn-on. That has been taken away from me.
PLAYBOY: Like the guy at the Grotto, many men we know probably won’t feel too sorry for you.
CLOONEY: I know, and I’m not complaining, but it’s not what it appears to be. Yes, I can get their attention, but I could get their attention even if I were Raymond Burr. They recognize anyone who is famous. If you were to ask what I miss about the anonymity that I used to have, it’s that experience, that slow and natural getting to know someone—that kind of electricity.
PLAYBOY: But we imagine that few women ever reject George Clooney.
CLOONEY: It’s not the way people think. I’m different from a lot of guys. I don’t go up to girls I don’t know in a bar and ask them to dance. I never have. Never. I’ve never gone up to somebody I don’t know and asked them out. I just won’t do it and never did, because I never wanted to take my ego, as fragile as any guy’s, and hand it to some girl so that she could demolish it. To me it has always seemed like a stupid thing to do. So in terms of, like, “Hey, you want to go out?” I don’t do it.
PLAYBOY: Are there places you can go where you’re treated like a normal guy?
CLOONEY: In Los Angeles there are a million famous people around, so you are left alone. They see Mel Gibson at the grocery store, so they’re not impressed with me. But if you go to any other town and walk into a bar, you can never have a normal experience. Once people have a few drinks, they get brave. All of a sudden there is a crowd of guys going, “Dude!” and hanging on to me. They want to buy me a drink and sit down and talk. But I’ve got my friends, see. I don’t want a bunch of guys coming over to buy me drinks. The funny part is what I end up doing: I'm polite and I sit and talk to them. I wind up doing the things a girl would do in the same sort of situation at a bar.
PLAYBOY: The attention must have an impact on you. To put it bluntly, how do you avoid turning into an asshole?
CLOONEY: I’ve seen people become assholes who weren’t assholes when I met them, that’s for sure. But I have several advantages over lots of people who get famous. I didn't get famous until I was 33. Also, I’ve seen how temperamental an audience can be, how you can be famous one day and then lose it the next. I saw it close-up with my aunt, Rosemary. She was a huge star and then it all went away. What happened? She was still as good a singer as she ever was, but things changed. It had nothing to do with her talent. She didn’t handle it well. Now she has made a great comeback, but she was angry and hurt and messed up for a long time. When she was 19 years old, everybody told her she was brilliant. But when she was 28, suddenly it was over. Rock and roll came in and pop music went out. Eight out of ten of the top singers were women, but then they all were men. So things changed. But because she believed them when they said she was brilliant when she was 19, she also believed them when they said she was terrible when she was 28. Of course, neither was true. So I learned from that.
PLAYBOY: What did you learn?
CLOONEY: Not to listen to what they say about you. I saw it pretty early on. I was doing a pilot for CBS. I did a reading around a table and everybody was laughing and Barbara Corday, the CBS executive, came over and said, “You're a genius! There’s Robin Williams and there’s you. You’re lightning in a bottle.” A week later, they fired all the other actors and rewrote the script and fired the director. Corday told me, “We want to bring an acting teacher in for you.” I said, “Does that mean I’m no longer lightning in a bottle?” Had I believed the first remark, the second one would have devastated me. But I knew better. So Rosemary’s experience helped me keep it in perspective. The truth is, most actors I know aren’t assholes. They often get that reputation because people around them are assholes. The people around you can treat people like shit and pretend they are doing it to protect you. Once, my assistant was rude to someone. I said, “You know, you represent me when you talk to people.” So you have to be careful. And that’s not to say people don’t treat people badly in this business. I once had lunch with a movie producer who was completely dismissive and rude to our waiter, which told me all I needed to know about him. I know that someone like that will be nice to me right now—I'm in a position where he wants to be nice to me, since he needs something from me. But what happens if I’m not in that position anymore? If he treats everyone else dismissively, he’ll treat me dismissively. He isn’t the type of person you want to work with.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any people in your life who would tell you, “Hey, cut the shit, George,” if you needed it?
