Fame and contracts did not arrive in a snap for Georges Clooney. Starring in the romantic comedyTicket to Paradise alongside Julia Roberts, the Hollywood star looks back on the years of hardship that forged her character.
When you look in the rear view mirror of your life, what milestones do you think have moved you forward and which ones are you least proud of?
“This is the series Emergency room which made me take off and which allowed me to regularly earn my living. It’s obvious. batman & robin came next. It was the time when I only saw the food aspect in this job! The fact of having won this role, it was for me the insurance to put cash on my bank account and to worry less about the invoices to be paid. In short, I focused on the amount of the check and less on the quality of the script! Do I have any regrets getting into this? Nope ! I would rather say that it was just an error of appreciation. I also wanted to prove and prove to myself that I could play something other than a pediatrician in a white coat! I got shot down by the critics. The only advantage in all of this is that they remembered my name. As for the fans, they almost accused me of killing the Batman franchise! This served as a lesson to me. I realized, in effect, that I would be, no matter what, no matter what I did, held responsible if the film failed at the box office. From then on, I focused only on the scripts. And as long as you do…the good ones!“
When did you realize that fame could disappear as quickly as it appeared?
“I found out soon enough. My aunt, Rosemary Clooney, was, as you know, a great singer. The kind to do the cover of the Time. At the end of her career, she was selling fewer records and she was invited to fewer shows. She was still a talented singer, it’s just that she no longer corresponded to what people expected. They wanted to hear something else. I never forgot that!“
You believe that if you didn’t have Difficult situation wouldn’t you be the accessible, friendly, close to people and humble man that you are today?
“Undeniably! The verb “to struggle”, I have conjugated it all the time. I have the notion of money because I had to combine jobs to get by. When I lived in Kentucky, I must have been about eighteen, I sold women’s shoes and then insurance door-to-door. I once heard an actor talk about the difficulty of his job. He complained about the long breaks between two takes, the sandwiches which were not served with pickles by the catering, the olives which were too big in his Kale salad, the size or the decoration of his trailer (caravan) . I can guarantee you that comparing door-to-door, being an actor is a joke! Ever tried to sell life insurance to a hearing-impaired 90-year-old grandma?“
Do you remember your first Hollywood trip?
“Yes! My aunt Rosemary lived in Beverly Hills but I thought it was Hollywood at the time. Of course, a star could only live in Hollywood! I had only met my aunt three or four times in my life. But we didn’t really know each other. She lived in a beautiful house with a swimming pool and a tennis court. Which was incredible for me. The cinema, I approached it thanks to Jose Ferrer who was my uncle for a some time since he was married to Rosemary. He had come to Kentucky to make a film. He had offered me to do an extra. It was Miguel, my cousin, who encouraged me to become an actor.”
Did you hesitate?
“No ! I said okay! (laughs) With my old 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, a rusty pile of mud, permanent oil leaks and 200,000 miles on the odometer, I made it to Los Angeles. I stayed with Rosemary for about five or six months, and then she ended up kicking me out…“
For what reasons ?
“I don’t think she found me strict enough. I ended up sleeping on the floor of a closet at a friend’s house. For two years, I worked in construction and things like that to fill my lunchbox. As I didn’t want to spend too much gas, I went to my auditions with a bike or a mob. When I arrived the guys thought I was the courier.“
Journalism didn’t kick you for a while?
“I studied it at university. But the truth was, my dad really was a better reporter than me. He was the local newscaster. He must have been making around $20,000 a year at the time. He was awesome. He could very well have put my foot in the stirrup. But I quickly understood that I would never come close to him. My father had a passion for his job, I was passionate too, but I just didn’t have the skills for it.“
You are a dad but also an accomplished actor, director, producer. Also an activist. Your wife is a brilliant lawyer. Do you think your twins know what you stand for?
“They are still very young! But I am convinced that one day my daughter will look at her mother and say to herself: “Am I going to be up to it?“, “Are you as bright and committed as my mom?“. We try to instill in them that the most important goal right now is to become beautiful people and to have a life that is not centered on themselves! These are qualities, values that Amal’s parents and mine instilled in us and that we try to pass on to them!“
You were talking about your daughter. What about your son?
