Media Not bigger than Jesus

George Clooney’s star shines brighter than ever, but he’s still grounded

I’m a huge star,” George Clooney jokes through an impish grin. “I’m the last person to deny it.”

Call this faux-modesty, because that’s what it is. All for show, from a guy who displays a con-versational ease that most politicians can only dream of replicating. Clooney claims it’s his father, newscaster and recent U.S. Senate candidate Nick Clooney, who always knows the right thing to say, but the younger Clooney never seems at a loss for words, either. The only time his pithy remarks smack of inauthenticity is when he’s expected to acknowledge his own accomplishments.

George Clooney as enigmatic operative Bob Barnes in Syriana.

This Sunday, Clooney will attend his first Academy Award ceremony after refusing to participate for years. “It’s not that I turned it down,” he points out. “I just had a policy of not attending award shows unless I’ve been nominated. Maybe it’s a bit of a superstition.”

Except he’s not just nominated this time around — he’s made Academy Award history by becoming the first person to be nominated for work behind and in front of the camera on two films: Good Night, and Good Luck, a tribute to legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow’s televised duel with Red-baiter Senator Joseph McCarthy, for which he received the nod for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (along with writing partner Grant Heslov who, as the film’s producer, is up for a Best Picture Oscar too), and Syriana, for which he is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of seminal CIA operative Bob Barnes, a role that required him to pack on more than 30 pounds.

Ironically, it’s only this year that the accolades for Clooney have started to pour in, despite the impressive resume he’s built since letting Joel Schumacher besmirch his family’s name in Batman & Robin. For years, critics have begrudgingly tossed praise his way here and there. Even his directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, received mixed reviews (though most seem to have changed their mind about it, quick to hop on the Clooney Train), but now he’s everyone’s sweetheart. Now it’s cool to like George Clooney. Good Night, and Good Luck, a passion project for him, accomplished that.

“We thought, ‘How do we make a blockbuster?

Let’s film it in black and white,

hire David Strathairn, and set it in

McCarthy-era America.’ Warner Bros. loved that.”

– George Clooney

“We thought, ‘How do we make a blockbuster?’” he says. “‘Let’s film it in black and white, hire David Strathairn, and set it in McCarthy-era America.’ Warner Bros. loved that.”

And then a moment of seriousness: “It’s always about writing first.” But the seriousness always passes, followed by more cavalier self-deprecation. “Of course, I wrote Good Night, and Good Luck,” he adds. “But really, you can’t make a good film out of a bad screenplay, but you can make a bad film out of a good screenplay, which I’ve done.”

Clooney, of course, is well aware of the quality of his recent films, but his self-deprecating humor is a way to express the wisdom he gained from taking himself too seriously for years. In his early days as an actor — remember The Facts of Life and Roseanne? — Clooney actually thought he was everything people think of him as today. “I’m really lucky I didn’t get famous when I was young,” he says, grinning again. “I would’ve been shooting crack into my forehead: I’m HUGE!”

In 2005, George Clooney portrayed news producer Fred Friendly in Good Night, and Good Luck.

Which is why Clooney decided the best way to become a respected filmmaker was to wear a latex suit replete with erect nipples and thrust his enhanced bat-junk at the lens of a 35mm camera. After all, if Warner Bros. offered to pay you $10 million to star as Batman (in Batman & Robin) and your accountant in turn told you the payday would set you up for the rest of your life, that you’d never have to work again except on films you wanted to work on, wouldn’t your next question be, “Where do I sign?” Nine years later, Clooney has kept that promise to himself, and it’s evident in the list of some of the films he’s starred in, produced, or directed: Out of Sight, Three Kings, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Perfect Storm, Ocean’s Eleven and Twelve, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and now Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck. He’s got a damn-near-perfect batting average.

So how does Clooney explain his new ranking as one of America’s most-consistent filmmakers? “I figure I have to make up for Batman & Robin,” he quips. “Listen, you need a little luck along the way, because it’s luck. We want to think it’s us, but if I hadn’t been in the right place at the right time, none of this would’ve happened.” Moreover, he was lost in television obscurity for years, a working actor, sure, but his prospects were not favorable. “ER changed that. If I hadn’t got Thursday night at 10, I wouldn’t be here today.”

With the momentum that’s built behind Brokeback Mountain since its release, Clooney’s chances for Best Director and Heslov’s for Best Picture seem to be slim if none at all, and Clooney seems perfectly aware of that, too. “I win if I get hit by a bus tonight,” he says. “Otherwise, I’ll end up on Hollywood Squares.”

By Cole Haddon

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