CLOONEY: I’ve got eight buddies, the boys. They’ve been my friends for 20 years. Every Sunday we ride motorcycles and play basketball together. For Christmas this year, the boys came out and there were new bikes sitting out there—new Indians for each of them. The best part of having money is sharing it with your buddies. I lived on their closet floors when I was broke and they had money and were working. They’ve been through this whole ride with me. So now, when someone comes up to me and says, “You’re so brilliant,” they look over at me and go, “Man, can you believe that shit?”
PLAYBOY: Are they actors?
CLOONEY: Two thirds of them are. I met them when I first moved out here, in acting classes. Richard Kind, who’s on Spin City, is one of them. When his father died of a heart attack, Richard called and said he was going to Trenton for the funeral. All the boys were immersed in work at that point and had no time, but I called them up and told them what happened. There were no commercial flights available, so I chartered a jet. We didn’t tell him we were coming. We sat in the back of the synagogue and Richard was in front with his back to us. When he got up and started to talk about his dad, he saw us and started sobbing. He said, “I'm sorry, but I just saw my best friends back there.” There was this amazing feeling that every one of these guys had dropped everything just to be there. That’s what it’s like. People like that keep you sane.
PLAYBOY: Have you noticed a difference between movie and television stardom?
CLOONEY: When you’re on an immensely successful show, like ER, you’re more famous than movie stars. People think they know you personally. It’s natural: You’ve been in their homes. When people see Mel Gibson, they whisper, “That’s Mel Gibson!” With me, they go, “George!” and then come over and put their arm around me. It’s because they feel as if they know me. They feel as if they own you.
PLAYBOY: When ER took off, did good movie roles automatically follow?
CLOONEY: When I first started out in television, I took any job that came along. It was, Let’s just get a job, any job. I fought to get ER and I got it and it changed my life. Then, when I started doing movies, the same thing happened. At first, I did anything that I could get. But I learned. In TV, I learned to focus on the script, but I didn’t apply that lesson to movies. But the cliche is true: You can take a good script and make a bad movie. But you can’t take a bad script and make a good movie.
PLAYBOY: Was there a turning point when you learned to be more selective?
CLOONEY: It came after Batman. I was out promoting it. When you have to go and sell a movie you know isn't very good, it's a trick. You get paid pretty well to do these things and it’s your job to sell them, but it’s difficult when you don’t like the movie. You learn to say things that might help but that aren’t lies: “It’s the biggest movie I’ve ever seen.” “It’s got great effects.” “Arnold’s a blast to work with.” But it is also embarrassing. So I promoted Batman, but then I said to myself, “I’ve now got money in the bank and there’s no reason to do any movie unless it’s one that I really want to do.” With money in the bank, it is easy to be more selective, to make smarter decisions.
PLAYBOY: Why do you think Batman was such a disaster?
CLOONEY: It was just too big. By the time we made our Batman movie, they were just about selling toys. They got $25 million from Taco Bell before we started shooting. It’s a moneymaking machine. The problem is, they needed to shake it up, change the entire format, for future Batman movies. They say I was a bad Batman, that it was my fault. They say I buried the franchise. But the truth is, it was a $150 million film and they paid me $10 million. I was pretty intimidated in that world. It was a big fucking project. Other actors in a situation like that, ones with more experience doing that type of movie, might have tried to get something better out of it. It wasn't well written in the first place. Someone with more experience might have pushed for a better script. But the truth of the matter is, I did the best I could in the situation I was given. I could whine about it, but when people say, “You sucked as Batman,” I go, “Oh, I sucked as Batman.” You take it on the chin. Look: I’ve also been in Return of the Killer Tomatoes, so I’ve been in worse films. Bring 'em on. It's all part of a career.
PLAYBOY: How about when critics say it?
