Joel Stein from Time Magazine recently called George Clooney “the last movie star,” a title that absolutely fits the hard-working Clooney to a T. But while he’s one of the most popular stars in Hollywood, and a four-time Oscar nominee and one-time winner (Best Supporting Actor, Syriana), Clooney doesn’t limit himself to working in front of the camera. In addition to keeping busy with charitable work (including co-founding the non-profit organization Not on Our Watch Project with Don Cheadle, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Jerry Weintraub), Clooney returned to the director’s chair for Leatherheads, a screwball comedy set in the 1920s. And as if directing a football comedy wasn’t enough, Clooney also stars in the film alongside Academy Award-winner Renee Zellweger (Cold Mountain) and John Krasinski (The Office).
George Clooney Press Conference
How does Clooney the director work with Clooney the A-list movie star and survive? Also, why weren’t you in the Jimmy Kimmel/Ben Affleck video?
George Clooney: “You know, they asked me to. I was working. I would have liked to have been in that because I do love Jimmy Kimmel. I have been with Ben Affleck and I will say on the record, he is a bobcat in the sack.
It’s funny, the three films I directed, the other two, I had parts in them but I wasn’t the lead. And it’s tricky because there is an enormous amount of narcissism that comes into play. You are really, truly - you are breaking the trust between two actors. In particular, if you are in the lead. If you and I are doing a scene together and we’re talking, I’m not supposed to be judging you as an actor. Now, a lot of actors do and they’ll tell you what to do, but in general you’re not supposed to break that trust. The director is so if we are doing a scene and we finish and I go, ‘Okay, cut. You know, try it like this,’ it really requires an amount of… You have to go to each of the actors before you start and say, ‘Listen, this is going to be awkward.’ And just get it out in the open and lay it out early and say, ‘It’s going to be strange all the way around.’
As an actor, it’s easy because I know specifically, precisely what I need in the scene. So I cut out one step of the director having to explain it. But it’s embarrassing when you are doing it with - you’re sitting across from Renee and she’s doing a tremendous job in the scene and you can feel the camera is in too close too soon. And you just go, ‘Cut. Okay, you’re in too soon. Let’s try it again.’ It’s a weird awkward thing, but you just acknowledge it right off the bat and get over it.”
Thinking about the screwball nature of the film, timing the dialogue would not seem like something that it wouldn’t be very natural to be thinking about - that next line?
George Clooney: “We called it front foot acting. The tendency, actually, since Montgomery Clift came on the scene is to internalize. And it’s great and made for some of the most amazing work ever, but what gets lost in that is that ability to you’re almost answering like just as if you couldn’t have heard the question. It has to be sort of that quick. The difference is you can’t do it exactly like Rosalind Russell. She was brilliant. But if you took that performance and put it into a modern film, even if was supposed to be an older film… ‘Sure, whatever, I don’t care.’ It would just be like an impersonation. So, with someone like John or someone like Renee, they are actors who don’t feel contemporary, which is important.
A lot of actors just feel like it’s 2008 no matter what you do. We had the same problem with Good Night, and Good Luck. You had to have actors who didn’t fill everything with, ‘You know?’ That are good at being very crisp and clean, and both of them are very crisp, clean actors. We rehearsed the scene as if you’d heard it all and then I’d go, ‘Go, go, faster, faster, faster,’ to the point where it’s too fast, and then you just slow it down. It’s just one of those things where you have to understand that it’s a rollercoaster and you go really quick and then slow down. And that finds itself when you rehearse it a few times on the set.”
The Coens did that in The Hudsucker Proxy. Did you talk to them about it at all?
George Clooney: “No, but I certainly watched Hudsucker Proxy because, you know, I’ve stolen, er, homaged the hell out of those guys over the years. And certainly there were things about this film that I was using more along the lines of other films they have done, but Hudsucker I love. I know people love to smash that film, but I really love that movie. Yeah, so you have to be careful that it doesn’t leak into an impersonation of any kind.
There was a trick to this. When you are doing a period film, in particular a football film, an action film, we're used to it now, with handheld cameras and steady cams, you can really increase the excitement level of football. If you were to do that in a period piece, in 1925 in particular, you would immediately sell out the period. Immediately you would feel that it was contemporary. ‘Oh, why is this handheld with the camera?’ You have to shoot it in a way we are sort of used to seeing that world, which is straighter. So we realized that everything is going to be on a crane arm or everything was going to be on a dolly track. And it’s going to be slower, so you had to find ways to move the camera toward the action always. It was a really tricky balance. And the actors had to find a way to perform like that too, because if you are going to keep things in a two-shot, you’ve go to keep it moving and you’ve got to keep the dynamic.”
Like the scene with the cow?
George Clooney: “Like the scene with the cow. That cow almost killed us, that thing. I’m telling you, man, it took us four different times to get that cow to stand still and look. ‘Look over here.’ Moo. It’s like working with Krasinski, really. It’s very similar.”