“It’s my clone! At the same age, I had the same face. It’s crazy what he looks like to me. The advantage of becoming a dad at an advanced age is that you avoid cockfighting. The old rooster against the young rooster. You see what I mean ? My father was in his forties when he had me. When I was twenty, we argued several times because he thought I was competing with him. We were always in a balance of power. This will not be the case with Alexander since I will be 76 when he turns 20. He will have no reason to fight against me in order to make a name for himself.“
Humor and the ability to make fun of yourself are your trademarks. Is it natural or worked?
“My parents are really funny and they still are. They are often invited into town because they know how to create a good atmosphere during a boring dinner. They are champions when it comes to telling good stories! My sister does the same! We love making Mickeys. Nothing is more boring than people listening to each other talk. It’s like having your teeth pulled. Paul Newman and Gregory Peck had the same approach. They were professional, ultra-prepared and hard-working but that didn’t stop them from making fun of themselves!“
Was there a time in your life when you no longer had that desire to laugh?
“In 2005, I was seriously injured on the set of Syriana. Spinal fluid was starting to come out of my nose and the pain was getting so unbearable that I thought I wasn’t going to make it! I had come to a point where I was like: “I can’t live being in such a pitiful state!”. I can see myself lying in this hospital bed with a drip in my arm, unable to move, nailed by these repeated migraines that couldn’t go away! I was so exhausted that I started drinking alcohol. I thought it would ease the pain! It was once in the operating room that I ended up seeing my back pain less frequent and less throbbing. The surgery lasted twelve hours!“
Do you still ride motorcycles?
“My wife advised me against it on her way back from the hospital! I said “OK Sweetheart !””
Obviously your wife has a great influence on you…
“I don’t think it changed the way I approach things. In particular in what I will call my political conscience. It’s just that Amal was kind of a boost for me! Above all, she helped me, through her rigor and intelligence, to better structure my commitments. We are people who want to help the weakest and most deprived. It’s something we share and has been in our DNA since we were kids. Being able to fight the same battles hand in hand is exciting!“
In 2017, you gifted fourteen of your friends $1 million. The closest. The amount was paid to them in cash. Looking back, what prompted you to be so generous!
“Amal and I had just met, but we weren’t dating at all. I was single. I was around 52 years old. And most of my friends were older than me. Against all expectations, it turns out that I had made quite a bit of money with “Gravity”. I had indeed negotiated a percentage on the entries because the production did not want to pay us. She feared that the film would wallow and it is quite the opposite that happened! As I had no wife and children, I wanted to reward my best friends. My thinking was very simple: If I got hit by a bus, they would be lying on my will anyway! Why then wait to be run over by a bus? So much for taking the lead! The hardest part was finding 14 million dollars in cash and then a vehicle to transport it all! In order not to be noticed I had rented a van on which it was written “florist”. I had finally hired some guys for security! They did not rake wide! Anyway, there were 14 bags with $1 million in each. I expected to shoot my back carrying them! But surprise, the bags weren’t that heavy!“
I imagine you must have handed over his bags with a little ceremony?
“I had invited my friends to my house! I had unfolded a large map of the world and I showed them all the places I had been able to visit thanks to them. Then I told them that I didn’t quite know how to thank them for being my friends for over 40 years. They are faithful companions. They all looked at me, intrigued, and that’s when I wavered: “Would a million dollars do it?” A year later, I married Amal in Venice!“
How does friendship exist in Hollywood?
“Yes! But it’s rare ! When you have friends, real ones, you have to cherish them! My friends are not all in the cinema. I had the chance in my job to meet really good people. Starting with John Wells, the showrunner of “ER”. After the first season of this series, I was offered to shoot From Dusk ’til Dawn under the direction of Robert Rodriguez! The problem is that I had to be absent for three weeks. John could have said no. Contractually, he had the right! Which would have been damaging insofar as Robert’s film allowed me to drop out later One fine day with Michelle Pfeiffer!“
Today, what gets you out of bed in the morning? What drives you to still have projects?
“My brats! I don’t need an alarm clock with them. They are up at 7 o’clock and demand that we prepare their breakfast! I am lucky to be able to manage my days as I want. I don’t think I’ll retire because that’s the beauty of this job. I can continue to work for years to come! Today, I play the role of father. Tomorrow it will be that of a grandfather. So I get up every morning telling myself that I still have things to film, play or tell! Cinema and television offer us this wonderful playground! Now 30% of my time is devoted to the foundation we created with my wife! It’s not a fad! It’s really something we’re really committed to!“
At the cinema this Wednesday: the cow love between Julia Roberts and George Clooney, and a cynical Palme d’or on capitalism