CLOONEY: There’s one reviewer for USA Today who says the same thing whenever one of my movies comes out. When Out of Sight came out, she goes, “Steven Soderbergh should be applauded for yanking a performance out of George Clooney.”When Three Kings came out she goes, David Russell should be applauded for pulling a performance out of George Clooney.The only thing you can really do is sort of be OK with yourself and just say, “I’m doing the best I can.”
PLAYBOY: A lot of people in the industry felt Three Kings was a risky project. Did that bother you?
CLOONEY: You can do riskier films as long as you’re willing to dump your price. Early on, I was told they couldn’t make Three Kings for the kind of money the studio had for the film. I said they could cut my money down by two thirds. It was just about doing a damn good movie. You have to gamble on yourself. You take a percentage of the backend, so if the movie makes money, you make money. If it doesn’t, you make the movie anyway.
PLAYBOY: What made you want to do that movie?
CLOONEY: David Russell wrote as good a script as I’ve ever read. If ought to get it. He wanted a lot of other actors before me. They went to Mel and to Nic Cage. I wanted to work on this movie. David is in many ways a genius, though I learned that he’s not a genius when it comes to people skills.
PLAYBOY: Did you learn about that the hard way?
CLOONEY: I did. He yelled and screamed at people all day, from day one.
PLAYBOY: Did he yell at you?
CLOONEY: At me often and at someone daily. He’d throw off his headset and scream, “Today the sound department fucked me!” For me, it came to a head a couple of times. Once, he went after a camera-car driver who I knew from high school. I had nothing to do with his getting his job, but David began yelling and screaming at him and embarrassing him in front of everybody. I told him, “You can yell and scream and even fire him, but what you can’t do is humiliate him in front of people. Not on my set, if I have any say about it.” Another time he screamed at the script supervisor and made her cry. I wrote him a letter and said, “Look, I don’t know why you do this. You’ve written a brilliant script, and I think you’re a good director. Let’s not have a set like this. I don’t like it and I don’t work well like this.” I'm not one of those actors who likes things in disarray. He read the letter and we started all over again. But later, we were three weeks behind schedule, which puts some pressure on you, and he was in a bad mood. These army kids, who were working as extras, were supposed to tackle us. There were three helicopters in the air and 300 extras on the set. It was a tense time, and a little dangerous, too. David wanted one of the extras to grab me and throw me down. This kid was a little nervous about it, and David walked up to him and grabbed him. He pushed him onto the ground. He kicked him and screamed, “Do you want to be in this fucking movie? Then throw him to the fucking ground!” The second assistant director came up and said, “You don't do that, David. You want them to do something, you tell me.” David grabbed his walkie-talkie and threw it on the ground. He screamed, “Shut the fuck up! Fuck you,” and the AD goes, “Fuck you! I quit.” He walked off.It was a dangerous time. I’d sent him this letter. I was trying to make things work, so I went over and put my arm around him. I said, "David, it’s a big day. But you can’t shove, push or humiliate people who aren’t allowed to defend themselves.” He turned on me and said, “Why don’t you just worry about your fucked-up act? You’re being a dick. You want to hit me? You want to hit me? Come on, pussy, hit me.” I’m looking at him like he’s out of his mind. Then he started banging me on the head with his head. He goes, “Hit me, you pussy. Hit me.” Then he got me by the throat and I went nuts. Waldo, my buddy, one of the boys, grabbed me by the waist to get me to let go of him. I had him by the throat. I was going to kill him. Kill him. Finally, he apologized, but I walked away. By then the Warner Bros. guys were freaking out. David sort of pouted through the rest of the shoot and we finished the movie, but it was truly, without exception, the worst experience of my life.
PLAYBOY: Did you resolve things? Would you ever work with him again?
CLOONEY: Life’s too short.
PLAYBOY: You followed Three Kings with a live version of the movie Fail Safe for television. With a live performance, you could have fallen on your ass. Why did you do it?
