Despite the media attention George
Timothy Clooney gets for his love life, this dapper male star
deserves the spotlight for a lot of the right things – his acting
talents, social concerns, creative work, self-effacing humor, and
general good-guy demeanor.
This year he released The Ides
of March, a film he directed and stars in that is winning his
co-star, Ryan Gosling, award noms. Now that he has starred in
award-winning director Alexander Payne's latest, The Descendants,
Clooney's revelatory performance is again garnering him numerous
award nominations, some of which will undoubtedly result in various
Clooney plays Matt King, scion of
an old Hawaiian land-owning family, who re-connects with his two
daughters, 17 year old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and 10 year old
Scotti (newcomer Amara Miller), after his wife Elizabeth ends up in
a coma through a boating accident. While coping with this tragedy,
he grapples with new and old responsibilities.
Together, they travel from Oahu to
Kauai to confront the young real estate broker, Brian Speer (played
by Matthew Lillard), who was having an affair with Elizabeth before
her misfortune. But there's much more to the story than that adeptly
woven together by Payne.
Born in Lexington, Kentucky,
George is the son of local newscaster Nick Clooney, who hosted a
talk show on a Cincinnati station for many years. Since he was five,
his dad often invited him into the studios. Declining to compete
with his father, Clooney quit a job as a broadcast journalist to
pursue an acting career and he debuted on television in 1978.
As he gained fame portraying Dr.
Douglas "Doug" Ross on the long-running medical drama ER
(from '94 to '99), TV provided Clooney with his first accolades.
While working on the series, he attracted a range of leads in films
such as Batman & Robin (1997) and Out of Sight (1998),
where he first teamed with his frequent collaborator, director
In 2001, Clooney's celeb status
expanded with the release of his biggest commercial success,
Ocean's Eleven, the first of a profitable trilogy, based on the
movie from 1960 with the members of The Rat Pack such as Frank
Sinatra playing Danny Ocean.
He made his directorial debut a
year later with the 2002 bio-pic thriller Confessions of a
Dangerous Mind and has since directed Good Night, and Good
Luck (2005), Leatherheads (2008), and this year's The
Ides of March. He won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Supporting
Actor for his work in the Middle East thriller Syriana (2005)
and has received two Golden Globe Awards as well.
Also a social activist, this
50-year old has served as a United Nations Messengers of Peace since
January 31, 2008. Clooney's humanitarian work includes his advocacy
of finding a resolution for the Darfur conflict, raising funds for
the 2010 Haiti earthquake, 2004 Tsunami and 9/11 victims, and
creating documentaries such as Sand and Sorrow to raise awareness
about international crises.
The following Q&A is culled from a
New York Film Festival press conference preceding The
Descendants’ 2011 NYC premiere and after its debut at this
year's Telluride Film Festival.
How did you come to do this
Well, Alexander failed to find me
fascinating when I met with him for Sideways, which I've not
yet let go. Then it was about two years ago – this time, almost [of
the New York Film Festival premiere of the
film] – that we met in Toronto and [Alex] came and said, “I have a
script coming I'd like you to look at.” I said “I'm doing it
whether I read the script or not” – which didn't work with Batman
& Robin, by the way.
How did you work out your
scenes with Judy Greer, who plays adulterer Speer's wife? They are
very intense, pivotal moments in this film.
Do you remember what our first
scene was ever? Not in this movie. We did a scene in Three Kings
and our first scene together is us having sex up against the desk.
Surely George Clooney in real
life will never be cheated on by a woman, so what would you do if it
ever happens to you?
No idea, because I know how any
answer will read.
So much depends on your
relationship with the daughters in this film. What was the process
of all you coming together as a family? Did you do any sort of
Yes, we did bonding exercises. I
would say “You guys stay over there and don’t talk to me.” No, it’s
a process that I very much embrace in the rehearsal process. We’d go
over the scenes a little bit, but mostly it’s about spending time
with one another. Because the truth of the matter is, once you get
to a set, everything is so different. We could sit here and work out
the hospital scene, but the blocking alone is different. Everything
changes so drastically when you finally get to do that. The
rehearsal process in general is about trusting one another, and so a
big part of it was just getting to know the gang and all of us
getting the ability to feel comfortable enough to give each other
shit. But there’s some truth in that, and once you can get to that
place, it’s easy. The lucky thing is that they’re all such talented
actors. We got a really good script and a really good director, and
that sort of protects everything else.
They really managed to put you
into the ugliest pants.
Those were my pants.
How did you work with the
costume designer and why wear those pants?
I’m not completely against khakis,
it’s just the level you have to wear them at. The higher you pull
them, the more excruciating it is. This whole process was just about
schlubbing up a little bit, and this seemed kind of easy to me. I
grew up in Kentucky; this is standard, just different colored
With that in mind, having shot
in the familiar turf of northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, how was it
to compare with the experience of going to a place where the
location figures so much as a personality of the film?
Well, most of the time I’m working
in places I’m not familiar with. Sometimes that’s Slovakia, and then
sometimes it’s Hawaii – and not to bash on Slovakia, but I really
did enjoy Hawaii, as you can imagine. I think everybody will agree,
it’s a great script, great director, and you’re shooting in Hawaii;
there’s no downside to this. It was fun for me. I haven’t spent much
time there, and certainly not in Oahu, Honolulu, so it was fun to
see. It’s such an island, it really is an island. On the freeway the
speed limit is like 45 miles an hour, and it takes you awhile to get
into that rhythm. I’m driving behind people and I’m like “Move it!”
and they’re like “Hey, hey, hey.” I was an alien because I wanted to
go 50 miles an hour. But that’s just my problem. Eventually you got
into their rhythm, so that was fun. I really enjoyed it there.
How different then was it to
shoot in Hawaii versus being in your places of origin like
Cincinnati, shooting The Ides of March?
Well, I didn’t have relatives on
the set every day. When you’re shooting in your hometown, you’ve
never met so many cousins. I mean really, they were like “This is
your cousin.” I’m like “I have no idea who that is, but okay, you’re
my cousin.” I didn’t have a whole lot of that in Hawaii.
At the crux of the film are
notions of forgiveness, maybe redemption. What are your thoughts on
forgiveness, both in the context of the film and in real life?
“I forgive you. Now I don’t
forgive you. I take it back.” You’re absolutely right, there’s a big
part of it, it’s forgiving yourself as much, because so much of this
that happened was also his responsibility. I think a big part of
that release at the end, when he’s with his wife and he looks at her
and he kisses her goodbye, is understanding his part in this as
well. Yes, she cheated on him, but he was not there and he was not a
good father as much as he thought he was. He was busy working. That
happens. Part of it was coming to understand that, and I think that
forgiving yourself is a very big part of that. We all go through
those experiences of understanding that the older you get, the more
forgiving you are of other people’s mistakes. When you’re young, you
find that anything that stands against something you believe in is
just plain wrong. I remember there would be relatives of mine who
would say something and I would say “Well, he’s a bigot,” and then
come to find out later that I was way too judgmental. I was making
the issue much bigger than it was. As we all get older, we get a
little more forgiving of everything – except the guy driving 45
miles an hour.