CLOONEY: People like live TV because of the thrill of the chance of seeing you screw up. It’s like watching the Indy 500 and waiting for a crash. But I like sticking my neck out. It can get snapped, but it’s a great feeling when you get through it. That’s the exciting part. The unpredictability. If television’s going to succeed now, you have to stick your neck out. You can’t say the word fuck on TV. You can’t say shit. You can’t show nudity. So The Sopranos is always going to be on, because they’re going to take it further. The Sopranos is far superior to anything else on television. How does Law and Order compete with that?
PLAYBOY: The Perfect Storm will be coming out shortly. What led to that choice?
CLOONEY: I read the book and knew that it could be a great action film, as well as a great American tragedy. I'm under contract with Warner Bros., so when they got the rights, I told them I wanted to do it. They kept talking about Mel Gibson playing the part, but I finally got it when Mel fell out.
PLAYBOY: Do you feel less than honored to be a producer’s or director’s second choice for a role?
CLOONEY: Not at all, since I’m a businessman. If I were a producer or director trying to put a project together, I’d go with Mel Gibson, too. If Harrison Ford had been in Out of Sight or Mel Gibson was in Three Kings, those movies would have made more money. It’s a reasonable consideration. I used to sell ladies’ shoes and men’s suits. I learned that if you just keep putting out a good product, customers will find their way to you eventually.
PLAYBOY: The wild storms in Perfect Storm look very realistic. How were those shot?
CLOONEY: Some of the movie was shot on a sound stage, but a lot was shot in a very real boat off Dana Point in rough seas. Everyone was throwing up, though it didn’t get to me. We got the shit kicked out of us out there. For one scene, I was yelling at Mark Wahlberg and in between words in the take he would turn around and go, Aaaarrrh.
PLAYBOY: Are there any movie roles that you would have died to have gotten?
CLOONEY: The part that Brad Pitt played in Thelma and Louise. It was down to three actors, including Brad and me, at one time. I read about five times with Geena Davis. I thought I was going to get it, but Brad did. The part catapulted him. I didn’t watch the movie for a couple of years and then rented it on tape one night. I watched it and, of course, he’s perfect in the role, better than I would have been.
PLAYBOY: Of the movies that you’ve been in, has one been the most personally satisfying?
CLOONEY: Out of Sight. Steven Soderbergh is as good a director as I have ever worked with. The script was perfect. It didn’t do well, but that wasn’t our fault. We did everything right.
PLAYBOY: Why didn’t it make it at the box office?
CLOONEY: It was badly marketed. It came out at a bad time—in the summer, and it isn’t a summer film. Timing is important. Three Kings made $60 million, which is great, but it could have made more. They didn’t know how to market it. Is it a war film? Is it an action film?
PLAYBOY: Why did you get into acting?
CLOONEY: In college, I had studied broadcasting and was no good at it. My father had been an anchorman who was greatly respected. He was really good at what he did, and I wasn't nearly as good as my father. From the beginning, I was being compared with him. It’s the George W. Bush thing. So, if I wasn't going to do that, then what? I couldn’t sing; Rosemary had that covered in our family. Acting was never really a consideration. But then my cousin and friend, Miguel Ferrer, who is the son of Rosemary and her husband, Jose Ferrer, came to Lexington to make a low-budget film about horse racing. They gave me a small part. It was a cheesy, awful film that never came out, but I was seduced by how attractive it was. It was something I really felt I could do.
PLAYBOY: Did you take acting in college?
CLOONEY: In college, I basically partied a lot. You gotta understand. We’re a very strict Catholic family. Curfew was at nine p.m. when I was a senior in high school. So I got out of the house and thought, Oh my God! People don’t ever really like to talk about this anymore, but there was a period of time when blow was considered OK, like it won’t hurt you at all. It was almost mainstream. All the designer drugs were OK—Quaaludes and blow. So that was the time in college for me: Drugs and chasing girls. I came from a town of 1500 people to Cincinnati. I would visit class every once in a while and stop by and go, “How’s everybody doing?” I was still a responsible kid, but I didn’t take school seriously. I had jobs. I sold men’s suits and shoes and worked in stockrooms of department stores, and I cut tobacco when it was the season. I was paying for my thing along the way. But I quit school.
PLAYBOY: What brought you out to Los Angeles?
CLOONEY: I went to LA to try to get work as an actor. Before I left, I went back to my hometown and cut tobacco to make some money. I made about $450 at $3 an hour. I put the money into my 1976 Monte Carlo. It was rusted all over and ran on only four cylinders. It drank oil the whole way out. I drove for two days straight. The car had ignition problems, so I couldn't shut it off. I left it running and slept on the side of the road for an hour and then kept going. I drove it all the way across the country until it sputtered into Beverly Hills.
PLAYBOY: Where your Aunt Rosemary lived?
CLOONEY: Yes. I did odd jobs around the house for her. I drove her around—her and Martha Raye and Helen O'Connell and Margaret Whiting. Martha Raye was the greatest. She’s a broad, that lady. She was a big drinker. I was with her in Kentucky with my Aunt Rosemary and she fell asleep on the floor in my sister’s room. When she woke up, she couldn’t find her dentures. She had hidden them in an old Easter basket underneath my sister’s bed. After that, I got a job doing construction work. I spent the first five months basically partying and doing all those stupid things you do. But I got into an acting class. I had no money, so I worked cleaning up the theater. At the time it was like $300 a month for an acting class that met twice a week, but I worked for the tuition.
PLAYBOY: What were your first professional acting jobs?
CLOONEY: My first job was a Japanese commercial for Panasonic. My first real acting job was on Riptide, for which I got my SAG card. I played a bad guy, holding three girls hostage. I didn’t have an agent, so I would call up and pretend to be an agent. I didn’t have any transportation, so I rode a 10-speed from my aunt’s house.
PLAYBOY: For an unknown actor, you didn’t have the usual problems in finding work.
CLOONEY: Well, there was a period when I couldn’t get hired. I was being very careful in auditions. Then I thought, I’m a fucking baseball player. I realized that I needed to treat acting like I treated baseball. I said, “From now on, I’m not going to wonder if I’m going to hit the ball. I’m going to knock the hell out of it.” Actors go into auditions thinking, Oh God, they’re going to hate me, they’re going to hate me. I started to come in selling confidence, not even my acting skills. The best actor never gets the job when they audition. Never. Especially in television. The guy who gets the job is somebody who comes in and delivers every day. It’s often looks more than anything. So I just changed my attitude. I thought, From here on out, I cannot lose a job. I’ll do whatever it takes. So I’d come in with a dog under my arm for some scene. I’d pull a champagne bottle and phone out of my jacket and do the scene. People were like, “What the fuck is that?” I just thought, Fuck it. It’s where I’m going to hit the ball, not if I’m going to hit it.
PLAYBOY: Apparently, it worked.
CLOONEY: Yeah, and I worked my way up through the television ranks. I kept getting series: Facts of Life, Roseanne, Sunset Beat and Sisters. But it was ER that changed my life. The timing was good because I was older. There’s always a little more weight added to you as you get older. Maybe you’re taken a little more seriously. At 31, I still looked like a young man. Now, though I'm only two years older than Brad Pitt, I look a lot older, which used to greatly frustrate me. It doesn’t anymore. As I got older, I saw that it separated me from Tom Cruise and Brad. I don’t have to fit into someone else’s category and just get trounced by Tom and Brad. I could be in my own category.
PLAYBOY: You’ve described your late 20s as a difficult time for you.
CLOONEY: First of all, my body changed. I always had been able to eat whatever I wanted and do whatever I wanted, and all of a sudden I put on 25 pounds and didn’t even know it. I went from 155 or 160 to 185 overnight. Plus, I was living with someone and felt sort of cornered. I was on a show, Roseanne, that wasn’t much fun. They didn’t want me there in the first place, but they were stuck with me because I was under contract. I had a bleeding ulcer. I was in a house I couldn’t afford.
PLAYBOY: What did you do?
CLOONEY: I know this sounds sort of putzy, but I went to this herbal guy. He’s not a Mr. Hocus-Pocus, which it sounds like, but I was in unbelievable pain. The guy said that a lot of ulcers are viral. He gave me these things to take and I thought, Screw it, I’ll try it. And it worked. I still take them, 12 years later. And something else happened. I was really close to my Uncle George, who started off as Rosemary’s manager on the road. He was a B-17 bomber pilot in World War II, a great, beloved character. But he was also a drunk and a mean one. He got lung cancer and was dying. I was with him through his last hours. I was sitting there holding his hands, thinking, It’s so stupid that he’s dying like this. He looked at me and said, “What a waste.” He kept saying, “What a waste.” In my world, meanwhile, everything seemed insurmountable. But I went home and thought, Let’s change things. It’s time. I quit the job and sold the house and ended the relationship. I didn’t want to wake up at 65 and say, “What a waste.”
PLAYBOY: You were married for three years. Since then, you have said that you blame yourself for the break-up.
CLOONEY: When you are married to someone who becomes famous, everytime you turn around you have to see your ex on magazines or TV. It seemed unfair. So when someone asks me about the marriage, the fair thing for me to do is to say that I take responsibility for it. It isn’t fair that she should have to address anything.
PLAYBOY: Are you still friendly with your ex-wife?
CLOONEY: I saw her about four or five months ago. She’s an actress. She was going to have a baby and she looked really happy. We talked for half an hour, but it was awkward. It’s strange to see someone you were married to and is a stranger nine years later. But it was nice to see her.
PLAYBOY: Your friends say that your real love is your work.
CLOONEY: Yes. I’ve made it difficult to have a relationship, because my first love is work and my second love is my friends. That will change, I’m sure. There will be someone somewhere along the way who will knock me for a loop again and I’ll be willing to sacrifice everything. But for now, I’m driven by work. A lot of people rely on me now. I can’t just take off to the south of France for a week with some girl and have a great time. I feel the responsibility and think it would be wrong not to.
PLAYBOY: Are you seeing anybody now?
CLOONEY: Yeah, a little bit. I've been seeing a girl. You know, it's weird. I go through these weird phases in my life. Celine and I broke up in April of last year. We’d been going out for almost three years. It probably wasn’t the time to be going out with anybody, but I did recently start dating someone. But I work 12-hour days even when I don't work 12-hour days. So that’s still my focus right now.
PLAYBOY: Your home life is decidedly nondomestic, sort of a modern Animal House.
CLOONEY: People have written about the house as if it were indeed a frat house, the He-Man Woman Haters’ Club. But in truth, we have a case of beer that’s sat in there for a year. We have joked that we should make it another Playboy Mansion, but we don’t have the balls to do it. Most of the time I live in the house by myself. But every Sunday, the boys do come over. We get up at seven in the morning and take the motorcycles out for about a four-hour ride. Then we play basketball from noon to four, and after that we hit the spa. For dinner, we grill steaks with all the wives and girlfriends and their kids and it’s a big party. It’s a Playboy Mansion but without all the sex. Maybe that’s something I ought to change.
PLAYBOY: And that animal we saw running around your house—it’s a pig, right?
CLOONEY: It is.
PLAYBOY: Why a pig?
CLOONEY: He was a little tiny baby when I was doing Roseanne. I saw him and said, “I want that.” I had a Harley then. I would put him in the saddle bags and ride. Now he’s as big as the bike. I could ride him to work. Man, I love him, but you learn as you get older to be more careful about impulse buying.
PLAYBOY: Whether it’s a film or a television set, how do you deal with the opportunities that present themselves for on-set romances?
CLOONEY: They’re dangerous. They can become a nightmare. If you're doing series television and you have to go to work together every day for nine months, what happens when you break up? What the hell do you do? At least in a movie, it’s four or five months and you’re gone.
PLAYBOY: Is the temptation there, however? Does it get lonely without a permanent girl when you’re on the set?
CLOONEY: Sure. But I've been as miserable in a relationship that should have been over as I have without one.
PLAYBOY: Is it true that Michelle Pfeiffer and Nicole Kidman each bet $10,000 with you?
CLOONEY: They bet that I would have a kid by the time I'm 40 [laughs]. I'm 39, so I have time. I told them I was going to get a vasectomy and make $20,000.
PLAYBOY: Seriously, do you think you’ll marry again and have children?
CLOONEY: I don’t think I’ll marry, at least not the way I think now. I didn’t enjoy it that much. It’s not that I didn’t love my wife, I just thought that ultimately I wasn’t that good at it.
PLAYBOY: Will Pfeiffer and Kidman lose their money? Is it unlikely that you’ll have children down the road?
CLOONEY: I think the reason to get married is if you’re having kids. You can’t take that lightly. I don’t have anything in me like most people have that says you have to reproduce. It’s not part of me. If that is selfish, it’s selfish. But what I do know is that I will not half-ass it with children. I won’t be a fairly good father. If that means not having kids, then I will not have kids. Kids are the ultimate responsibility. I have a lot of time, and things change. My mind changes, but right now I don’t have even a soft lean toward that. My dad and I were once talking about longevity. I said that I love the idea of doing movies because they will be around long after I’m gone. I said, “Maybe the movies are my children.” My dad said, “When you have children and your children have children, some element of you will continue on. It's different.” I said, “But that happens with film, doesn’t it? People can flip on your movie and watch it in 100 years.” He said, “But how many famous people do you know from 100 years ago?” The truth is, the immortality you are really trying to buy has a time limit on it. Even though you think it’s immortality, after 30 or 40 years it’s pretty much over.
PLAYBOY: What impact did your father have in terms of your personality?
CLOONEY: Everything. He still does. I still talk to him all the time. My father is the most ethical guy I know, even though his ethics have sometimes been detrimental to his career financially. Ultimately what I learned from him was that you treat people fair and that way you can be pissed off when you’re treated unfair. There’s a great fairness in my father. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have an incredibly hot temper, but I learned to value fairness and ethics over money.
PLAYBOY: Was your mother’s influence similar?
CLOONEY: My mom taught me how to be scrappy. My dad didn’t scrap; he relied on my mother to be scrappy. In fact, he sort of couldn’t function without her. My mom buys a table saw and goes out and builds a bar in the house. My dad couldn’t possibly do that. She doesn’t do it the right way, but she does it. She taught me that by example. I put in a chandelier myself this morning before I came in. I hung it up and wired it and had no real idea what I was doing. That’s like my mom. I always liked that quality. It gets you out of situations.
PLAYBOY: Did you inherit your parents’ politics?
CLOONEY: My parents were the biggest liberal Democrats. They both voted for George McGovern.
PLAYBOY: Do you share their liberal leanings? Will you support anyone in this year's presidential race?
CLOONEY: If Cuomo ran, I would give him all my money. He’s the best speaker we’ve had since Martin Luther King and JFK. As it is, I’ll vote for Gore. It’s hard because I don’t jump up and down about Gore. It’s a tough thing when the best speaker in a race is fucking Pat Buchanan, who is the devil.
PLAYBOY: What do you do when you’re not working?
CLOONEY: The things I truly enjoy are tough to do. Like going to baseball games. That’s really tough to do. I don’t want to go and sit in the groove box with a bunch of owners. I don’t want to go to the Cincinnati Reds games and sit with Marge Schott and talk about George Bush. It’s not an interest of mine. What I want to do is go sit in the good seats with a bunch of people and scream and yell and have a beer. I can’t do that much. You become part of the spectacle.
PLAYBOY: Do you worry that you—like any movie star—have a limited window of opportunity to stay on top?
CLOONEY: I’m a 39-year-old man. In the way I was raised, this is the time when you make your mark. In your 20s, you figure out what it is you’re going to be. You do a lot of different jobs. By your late 20s, you sort of have some idea of what it is. Then you spend your 30sand a lot of your 40s making your mark.
PLAYBOY: What do you do in your 50s?
CLOONEY: You spend your 50s being able to reap the benefits of the work that you’ve done.
PLAYBOY: Is acting in TV and movies a young man’s game?
CLOONEY: I’m enjoying being in the luckiest acting category there is, at least for now. I’m a 39-year-old white man in an industry that seems to be giving the actors in that category the biggest chunk of the pie. There’s nothing right about that. I’m not celebrating it as if I think that’s the way it should be. But that’s where I am and that’s what it is. The truth is that 55-year-old men are still leading men, too. I don’t know that that’s what I want to be, though the one career that is great to watch is Paul Newman’s. Even though he’s the handsomest guy that ever lived and is always a leading man, he approaches his work as if he were a character actor. That’s the way you’re going to survive. Now, how many of those guys really are there? Not many.
PLAYBOY: But some of these guys—Paul Newman notwithstanding—seem desperate to stay 38. Actresses are particularly affected by aging.
CLOONEY: It happens with women quicker because it’s easier to see. People who make films are already looking around for the next 27-year-old that they can schtup. They’re saying, “This older actress is now a mother figure and not a sexual figure anymore. I'm going to go look for a sexual figure.” It always comes down to fucking in a weird way.
CLOONEY: I’ve been in meetings with a head of a studio who I suppose will have to remain nameless. We were talking about an actress who is arguably one of the best actresses ever. She was interested in working on this project with us and the head of the studio says, “Well, I wouldn't fuck her.” And I go, “Well, she wouldn’t fuck you! Fuck you!” Even though the role had no sex in it and there was no sexual tension, it came down to fucking. It’s all about that. If you look at rock stars who have survived over 20 or 30 years, they stayed thin and sort of sexual in a weird way. The Stones, Bowie. They still look good. The guys who kind of got fat get a little sad. It happens with leading men, too. The secret to me is you have to look your age. But you have to look the best you can at your age. You don’t want to try to look younger, because you’ll look wrong. You dye your hair, you look wrong. You wear a bad toupee, you look wrong. You wear makeup to hide things, you get your eyes done, you look wrong. It happens all the time. I’m not interesting in playing that game.
PLAYBOY: You seem to enjoy being a movie star, but you also want to be seen as a normal guy. Can you have it both ways?
CLOONEY: I love Spencer Tracy. Love him. He’s a hero of mine. I heard he never wore makeup, so I’ve never worn makeup, ever. I won’t put it on in any movie. I’m dark complexioned, so I can get away with it. I cut my own hair. It’s sort of still being scrappy. It makes you feel like a guy still. I still can take my motorcycle apart and put it back together again. It keeps you feeling like you’re still a guy. You have to fight for that. What happens when you’re famous is that you get a flat tire and come back and your assistants have fixed it for you. You’ll come into a bar and it’s really fun and exciting and a guy comes over and says, “Mr. Clooney, come with us,” and they take you to a private room in the back. You’re thinking, I don't want to be in here. I want to be out there. What the fuck am I doing in here? So you have to fight it as much as you can. It’s possible to be a guy with your friends. You get on your motorcycles, you head out on the road. It’s as good as it gets.
- Clooney superfan
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This is such an interesting interview! George was so open about a lot of things... very fascinating.
- Getting serious about George
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these are the interviews I miss. He really needs to start doing them again.
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